Hoop dreams

Before the London 2012 Olympic Games, Robert Millett meets Amy Ford, physio for the women’s GB wheelchair basketball team

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CSP physio Amy Ford will be at the heart of the Olympic action. Photo: Guzelian

The London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics are fast-approaching and a momentous period for sport in the UK is promised. While most of us must make do with televised coverage of the events, some CSP members are going to be directly involved – treating athletes at the heart of the action.

But what is it really like to work at this level and to live within the glare of the Olympic flame? What fuels these physios’ passion and how do they cope with the fierce heat of competition? On weekdays Amy Ford is a band 6 rotational physio at the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS trust, but at weekends and in her spare time she is the lead physio for ParalympicsGB women’s wheelchair basketball team.

Ms Ford regularly accompanies the team, working at evening fixtures, weekend training camps and tournament competitions in various European countries, US, Canada and, most recently, Israel. For Ms Ford it’s fundamentally a labour of love. Her commitment is almost palpable and she is motivated by a desire to help the team succeed; so much so that she often has to make personal sacrifices.

‘I get an allowance and my food, accommodation and flights are all paid for. I get to travel quite a lot, so it’s good in that way,’ says Ms Ford. ‘But I do have to juggle my annual leave so I can work with the team and for the NHS, and find time for family and friends as well. With tournaments I have to take time off, so I end up using a lot of my holiday.’

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Amy Ford: ‘On camp it’s get up, train, lunch, train, food, train, bed.’ Photo: Guzelian

Luckily, Ms Ford’s boyfriend, family, friends and colleagues are very supportive and, whenever possible, she invites them to attend the team’s matches. Nevertheless, constant contact with team members - and adhering by proxy to the strict timetable their training schedule demands – inevitably makes working with elite athletics an all-absorbing experience.

‘On camp it’s pretty much: get up, train, lunch, train, food, train and then bed,’ explains Ms Ford. ‘During tournaments, especially when you’re abroad, you literally eat, sleep and breathe with them. You’re pretty much with them all the time and do everything together, so it is very intense.’

The squad members’ ages range from 16 to 36, and Ms Ford often finds herself counselling the younger team members and providing emotional support to the older ones. Having worked with individuals in the team for many years she has established a good rapport with them, so much so that they often open  up to her about their feelings.

‘It can be a little bit stressful, especially when it’s not going well or if somebody has an injury and they want to play,’ says Ms Ford. ‘But you try to take it in your stride and deal with it , and you try to keep them going as well.’

Despite all the pressures Ms Ford and her squad are looking forward to the 2012 games. The GB women’s wheelchair basketball team won gold in the Paralympic World Cup in Manchester last May and is ranked sixth in the world.  

‘They are the team everyone talks about because they are young and still have time to develop,’ says Ms Ford.

She thinks the added boost of having a home crowd could propel the team into a medal position and is excited by the unprecedented coverage the sport will receive. ‘People will get to see sports they probably didn’t even know existed. And physio-wise, it will hopefully make more people get involved in those sports as well.’

Ms Ford will, of course, be taking more annual leave to ensure she’s on hand when the games begin in late August. Juggling two demanding jobs will require substantial stamina and Ms Ford’s tenacity is fuelled by the immense respect she has for the team members and  their own relentless desire to succeed.

‘They have gone through so much,’ she says. ‘Every girl has a different story to tell and they don’t let anything get them down. So they’re great contenders for a medal.’

Injuries

When it comes to treating basketball players with disabilities, Ms Ford says the approach differs little from treating their able-bodied counterparts.

‘Injury wise and in terms of training it’s exactly the same – if they get a shoulder injury it’s the same as treating any shoulder,’ she explains. ‘Obviously certain things are different. You have to be careful with amputees on the team in terms of wound care and things like that, but because they are so experienced they know their own bodies and they always come to you if they feel there is a pressure sore or something coming.’

Ms Ford usually works in musculoskeletal (MSK) outpatients and says the experience is invaluable as she makes the transition to treating injured athletes.

‘One minute you’re treating elite athletes and the next minute you’re back to your day job treating old ladies with osteoarthritic hips and knees,’ she says. ‘So you can be away on a tournament or camp for a weekend and the next day your back at work with a long list of patients.’

The most common injuries affect the upper limbs – shoulder injuries, neck injuries, and throwing-related strains. The players do a lot of intense training so tight muscles mean Ms Ford’s soft tissue massage skills are a vital component in her armoury.

Prior to training in physiotherapy Ms Ford worked as a massage and sports therapist for six years, which gave her a sound background in this area.

‘We have to work a lot on their strength and their core stability,’ explains Ms Ford.

‘We have a lot of different players, some are paraplegic, some who contracted viruses and that’s why they’re in chairs, as well as amputees. So there are different levels of disability and each one is scored.’

See more about physiotherapy and the Games in our London 2012 section.

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Robert Millett

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