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Tales from the Trenches: Pandemic to Presenter

It's the 23rd March 2020, I am sitting in my bedroom when a phone call lights up my phone, it's my boss at the new clinic I had just started at. Some back story before I go any further, to that point in my professional life I had been juggling the balancing act that many young physiotherapists aspiring to work in sport do. I had about 4 jobs running at one given time, was participating in an internship program at a professional football club whilst managing a semi-professional program in tandem and I was also attempting (poorly) at becoming the best clinician that I could be. I never felt quite connected to the private practice clinical life. There was always something missing, an aura that could only be captured in a high performance sport setting; there was just something different about stepping in the walls of an organisation that aimed to achieve only the highest standards of human performance. I didn't quite see my clinic that way and for that reason amongst others I hadn't found a home and had just resigned from my third clinic job, about to start my 4th thinking "4th times the charm".

The phone rings and after a short conversation regarding how I had unfortunately started a new job in the worst time of the last 100 years was said, I was stood down facing the prospect of applying for JobSeeker or whatever job I could get my hands on really. I remember sitting in my room sending about 10-15 applications for government listed jobs all around the state and country, having discussions with my partner that we may have to do a period of long distance and all the while I had just committed to starting a Masters degree in High Performance Sport. At that point it was borderline rock bottom for me, I had no job, all my internships and sport work had been cancelled and I faced the prospect of paying thousands of dollars for a Masters degree that would have virtually no use in the public health system, I felt lost.

Fortunately, the next week a reform called JobKeeper was announced and thanks to a small part time contract I had been doing at Athletes Authority, Karl was generous enough to see the potential in myself as an employee and offered to pick me up on this JobKeeper arrangement. It wasn't much but $750 a week was enough to keep me in Sydney and keep my head down. After some much needed self development and reflection time during the three month lockdown, amongst working on what proved to be an important product for us at Athletes Authority, an idea came into my head that I would take to Karl and Lachy. Whilst I was a physiotherapist by trade, my heart always belonged on the gym floor and on the field. I was heavily influenced by some great clinicians during a prior academy program that I worked in at the Cronulla Sharks (Andrew Gray, Daniel Miladinski, Matthew Jay to name a few) and my definition of hands on was guiding people through their rehab rather than manual treatments. This idea was the replication of their already successful Athlete Development Program, but for people in long term rehabilitation. At the time there were a handful of athletes on rehabilitation memberships that were integrated into the ADP but not enough that would justify it's own program. Luckily, as my wage was subsidised by the government it gave us the perfect opportunity to trial this untested method for private sector rehab.

When June 2020 rolled around and the program commenced, it was quiet dealings at first. What started as group sizes of 3 quickly turned into 5, then 7, then group sessions every day of the week and by July, I was signing a full time contract. It was borderline unbelievable at the time and whilst financially it was a big milestone for me to secure a full time contract at an organisation that aligned with my personal values and motivations, I still would have zero idea about where it would lead me to where I sit today, writing this blog in December 2021.

Over the next 16 months, the program quickly grew from being managed by just myself and our Lead Physiotherapist, Alan Robinson to now sitting at over 100 active athletes, >100 graduated athletes and having a staff of 10 physiotherapists that now oversee the Medical Services, Physiotherapy, Rehabilitation and Sporting Team departments within the business. Throughout this period of time the rapid integration of a systems based approach was required to ensure that the speed of the growth did not quickly turn into a giant mess that required cleaning. It might seem like an easy thing to implement, a membership based rehab model with a mixture of clinic based reviews, gym based rehab and field based return to run but the physical sessions themselves make up but a fraction of the athlete success. The lesser considered but highly valuable components is all the backend work that goes into making the physical product as crisp as it is. The performance meetings, the excel spreadsheeting, the rehab time-lining, the program periodisation structure. Every aspect has been built from scratch, being trialled, reviewed and refined with the ever growing rehab list.

During this period of time, attention seemed to grow on the program and I began to be approached by people and organisations to present my philosophies. What started as an online presentation for an online platform an old colleague from one of my internships ran turned into some minor consulting gigs, the thought that goes through your mind at this stage of your career is one of massive imposter syndrome, wondering how and why anybody is interested in what you have to say. Karl and Lachy were always incredibly supportive and seemed to have more tickets on me than I did, that would always lead me to take on any and every opportunity that came my way. The words from one of my very first conversations I'd ever had with Karl back in 2018 "If you don't do it, somebody shitter than you will" have really resonated with me when any opportunity comes my way and that led me to applying to present at the ASCA International Conference on Applied S&C in 2021. To my surprise, I was successful in my application.

At this point it seemed as if a snowball effect had occurred, when somebody tells you that "a rising tide lifts all boats", in this context they really do mean it. It wasn't long until I had then been contacted by Robert Pacey to contribute to his platform "Sportsmith", to which if anybody reading my blog hasn't heard of (I'd be surprised if you had heard of me but not him) I would highly encourage you to engage upon, not for my content but for the plethora of other high quality practitioners that have contributed to the platform. That leads me to where I am today where after a cold email from one of the first team physiotherapists at Everton Football Club and a few conversations later, I had until Omicron threw things into disarray had been preparing myself for a tour of the UK to present to Everton, Derby, Arsenal FC and run my own private workshop on ACL Rehabilitation, all the while preparing to present at the PLAE Lab event in February 2022.

If you've somehow made it to the end of this blog without falling asleep, my message to young practitioners amongst all of this is that if you have a vision of what you want to achieve in your career, write it down and never stop working towards it. You will face periods of your career where you won't be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and you will feel like you are going to end up as one of the drop out statistics that get thrown out into the air ever so often. But I can tell you luck favours the brave and it only takes one small decision that can end up snowballing into bigger and better things. The small decision to take on a one half day a week part time contract to fill a void led in the space of 18-20 months to being an international presenter.

The biggest lesson for me was that what I was attracted to in the high performance organisation setting wasn't the uniforms, the players and definitely wasn't the money. It was the mindset. The ability to be able to deliver the highest quality care to an athlete shouldn't be limited by anything other than your imagination. No insurance system, booking system or rehab model can dictate how you run the show and I challenge all clinicians to be the change that they want to see in the industry.

Thats my story (the short version at least), I can't wait to hear yours...

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