Let’s Go Team Guyana: Working as a Physio at the Commonwealth Games

Dr Sonya Moore will take part in her second Commonwealth Games as Team Physio for Guyana. She gives an insight into the build up to Gold Coast 2018 and her memories from Melbourne 2006.

Sonya Moore, Sports Physiotherapist, Alphington Sports Medicine Clinic & Program Coordinator, University of Melbourne
Sonya Moore, Sports Physiotherapist, Alphington Sports Medicine Clinic & Program Coordinator, University of Melbourne

Did you ever dream of being the best in the world at something? I always wondered if I would ever be fast enough or good enough to go to the Olympic Games (I wasn’t), and which sport I should try next (maybe it was just that I had chosen the wrong sport?) My parents recounted the thrill of our country hosting the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, which otherwise seemed a whimsical Games held far, far away that you could glimpse on TV if you stayed up late. Showing my age, my first money box sported Olympic Willy - Moscow (1980). Then there was Los Angeles (1984), Seoul (1988), Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996). And then, in 1993, came the announcement of Sydney (2000). In my lifetime, we were going to have a home country Olympics! They called for volunteers. Although I still fantasised about going as an athlete, I began scouring the newspapers (Web 2.0 was embryonic in 19991) for any opportunity to be involved.

While I was a Physiotherapy student at Melbourne University the call out came to apply for the volunteer medical team. I was set to graduate at the end of 1999 – I was going to be in time! But my application was woolly and bare at the same time - when applications closed I was neither qualified nor experienced. My covering letter contained a lot of “I promise I will do’s….” by games-time. It was a fantabulous moment when, quite close to games-time, I received a phone call asking if I would be available for two weeks to work in the athlete village polyclinic at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games.

While I was one of many whose childhood dream involved going to the Olympics, I also wanted to go to the Commonwealth Games. I watched every event of the Auckland Commonwealth Games (1990), and the replays. I was in secondary school, and had some friends competing. I liked to think of them as friends - they were more idols, coaches, athletes from the same clubs as me. Then followed Victoria (1994), Kuala Lumpur (1998) and Manchester (2002) – you had to stay up all night to watch those. This time, I really did have friends competing – particularly, I befriended many in Australia’s glittering netball team of this era (whose legacy continues). The Commonwealth Games seemed accessible, real, not whimsical or far away at all. And then came Melbourne (2006). A Commonwealth Games in my home city! I started asking whether they would need volunteers.

I was appointed to join the Sports Medicine team for Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands. As part of the volunteer medical team, the Team Physiotherapist role was new at these Games. Rather than being rostered at a venue or in the polyclinic, for the duration of the Games I joined the Team Jersey Sports Medicine team consisting of a doctor, physiotherapist and massage therapist. Together, we supported a team of just over 20 athletes, plus coaches and team managers across several different sports. We had our own small clinic room set up adjacent to the team residence in the athlete village, and from there coordinated ourselves to accompany our athletes to training and competition venues. For the duration of the Games, I wore the Jersey uniform, waved their flag, celebrated and reflected.

We encountered significant injuries; we braved logistics; bicycles needed urgent repair; and we raced between the village and multiple competition venues to support our athletes (being a Melbourne local, navigating the shortcuts spared us valuable minutes!) However, these daily “challenges” were all part and parcel of a major, multi-sport games – several were anticipated and diffused, others unfolded gradually and some appeared suddenly – wham! All required responsivity and composed step-wise solutions.

Working at the Commonwealth Games required dedication, focus, patience and enthusiasm.You needed to be great at what you did as you were working with some of the world’s best athletes and support staff. You needed to think clearly under pressure, accept responsibility and act professionally. Blips, glitches, hiccups and set-backs are all part of athletes’ training and preparation, but these needed to be left behind – there is no room for these at the Commonwealth Games, where athlete performance is at the forefront. Every action by every athlete and their support crew needed to be forward-thinking, positive, problem solving and performance oriented. Time was critical.

