Claire Speer on the physio team for the 2018 Winter Paralympics

ESPH physiotherapist Claire Speer will be journeying to PyeongChang in early March to work as part of the physiotherapy team for the 2018 Winter Paralympics. Claire will be based at the Gangneung Olympic Park and will be working with the hockey and wheelchair curling athletes from all participating countries.

Claire took a few minutes to tell us about her planned trip to PyeongChang, what she is most looking forward to and how she got into working at major sporting events.

Can you tell us a little bit about your previous experience working as a physio at major sporting events?

My first multi-sport event was at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games working as Lead Physiotherapist at one of the Men’s Rugby Training grounds. While there, we were tasked with setting up first aid facilities and providing treatment as required to the many visiting teams using the facilities in the run up to the games.

Rio was my first Olympics. There I had the role of ‘Field of Play Physio for the Men’s Rugby 7s. I was part of the team responsible for assisting the World Rugby doctors in safely extracting injured players from the field of play as well as assisting in the venue clinic when officials, support staff and players came in with injuries.  It was a fantastic experience, especially working with doctors, nurses, osteopaths and dentists from around the world. The whole thing was a little disorganised at times, meaning you had to think on your feet and get stuck in with other roles as needed.  I did a day of crowd first aid, which involved dealing with various nationalities with complaints of insect bites and sun-cream in eyes. The role also involved a fair amount of answering questions about where the nearest bar was!

The 2017 World Para-athletics in London was my favourite volunteering experience to date.  The role was incredibly varied and involved everything from manning the medical tent at the javelin and shot-put practice areas, to providing physio services in the trackside medical clinic or at one of the hotels where the athletes were staying. This offered me the best view from a hotel treatment room yet, overlooking Tower Bridge. The final night I was stationed in the Olympic Stadium treatment room as well working with the field of play team at the start of the 100m track, ready to assist any athletes injured on the night.  Working with adaptive athletes from around the world was fascinating.  The assessment of their injuries is so much more complex. For example, what may look like a tight muscle that needs releasing could be the increased muscle tone in a part of their body that is allowing them to weight-bear through a limb when they run, and you must be careful to understand what is normal for them.  One wrongly released muscle and you could prevent someone from taking part in their final!

How did you get involved in the Winter Olympics?

All the roles I have done have been volunteer roles, most big events open their volunteer applications approximately 2 years before the event. The process can be quite involved, as although the roles are unpaid, they are so much fun and highly competitive.  Once accepted you must be quite patient in waiting to find out what kind of role and when they would like you to be there.  The training varies from event to event – there is a lot of focus on the ethos of the event, health and safety, security etc.  The World Para physiotherapy specific training was especially good with information on banned drugs, types of injuries we were likely to come across and how to document interventions. I’m hoping it will be a supportive learning environment with chances to gain and share knowledge with other medical practitioners from around the world.

Will you get a chance to attend the other events as an audience member when not working?

I’m hoping to get to see some of the events on my days off.  I’d really like to get up the mountains to see some of the women’s snowboarding – I’m a huge fan of American snowboarder Amy Purdy who is a bilateral amputee and a big champion of adaptive sports. I’m also keen to see how GB athlete Menna Fitzpatrick does in the Alpine skiing.

Anything else on the horizon post PyeongChang?

Applications for Tokyo 202 open soon and I can’t encourage people enough to consider volunteering at multi-sport events.  The Chief Pharmacist of the last company I worked for volunteered at the World Paras in London and ended up preparing the flags and medals for the ceremony – she loved every second.  There’s a role for everyone. I’ve also volunteered for the Women’s Hockey World Cup this July in London – just waiting to hear from them having had my interview last month.

Best of luck to Claire. We will be following up on her experience at the Paralympics when she gets back in late March!


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