Putting Athletic Therapy to work: Sheridan alumni are defining the field

Sheridan alumnus Scott McCullough attends to Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam.

Photo: Raptors.com

Necessity was the impetus behind the launch of Sheridan’s Athletic Training and Management program back in 1973, when visionaries developed the first program of its kind in Canada to serve the college’s burgeoning varsity sports teams.

Fast-forward 46 years, and that practical inspiration has evolved to become the Honours Bachelor of Applied Health Sciences (Athletic Therapy), a rigorous four-year degree that blends pedagogy with practice and continues to earn Sheridan widespread esteem. Athletic therapy focuses on the prevention, assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of acute and chronic injuries and disorders to the musculoskeletal system (muscles, bones and joints). Today’s athletic therapists treat a wide range of patients who are interested in taking an active approach to recovery, from children to seniors, and artistic performers to first responders. Over 1,500 students have graduated since the founding days, including a number who’ve gone on to achieve remarkable things. Marcia Franklin, who ran the program’s teaching clinic after graduating from the program herself, went on to open the first private practice in Canada to focus strictly on athletic therapy at a time when the discipline wasn’t a common treatment option for the average person. Graduates Dr. Loriann Hynes at York University (who also previously taught in Sheridan’s program) and Dr. Colin King at Acadia University are now collaborating to develop an online concussion education tool specifically for athletic therapists. Alumni from the program also include John Sanderson, head Athletic Therapist with the Vancouver Canucks, who recently celebrated his 1,500th NHL game.

At times the stakes can be very high, as graduate Scott McCullough, long-time head Athletic Therapist for the Toronto Raptors, can attest. He was courtside during the Raptors’ playoff run, and on the floor to attend to injured players — such as Fred VanVleet, who received an elbow to the face during Game 4 of the Finals.

"I think we’re only just starting to see the potential of what this profession can do."
- Dr. Loriann Hynes, Director, Athletic Therapy Certificate Program
Michelle Bell

Michelle Bell. Photo: Julia Bellini

"The road to recovery starts with us."
- Michelle Bell, Sheridan alumna –

“The biggest thing for me is to stay in the moment,” says McCullough. “I try to focus on the task at hand and when an injury occurs, I focus my attention on that player.” VanVleet returned to play in the final two games of the series, and the rest is history.

Michelle Bell, who oversees the varsity athletes at Ryerson University and is also entering her tenth season with Canada Basketball, puts it this way: “We’re experts in our field when it comes to assessing and rehabbing musculoskeletal injuries. But it’s more than that. We see their tears. We see the heartache. But we also see the pride in someone working really hard to get themselves back from injury to where they used to be.”

Other graduates have applied the unique skill set of an athletic therapist in industrial and tactical settings. Jennifer Johnson set up four in-house clinics in industrial workplaces such as Purolator and Honda Canada, while Becky Swan works for the Vancouver Police Department. Both help to reduce injuries and keep people at work while they recover, since athletic therapy is rooted in an exercise-based approach to training and rehabilitation.

No matter where they’re applying their skills and training, Sheridan’s Athletic Therapy graduates continue to bring renown and acclaim to their program and school. Best of all, says Dr. Hynes, “I think we’re only just starting to see the potential of what this profession can do.”