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UEL Sports Therapists Gain Hands On Experience at the IAAF Para Athletics and World Championships

Both the IAAF World Para Athletics and the World Championships took place in July and August this year, with plenty of exciting coverage of both events. Students and Graduates from the University of East London’s Sports Therapy programme took part in the University’s media project, which involved offering the event’s media staff a massage service in return for a small donation towards their chosen charity, Right To Play. The charity uses the power of play to educate and empower children to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict and disease in disadvantaged communities.

We got in touch with some of the UEL team members who were volunteering at the events to find out more about their experience. We spoke to Camilla Smee, a Graduate Sports Therapist from UEL who now runs her own clinic, Elite Injuries, alongside a variety of other Sports Therapy roles. Camilla was working with the students throughout the events to offer support and advice. We also heard from Jack Chandler, a current student at UEL, who volunteered at both Championships. For both Camilla and Jack, this was their first athletics event of this scale and gained plenty from their time at the Olympic Stadium. Here’s what they had to say:

How did you get involved in the Championships?

Camilla: UEL’s Physiotherapy Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader, Liz Nicholls, was the Venue Medical Manager for the IAAF World Championships. So it was actually through delivering some guest lectures and doing some module support work at UEL that I came to hear of the opportunity.

Jack: I got involved in the Championships through UEL, where the opportunity was first presented to me during a lecture. I applied online and passed a telephone interview before attending a day long training event.

Tell us a bit about what you were doing. What was your role?

Jack: We were a team of Sports Therapists and Physiotherapists providing a massage service for all media staff at the events for our charity, Right To Play. We also spent some time in a polyclinic right at the top of lane 8 of the warm up track, providing massages, recovery sessions and a note taking service.

Each shift was 12-8pm and I had five shifts for the Para Athletics and five for the World Championships.

Camilla: I worked a lot with the students. I hate to feel like there’s a hierarchy so got really involved and stuck in with the team. I think this offered more opportunities for them to ask more questions about my journey since graduation and also allowed me to suggest some manual therapy technique tips without making the students feel as if they were at uni! All the students were really competent and hard working – they were great to work with and hopefully I can help them out with job or placement opportunities in the future.

The media project was to give the students the opportunity to get some hands on manual therapy experience, which also helped toward their course clinical hours. It was really great to work alongside such enthusiastic and hardworking students and it was really nice to be able to share with them my advice and experiences as a graduate (which doesn’t even feel that long ago!)

Were you part of a bigger medical team for the Championships or were you mainly based with other Sports Therapists? How was it organised?

Camilla: There was a big inter-professional medical team, comprising Sports Therapists, Physiotherapists, Osteopaths, GPs, Consultants, Radiologists…the list goes on! This meant it was an amazing opportunity for networking!

Do you have an idea of how many athletes you worked with throughout the Championships?

Jack: I worked with about 10-15 elite athletes over the two Championships, with massages and recovery sessions in the ice baths and recovery pumps.

Camilla: I am unaware of how many patients and athletes we treated overall, but we raised nearly £900 in one week from the media project for Right To Play!

Did you get the chance to watch any athletics?

Camilla: I got to watch a little bit after my shift. However, they did have a big screen up on the side of the warm up track streaming the live events from inside the stadium, which we could watch from outside the polyclinic alongside the athletes and team members.

Jack: Yes, luckily I got to go to one evening session for the Para Athletics and one evening session for the World Championships.

What was the atmosphere like, both in the stadium and behind the scenes where you were working?

Camilla: The atmosphere was electric inside the stadium, the crowd was incredible. Behind the scenes we were in and around the athletes – the polyclinic was at the side of the warm up track and available for all teams to utilise, which also meant we had the opportunity to watch the world’s greatest athletes warm up and cool down pre and post event.

Jack: The atmosphere in the stadium was incredible with such a wide range of people of all ages and backgrounds wanting to be a part of the event. Behind the scenes, it was such a good place to work; the tent was buzzing with the members of the medical team, all working together to make sure everything was running smoothly and that we had a successful Championships, both for individual athletes and as a team.

What was the highlight of your experience?

Camilla: The highlight for me was the opportunity to meet and work with so many different incredible professionals. Being a part of such a successful medical team was something I felt really proud of. Obviously being able to witness one the world's greatest athletes, Usain Bolt, run his final races before hanging up his spikes will be a memory I’ll never forget.

Jack: My personal highlight of the experience was seeing Usain Bolt walking and warming up around the warm up track; he’s such a charismatic character.

What was the biggest challenge for you?

Jack: The biggest challenge for me was adapting to the level of sport I was working at. For me, the highest level I had worked at previously was semi-professional football, so this was a big leap and an opportunity to prove myself within an elite sporting environment.

Camilla: Probably not getting too distracted by all the excitement of the day’s sporting events! Like I said, the crowd and atmosphere throughout the whole event was just incredible and sometimes all I wanted to do was watch the sporting events unfold, but that wasn’t always possible as I had a job to do!

What do you think you have gained from the experience?

Camilla: Lifelong memories, lots of professional contacts and feeling proud to be able to say I was part of such an historic sporting event, surrounded by great professionals and athletes!

Jack: I have, first of all, gained the experience of working in an elite sporting environment and with fellow professionals who have experience much vaster than mine, learning tips and tricks off them throughout. I have also gained knowledge of how these big events work and are run and have made professional contacts which I can use in the future. Finally, the experience has taught me to trust in my ability more; I have proved myself to be very successful working alongside such great medical professionals and with elite athletes.

Camilla, what do you think students gain from volunteering for an event such as this?

It helps students to grow more confidence in their abilities and gives them the opportunity to learn from a vast range of professionals, whilst gaining networking contacts for placements or even potential post graduate jobs!

And finally, what advice would you give to new Graduates looking for employment?

Get involved with as many events, conferences and networking prospects as possible and then follow up on as many opportunities which lead on from it. My first year was probably 40% unpaid work, but a year down the line these helped me get job opportunities I would have only dreamed of applying for as a new graduate.

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