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The Touch of Gold

Eight straight losses to Team USA, Olympic nerves, and on the rival’s turf. What pressure to overcome. However, the Canadian Women’s hockey team possessed something all others did not … her name is Mavis Wahl.

September 11, 2009  By Jill Rogers & Tracee lee-holloway

Eight straight losses to Team USA, Olympic nerves, and on the rival’s turf. What pressure to overcome. However, the Canadian Women’s hockey team possessed something all others did not … her name is Mavis Wahl.

Would her years of training, dedication and focus be enough to bring about a perfect performance at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics? Wahl’s efforts would have to be flawless. Anything less than that would not be acceptable in the eyes of the Canadian Massage Therapist with the touch of Gold.

Clockwise, from top left: Jamie Salee drops by; Mavis Wahl works on Danielle Goyette; Core Medical Team; Geraldine Heaney.

And, flawless she was. To Wahl’s delight, her efforts and unwavering support were rewarded as the Canadian team captured the Gold!


Piapot, a little town north of Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan, is geographically known as the highest point between the Rocky Mountains and Labrador. And, lately, it is referred to as the birthplace of the Sport Massage Therapist that worked behind the scenes with the Canadian Olympic gold medal-winning women’s hockey team.

Wahl worked with the Canadian women’s hockey team from August 2001. And, it isn’t hard to see why she was a key part of the team.

Wahl discovered that the most common problems among the hockey players were shoulder and knee injuries. She designed pre- and post-game treatments for the team as a whole, and individual protocols for those with specific needs.

On one specific occasion, Wahl was performing a standard pre-game treatment when a player casually reported hand stiffness. Wahl began adding an additional five minutes to each subsequent session in order to address the problem. After a few treatments, the player stated “not one hand cramp this game, that’s a first!” This player experienced the benefits of the preventative approach.

Wahl said she is seeing a trend toward sport massage education. Athletes and team staff members are learning about massage and the role it plays in injury prevention, re-injury prevention as well as the traditional rehabilitative role, she added.

Cheryl Pounder received massage therapy treatment consistently for 18 months prior to Wahl’s arrival to the team. She had been educated as to the benefits of massage before the Olympic preparations began. “There is most definitely a reduction in recovery time, as I have experienced leg strains in the past and find the flushing effect of massage therapy to be most beneficial,” said Pounder. “I would not give it up, it is an important component of my athletic career,” she added.   

Mavis Wahl with captain Cassie Campbell


Geraldine Heaney had not received massage therapy prior to the Olympic preparations. Wahl provided her with a thorough education into the need and benefits of both pre- and post-game massage.

“It wasn’t long before the pre-game treatments made a significant difference for me,” said Heaney.

“I told my teammates about my results and, before long, I had to fight for Mavis’ time! I have only one complaint about Mavis, and that is that she lives too far away!”

Cherie Piper said: “I had treatments with Mavis twice a week. Pre-and post-game treatments relieved stiffness and help to soothe the bumps and bruises I got from practices and games. I noticed relief from the lactic acid build-up in my muscles from Mavis’ leg flushes. Thanks Mavis.”

Wahl tells of the gruelling daily pace and about the need to “eat, eat, and eat.” She explained that “a high protein diet was a must to keep up with the energy demand.”

Wahl stayed in the Olympic Village and briefly outlines the daily routine.

Practice days: First thing, eat, time spent in the sports clinic, eat, go to smaller arena nearby used for practices, pre-event treatments for generally four to seven players, practices lasted between 45 minutes to one and one half hours, post-event treatments, as many as possible (usually three quarters of the team), famous leg flush, consisting of hot application (hot shower or hot tub) followed by the dip into garbage cans filled with ice, more post-game injury treatments, back to the village, (you guessed it) eat, more evening treatments, unless core medical staff or team meetings. Sleep …

Game days: First thing, eat, usually 11 a.m. team psyche-up in the village, off for the East Center Arena, pre-event warmups (stretching and massage), team played, post-event treatments same as post-practice approach, leg flushes, back to village, eat, evening treatments of injuries from the day’s game, if any evening left, time for Wahl.

