The year was 2005 and I had just finished my degree in Kinesiology. I had spent the last 5 years gaining knowledge both in the classroom and in practical settings. Being in the Athletic Therapy Certificate program meant that I had invested countless hours working within therapy clinics on and off campus and with the York Lions varsity athletes. These times brought tremendous value and I cherish these experiences, but also these times challenged and tested me in numerous ways. I still remember being quizzed about dermatomes, myotomes, and reflexes by one of my clinic supervisors and feeling like a complete idiot when I came up empty with my answers. Watching the sun come up and the sun go down while attending class, covering practice/games, and seeing varsity athletes in the clinic was exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. I particularly have fond memories of traveling to Cancun, Mexico with the men’s and women’s volleyball teams as well as my student placement with the Toronto Argonauts in 2004. The hands-on and practical knowledge that was provided to me over these years was irreplaceable and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity.
Finishing university and obtaining a degree is a very special time in one's life. A pinnacle of sorts, if you will. The sense of accomplishment, the hours of studying, and sacrifice culminate in a grandiose ceremony where family and friends gather to join in this milestone celebration. For me, it was a little anticlimactic. I felt like there was still so much to learn and do. After my 5 years studying Athletic Therapy I came to realize that merging therapy and strength and conditioning into a real job was going to be difficult. I reconciled that I would focus my energy on becoming a strength and conditioning coach in professional sports. My dream was to land a job in professional hockey.
Given I had spent much of my life playing hockey I was well-connected with people in the game. While I attended university I worked as a goalie coach on and off for several years at the National Training Rinks (NTR) in Richmond Hill. NTR was a very forward-thinking concept in the early 2000s. It consisted of smaller 3-on-3 rinks that focused on skill development. One of NTR’s founders was a man by the name of Rick Cornachia. Rick had an impressive resume in coaching hockey. He had coached the Oshawa Generals (OHL) in their dynasty years winning a memorial cup in 1990. He also went on to coach the Canadian World Junior Team in 1992 and in 2008 he coached the national Italian team. In 2005, Rick and his brother Joe had just bought the Markham Waxers Junior “A” Hockey Club. Rick offered me both the Athletic Therapist and Strength and Conditioning Coach positions with the Markham Waxers. I was more than excited to start this role as I could do both Athletic Therapy and strength and conditioning. During the day I was able to study ( and drive to Collingwood with Steve Lidstone and Shawn Jeffers to learn how to Olympic lift because this was vital to becoming a strength and conditioning coach!) and in the evening I attended practice and games for the Waxers. I took care of all the players' injuries and ran the off-ice training sessions. I very much enjoyed this, however, I still found myself either wearing a therapy cap or a strength and conditioning cap. I was still struggling to find a way to integrate therapy with strength and conditioning. I would run team workouts at practices and then take care of injuries as they would occur. Never did these two worlds meet.
After my first season with the Waxers, my passion for training led me to start Propulsion with help of Shawn Jeffers. We had over 20 athletes in our first off-season of training. We rented space inside a small studio gym in Richmond Hill 3 days a week for our strength work and then met at a local field for our speed, agility, and quickness training the other 2 days a week. Propulsion’s vision was to focus on improving the performance of young hockey players during the off-season. To this day, I believe we did a very good job of this our first summer in operation. We took great pride in staying current and employing the most recent research in our programming. Now, please note in the early 2000’s podcasts had not been invented and social media was just emerging (man I am dating myself!) so we had to buy and read books to stay current on all things strength and conditioning. I remember buying Tudor Bompa’s Periodization Training for Sports and Functional Training by Michael Boyle and reading them cover to cover. Then I was introduced to Core Performance by Mark Verstegen. I was inspired by what Mark had done in Arizona. He had started what I saw was the first facility that was trying to integrate therapy and high-performance training. It wasn't until years later I was able to visit Athlete’s Performance (now known as Exos). It truly was a pioneer in this area and it gave me hope that the integration of therapy and performance training was possible. I was certain if I just learned more and worked hard enough I could eventually land myself a job in professional sport. I had no idea a life-changing opportunity was around the corner.
It was mid-July of 2006 and I was preparing to go back and work another season for the Markham Waxers when my good friend from school, Steve Lidstone, called me and asked me if I wanted to go on a road trip to Montreal. He said he had connected with the Montreal Canadiens Strength and Conditioning Coach, Scott Livingston, who was also an Athletic Therapist. Scott had invited Steve and me to the Montreal Canadiens annual development camp taking place in a week. This was a training camp where the Canadiens draft picks and their future players would congregate for 5 days and complete workouts on and off the ice. I could not believe I had an opportunity like this and immediately got plans in place to attend. Steve and I drove to Montreal for a whirlwind trip where I found myself standing inside the Montreal Canadiens dressing room and getting a workout or two in the team’s gym! We attended the on and off-ice workouts and helped Scott in any way we could, but tried just not to make fools of ourselves! The whole experience was awe-inspiring and I still consider myself incredibly blessed for it. I will never forget how accommodating and inquisitive Scott was. Steve and I were two newly minted Athletic Therapists who were extremely green and Scott had been with the Montreal Canadiens for 5 years and had previously worked for both the New York Rangers and New York Islanders. Most importantly, I observed how Scott operated in his role as a Strength and Conditioning Coach and how integrating his therapy background was important to how he saw his job. His approach in the gym and his programming were highly influenced by his Athletic Therapy background. He was also able to take a more detailed approach with injured players and introduced me to a concept I would later come to understand as Reconditioning.
I returned home after this trip reinvigorated by my experience and motivated to start work again with the Markham Waxers. I finally realized there was someone in professional hockey doing what I wanted to do. Blending therapy and strength and conditioning. I had hope for what was possible. I was determined to bring these concepts to Propulsion and the Markham Waxers. Little did I know how my life was about to change in the next few weeks…..
Stay tuned as my dream comes to reality much sooner than I could have ever imagined.