September 4, 2012
Women’s College Hospital (WCH) saw one of our own at this year’s Summer Olympic Games in London. Dr. Julia Alleyne, medical director of Sport CARE at WCH, walked alongside Team Canada as they entered the opening ceremonies and throughout the entirety of the Games as chief medical officer – supervising 65 health-care professionals and co-ordinating the health of all Canadian athletes, coaches and staff.
Dr. Alleyne tells all about her experience and what’s next.
Q: As chief medical officer for Team Canada, what did you do to prepare for the Games?
A: We had three site visits and an orientation to familiarize our medical team with the city and the Olympic Village. I met with each of the 10 appointed physicians so we could review their roles and the athletes’ needs while getting acquainted to work together. Lots of supplies and medical gear had to be shipped to London prior to the opening of the village.
Q: You’re also the team physician for the Canadian trampoline team. How did you feel when Rosie MacLennan won the lone gold medal for Canada?
A: I was thrilled! Her performance was fantastic, I was impressed by her strength to carry out such a difficult routine and her ability to remain focused. We are all very proud of her and how humble she has been as the only Canadian gold medalist.
Q: What was so important about these Olympics?
A: For Canadian women these Games were particularly important. Our women’s soccer and basketball squads not only qualified but they performed extremely well. Canada doesn’t have professional leagues in these sports – the teams earned a lot of respect for their tremendous efforts. And for all women, these Olympics were important because for the first time in history every country had at least one female athlete.
Q: What are the differences in the health of female athletes versus male athletes?
A: Women need to follow specific nutritional guidelines for their bones, menstruation cycles and hormones. These unique health needs are becoming more recognized and it is important that they continue to be addressed.
Q: You’ve been to four Olympics prior to London. What are some of your memories of past Games?
A: It would be impossible to pick one, they’re all different. The 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City were held just a few months after 9/11. Although there was increased security there was a strong sense of community because the entire world was being brought together in a peaceful way. Vancouver was special to me because I was able to share the joy of the Olympics with my family.
Q: What do you do to help athletes stay healthy when they are away from home?
A: We create a wellness approach to health in both physical space and access to services. The Wellness Centre is a personal space for Canadian athletes to reflect, rejuvenate and relax. Competing away from home, immersed in a different culture and time zone can be hard on an athlete, so having somewhere to practise yoga, meditate or have a power nap is a great way to keep their focus.
Q: What is a must item for you to pack when going to the Olympics?
A: My tablet! I was able to check the weather, look up medical records, review the competition schedule and balance the workload for my staff, all electronically. Having all these resources in my hands at all times allowed me to do the best job I could as chief medical officer.
Q: What health advice would you give to Olympic hopefuls?
A: Your health is more important than winning a medal. Balance your health by eating right and sleeping well, train properly and focus on recovery strategies. You’ll get more out of your sport if you are healthy and strong. The medal is just the icing on the cake.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I’ve been appointed the chief medical officer for the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. I will be co-ordinating the health care for all participating nations which includes over 7,000 athletes. As a physician at Women’s College Hospital we’re hoping to develop new methods and programs focused on physical activity. And for myself, I hope to book a vacation sometime soon!