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Physiotherapists lend a hand at Hawkesbury Canoe Classic

Marina Williams
4 November 2016

Since 1980, physiotherapists have been integral to the running of the longest, non-stop paddling event in Australia, the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic. Organisers say volunteer physiotherapists are vital to the charity fundraiser’s success, as they provide participants with treatment throughout the 111 km endurance challenge.

‘They are outstanding and amazing in the support and care that they provide,’ lead organiser Kent Heazlett says. ‘I personally can attest to the care that I get when competing. You are racing, then pull in and go straight to the physiotherapy tent, as the race is quite arduous on the upper limbs and back. Without them we wouldn’t be running this event.’

About 30 sports physiotherapists and physiotherapy students were lined up to treat paddlers at the 40th classic in the last weekend of October. Many have been involved for more than 20 years and have experience treating Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games teams. Kent describes their involvement ‘as truly a partnership’.

‘They provide the care and support for participants and, in turn, they gain much-valued data to help in the research into the management of repetitive injuries that can occur when canoeing,’ he says.

The event also provides clinical learning experience for students from Australian Catholic University, with 12 undergraduates participating under supervision each year since 2012. For the past 20 years, students from universities across New South Wales, Europe and the US have volunteered. APA involvement began in 1980 when then-student physiotherapist Nick Stepkovitch, APA Sports and Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist, volunteered as coordinator of a Red Cross first aid team. Once graduated, he involved the NSW Sports Physiotherapy Group (SPG), which is now Sports Physiotherapy Australia. Nick has only missed one challenge since then.

‘Nick recognised the need for optimal musculoskeletal management of the types of injuries encountered in this event,’ Kent says.

According to Nick, physiotherapists have since documented and analysed injury data of more than 4600 participants, proving that more than 55 per cent of injuries sustained were musculoskeletal in nature. This has led to more efficient and effective management of upper limb over-use syndrome, beyond the scope of first aid training.

‘This helped open doors to the SPG by convincing organisers they needed physio, as well as first aid, for events,’ Nick says. ‘I initially got involved with the Red Cross while still at school, as part of gaining my Queen Scout. I stayed with them while studying physiotherapy, as it was a great way to help others, learn in the field and have fun.’

Physiotherapists now help train extended care paramedics from the NSW Ambulance Service.

‘The research has led to the development of evidence-based, effective intervention and prevention strategies that prove valuable in the broader community with conditions involving the upper limbs and thoracic spine,’ Nick says. ‘By getting involved, our physiotherapy team is able to provide consistent, proven prevention and intervention to enable all competitors to benefit and leave in an optimal physical state after competing.’

Since 1994, paddlers have helped raised funds for the Arrow Bone Marrow Transplant Foundation for leukaemia research. 


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