December, 2013

CATA in the Holy Land!

Israel, July 2013! The Maccabi Games, steeped in history going back millennea, took place. CATA members made up the bulk of the Canadian medical team in a remarkable and unforgettable experience. World Cup competitions, Pan Am, Commonwealth Games and other International Championships are stunning spectacles, but in terms of absolute historical significance, the Maccabi Games rivals the Olympics.

The Maccabi Games is a multi-sport international event of 6000 participants, encompassing able bodied, masters and para athletes. It takes place every four years in the heart and heat of the Middle East. Canada's delegation was the third largest, with 600 athletes, coaches, officials and medical personnel. Four doctors, 3 physiotherapists, 1 chiropractor and 10 athletic therapists took care of athletes competing in events that spanned the length and breath of the country. While Israel is merely a fraction the size of Canada, it was still a daunting undertaking. However, the logistical preparation within Israel and that of our own officials, not to mention the genuine hospitality of the local population, made this a reality. The semi desert climate meant athletes had to be supplied with at least 2 litres of water daily. Forklift trucks loading boxes of water-bottles were ubiquitous. Feeding some 6000 delegates was also a challenge. Surprisingly, this semi desert (and in some parts pure desert) land is a food exporter, and meals were beyond plentiful, healthy and absolutely delicious! While the country itself is peaceful, there were still security arrangements given the status of neighbouring countries. This consideration was subtle, but clearly present.

Historically, this event was conceptualized as a result of the Stockholm Olympics of 1912 and finally came into being in 1932 – in fact prior to the establishment of the present modern state of Israel. There were approximately 400 participants at the first games. The 2nd such games took place in 1935 with about 1,350 athletes. The evolution of this event, paralleling the modern Olympics, has clearly expanded illustrating its success.

Although the organizing therapists were physiotherapists, the organizational executive, which had a heavy presence of physicians, have long since recognized that athletic therapists are the professionals of choice for medical coverage. Athletic Therapy involvement with Canada's Maccabi teams dates back decades. The Canadian medical team reflected a presence from at least 4 provinces and with varying degrees of experience. Therapists such as Ira Snytte (Quebec) and Tim Takahashi (Alberta) are repeat team members and both played key organizational roles before and during the event.

Therapists prioritized their time with contact sports, hence being farmed out to practices and matches of these particular disciplines. Athletes from non-contact sports were taken care of at day's end once the practices and matches were over. As the schedule quieted in later days, non contact sports such as squash were afforded a dedicated therapist for their matches. Sports with higher contact levels had dedicated therapists at all times – rugby, hockey etc. Ice Hockey was included in the 1997 Games with Canada winning the gold medal (of course). It then took an absence but has since been reinstated as of the 2013 Games. Canada took the gold medal in the Open Division, outplaying the USA 7-1 and also defeating Israel, Russia and the Ukraine. In the Junior Division Canada defeated USA 3-2, however, Canada's Masters Division team lost 7-4 to the USA's, who won their first Gold Medal in Maccabi Ice Hockey history.

Canada's coaching and therapy staff were from the broader community and reflected Canada's tapestry. All participants were of Jewish heritage, albeit they were from countries as disparate as Mongolia, Chile and Sweden, hence, the potential challenge of language. English however was the common language denominator. Every English speaking country was represented, and those that were not, were certainly conversant in English. Smaller contingents did not have their own medical staff and relied solely on the Israeli medical coverage. Sports such as rugby did make use of the local hospitals on numerous occasions. Fortunately the local medical system is outstanding even by international standards, so any serious medical conditions were not a concern from that standpoint.

Soccer matches often took place on artificial turf. To my utter amazement prior to every game on these fields, a sprinkler system emerged from the ground and sprayed the entire field thoroughly with water. My disbelief was assuaged with the explanation that the synthetic material had to be cooled before matches began, and again at half time. The unrelenting heat radiated from the synthetic material and was absorbed through player's boots. This is not a problem with regular grass pitches, but clearly in desert like climate synthetic turf proves to be problematic. As an aside, our common experience was that the extensive Canadian kit (sweats, shirts, shorts, etc.) was probably the most popular items for trading among the many delegates. This international trade at various sporting events as well as the closing ceremonies was an ongoing source of amusement. Canadians were much sought after! Israel essentially fielded their national/Olympic teams. And while Israel is not known as an Olympic heavyweight, they were still formidable opponents in most sports. The USA, with its population size and resources, was also competitive in many disciplines. The disparate contingent sizes (ranging from approximately 1000 Israelis, to 1 Mongolian) did not detract from the zeal of athletes nor the spirit of the event. As with other major games I have attended, the camaraderie was outstanding in almost all instances. I assisted men's soccer on one occasion when they played a South American team. Unfortunately, there were cases of unsportsmanlike conduct in that rare instance on the part of our opponents, but otherwise the sport and sportsmanship would have been seen to be the ultimate "language between nations"

Athletic Therapists at the 2013 Maccabiah were: Lauren Tannenbaum , Jesse Whyte, Alana Dewar, Tim Takahashi, Ora Loeub, Ira Snytte, Victor Walker, Vanessa Amar, Jaime Dobrowolski, Jonathan Maister.

Article by Jonathan Maister CAT(C)

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