I remain colleagues with the Team Jersey medical team 12 years later (that would be 3 Olympiads), and I thank them for embracing me within their team fold for the pinnacle of their 2006 Commonwealth Games journey.

Now, in a different phase of life – I have four young children and a clock-work of responsibilities. With the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast this April, I had to find a way to be part of it! With the sun well and truly set on my distant prospect of being selected on the Australian netball team, I volunteered and have been appointed as Team Physiotherapist to Guyana,a sovereign state on the northern mainland of South America.

I will enter these Games with great expectations. No doubt the Gold Coast will be home to magnificently prepared venues, also showcasing Australia – our land and our people. The volunteer medical team this year will cover both athletes (and their supports) and spectators. Preparation and training involves face-to-face sessions on the Gold Coast and specifically designed online learning modules about every aspect of medical care at the Games – from operations and logistics (there will be coordinated stationed and roving response teams at various venues, including communication with the Queensland Ambulance Service) to clinical care models and skills (which types of stretchers are at which venues, what equipment and consumables will be available, and how they should be used).

Alongside my great expectations of the Games, the Games will also bestow great expectations and responsibility upon me. Duty of care is an important issue we all encounter as members of a sport science and medicine team. As Team Physiotherapist for Guyana, my responsibilities will include working within my scope of practice as a physiotherapist – rising to any challenges within my skillset, while utilising and referring to the available multi-disciplinary team to deliver the best possible medical support to the athletes.

Return to play decisions could be tough. Athletes will be here competing on an international stage, doing their job and/or realising their dream to represent their country. Advising on fitness or unfitness to compete in the face of injury or ill-health is an enormous responsibility, and consequential on several levels – these pressures escalate at major games.

Adrenaline will be pumping – natural of course. But what about the unnatural? This could be the Games without a single doping offence – you never know. As a physiotherapist and member of the sport science and medicine team I will be an advocate of Fair Play and all that it entails – a level playing field, physiologically, socially and in all behaviours around sport.

There will be athletes, fans, spectators, children revelling in the atmosphere and absorbing the massive stimulation and inspiration all around. This phenomenal environment demands enormous focus and channelling of energy from all those who have a job at hand.The heat of the moment cannot distract from level headed decisions and meticulous game-plans – whether they be clinical, on the field of play or in professional conduct.

In our age of media and technology, any member of the medical team could find themselves in the spotlight as part of a major or minor injury incident. With or without this spotlight, all injury responses need to demonstrate safety, clinical best practice and athlete-centred management. Balancing unwavering commitment, fervour and long days with rest and self-care will be vital – you need to be able to respond and perform at your best at every point in time.

I will enter the Commonwealth Games with great expectations, but I wonder what Team Guyana will be expecting of me?I will offer them evidence-informed physiotherapy management, my time and commitment to their endeavours, alongside extensive experience in athlete management in competition. However, is that what they will want from me? Upon our first meeting, I will need to be prepared to unite with their sport medicine team, complement their support staff, connect with their athletes and deliver a health service to meet their needs – to the absolute best of my ability. Building partnership and trust are usually engaged processes over time, however on this occasion will need to be paved, founded and strengthened all as the games are dawning.

I will join the Commonwealth Games Team Guyana as a physiotherapist with thrill and honour, although the Games are about the athletes. My role is to support the athletes and team of Guyana during their preparation and competition on the Gold Coast. For two weeks or more I will join their team, wear their uniform, celebrate and reflect. It would be a privilege to wave their flag as I did Jersey’s in 2006.

I expect the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games to be intense, momentous and magnificent. I have learned to prepare meticulously but expect the unexpected; be reactive, responsive and professional. And wait, in anticipation, for the occasion to unfold.

About the Author

Dr Sonya Moore is an experienced physiotherapist at Alphington Sports Medicine Clinic in Melbourne. She is also the Sports Medicine Program Coordinator at the University of Melbourne.