The caregiver side of Wahl (as with all medical teammates) takes priority, and Wahl was proud to be connected with all of the members of the Core Medical Team under the leadership of Dr. Bob Foxford, Chief Medical Officer, and Cindy Hughes, Chief Therapist. Sport Massage Therapists Al Bodnarchuk and Sally Buckingham were also a part of the Core team. The pair worked with other athletes  at the Olympic Village.

“It was a very professional medical environment, all members respected and utilized each others contributions,” said Wahl. She went on to say “there were many hectic moments, the team’s morale roller-coastered, particularly during the final game. I was very focused on the positive and did not allow myself to express my utter frustration with the obvious obstacles of the game. Instead, I re-inforced the fact that this was their time, their game and that they were going to prevail. I am so proud of their accomplishment, I truly felt their triumph. Upon my return home, it was only after several days of rest that the realization ‘I helped with that’ really sank in.”

Presently, Wahl is based in Airdrie, some 20 kilometres north of Calgary, Alberta. Her time is divided between her own private practice, a Multi Member Professional Clinic, as well as working with groups of athletes.

In 1992, after having completed her Massage Therapy course, Wahl went on to study Athletic Therapy at the Mount Royal College.

She continued on to take several sports massage courses while studying under Aurel Hamran, RMT. With more than 2500 hours of massage and sport therapy under her belt, Wahl began to practice at the school before switching to the private clinic setting. Wahl’s primary goal was to involve herself with as many different sporting opportunities as possible – an impressive 36 in her 12-year career.

When asked the question that most MTs are asked, “what was your motivation to get you here,” Wahl replied: “I attended the University of Calgary and earned my Science Degree because I wanted to do something medical or therapy related, but I wasn’t sure just what. I was involved in athletic first aid within the intramural sports programs while at the university and enjoyed it immensely. Massage Therapy really seemed to fit in with athletics and the medical attention that they required.”

Any advise for the Massage professional starting out in the area of sports? “My advise, don’t be afraid to start small, as the athlete develops so will you. Your efforts are a contribution at all levels.”

Mavis shares the same sentiment as Catriona Le May Doan. “I heard Catriona once say, and I fully agree,  athletes remember and praise those who encourage and inspire you to go on. Coaches and support personnel are a vital component to an athlete reaching their personal best.”

Wahl adds: “Everyone that encourages an athlete, makes a contribution that will make a life-long difference.”

Mavis, it seems to us that you have made that difference with your ‘Touch of Gold.’

An Olympic Experience

Al Bodnarchuk RMT, SMT(c)

As the 2002 Winter Olympics drew to a close, the athletes greatly appreciated the contribution of the sports massage therapists.

There were three Canadian Sport Massage Therapists assigned to the Core Medical Team. Mavis Wahl, worked with women’s hockey, Sally Buckingham, worked with long track speed skating and I was assigned to work the clinic and float to any team needing me.

Approximately 160 athletes were treated. The Medical Centre was open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day with a doctor on call throughout the night. The therapists worked out of two rooms on the second floor. The building assigned to Canada was not hard to find, the Canadian Olympic Association logos and Canadian flags were in all of the windows. Our building was so visually appealing that athletes from other countries took pictures using it as a backdrop.

The sports massage therapists’ major responsibilities were pre-event, post event, recovery massage and stretching the athletes.

While talking to elite athletes, it was refreshing to note the number of them who receive massage on a regular basis. It is clear that their sport organizations were beginning to understand the benefits of regular sports massage therapy. 

The medical team worked very well together with each medical professional respecting the other’s skills and abilities. Dr. Bob Foxford, Chief Medical Officer and Cindy Hughes, Chief Therapist provided the medical team with strong leadership. We were also able to laugh and have fun together. This created a successful team.

The long time away from home was challenging, but the rewards that came in the way of thanks from the athletes and coaches helped make the experience memorable. It was a great honour to represent my country and my association at the Winter Olympics.

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