Massage Therapy Canada

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2010 Winter Olympics

The Olympic Games were said to have had their birth in 776 BC in Greece. This athletic movement inspired a way of life that promoted a harmony of body, mind and spirit among the people. The winners of the competitions were revered and immortalized. It was a very spiritual event that captivated all.

August 20, 2010  By Renee Sheldon rmt

 Whistler Olympic Park  

The Olympic Games were said to have had their birth in 776 BC in Greece. This athletic movement inspired a way of life that promoted a harmony of body, mind and spirit among the people. The winners of the competitions were revered and immortalized. It was a very spiritual event that captivated all.

Centuries later, the XXI Olympic Winter Games were held in February 2010 in Canada, specifically in Vancouver and Whistler, British Columbia. Some 2600 athletes from 82 nations participated with an excitement that typically embodies such a world wide event.

The chief medical officer for the Games, Dr. Jack Taunton, had a vision. He wanted to create facilities in both Vancouver and Whistler that took the burden off the hospitals and local communities. Athletes and their Olympic families could then have immediate care in a multidisciplinary setting. Thus the Polyclinic was born.

The Polyclinic was a 10,000-square-foot tent in Whistler. On the outside it looked like a regular white tent that could not possibly house all the amenities it proclaimed. Once inside, it was an awe-inspiring sight. Makeshift partitions created hall ways and dividers between different therapies and services.
The Polyclinic consisted of:

  • Family physicians
  • Nurses
  • Trauma surgeons
  • Sports medicine doctors
  • Chiropractors 
  • Orthopedic surgeons
  • Paramedics, air and land
  • Helicopter landing site
  • Pharmacy
  • Optometrists
  • Dentists
  • MRI, X-ray and, ultrasound
  • Medical laboratory
  • Mobile operating trailer “‘theatre”’ – fully functional
  • The Therapy Centre

 To have represented our country at our Olympics was a dream come true. 


The Therapy Centre consisted of registered massage therapists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, athletic therapists, acupuncturists, and bracing specialists working in an integrated setting. At any given moment, braces were being made, ultrasound was being used, exercises were being performed and cheers were heard when a goal was scored.

Massage therapy has struggled in the past due to various stigma – lack of regulation, varying competency standards, lack of recognition as a valid health care specialty, etc. – and how we are viewed as a profession. The lack of education among health- care professions in regards to each other’s skill sets and knowledge has also been a barrier. However, the Massage Movement over the years has exposed the benefits of the care that we can provide. Loud voices from our massage therapy community (primarily, the Canadian Sports Massage Therapy Association) have made the 2010 Winter Olympic Games the first ever in which massage therapy was an accredited part of the host medical services. Is it any surprise that the most sought- after therapy was that of massage at these Winter Games?.

Registered massage therapists came from all across Canada. Number of years in practice, backgrounds, and areas of expertise varied among members of the massage team. The chemistry between the therapists was like no other. Providing continuing care to elite athletes all over the world was such an honour!

The therapists were housed all over the town. Some stayed on cruise ships, some with host families, and some at beautiful hotels in downtown Whistler. Shifts were eight hours long and lasted from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. every day. There were days off, shift switching and night shifts followed by day shifts. Sleep seemed irrelevant as the buzz of the Olympics was all around until the wee hours of the morning. Therapists usually started on their journey to the Polyclinic a couple of hours before a shift. We always had our blue volunteer uniform on with our prized accreditation badge on hand. Our accreditation badge was our security pass and we could go nowhere without it. Shuttle buses took therapists from all directions to descend on the security screening centre to enter into the athletes village.

Security screening was a daily occurrence. Police, security and the “‘eye in the sky”’ were everywhere . . . all the time.

How unbelievable to exit the security tent into this bustling village where athletes from all over the world cohabitated. Athletes going for a jog, going to the dining hall, setting out to post letters or heading to the gym added to the Games’ atmosphere.

Once in the Polyclinic, the morning shift debriefed the afternoon shift, the afternoon shift, the evening shift, and so on. Everything from medical encounters, to royalty coming by on a tour, to chicken and rice being served for dinner was shared. Scheduling was all done electronically with all therapy centre health-care professionals’ appointments visible. The multidisciplinary approach to the therapy centre made for efficient cross therapy referral and interaction between professions. The information shared enabled the best care possible for the athletes.

The treatment area was an open concept setting. Towels were our main source of coverage, as sheets were limited. Being able to adapt to changes at any moment of any day was a constant. Treatments were 30 minutes long. Most athletes wanted flushing techniques and sports massage. Other specialized techniques were interspersed within treatments because of to the wide-ranging education of our team.

Therapists treated through clothing or in specific areas of concern. These elite athletes had an incredible awareness of their bodies.

One of the most challenging aspects of our treatments was the language barrier. Many countries where English or French wasn’t a first or second language used our services. Interpreters were few, so creative means of communication occurred by means of hand gestures and actions. At times, just a friendly smile and laugh broke the ice, and eventually the athletes conveyed their needs to the therapists.

To have had the privilege to be “‘inside”’ the Olympic machine was amazing. To remember the Canadian spirit getting stronger and stronger as the Games progressed still gives me shivers. To have been able to work with the most amazing health team and share education and special moments will be cherished. To have represented our profession and educated as to what we can do was an honour. To have represented our country at our Olympic Games was a dream come true.

Renee Sheldon is an RMT who has worked with athletes at various competitive levels. She has written for a number of publications, and is a recent graduate of the Connecticut School of Integrative Manual Therapy. Renee practises in Pickering, Ont.

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