As a kid, he spent the quiet days of summer with his Grandma, roaming the countryside in her Honda Civic packed with a 2x6 and a shovel, looking for the perfect fishing spot. She was the one who taught him to fish, and now Paul Hunter, Calgary Physiotherapist, gets to pass on his love for sport, adventure and the great outdoors.
Transitioning out of what has been a hectic, but fulfilling, 12-year-period training Olympic athletes, Paul cherishes his role as a father, physiotherapist, and consultant with the Canadian Sport Institute, that now keeps him closer to home. With sons, 12 and 14-years-old, both involved in Scouts and other activities, Paul realized that being on the road with the team for three to five weeks at a time wasn’t conducive to family life.
“I don’t need to be the head guy anymore, there’s a whole new generation that can do that.”
Paul is passionate about establishing a strong Sports Therapy community in Calgary, and nationally, and sees the potential of up and coming therapists and the role they can play.
“I’ve had some great mentors and I want to help create that next generation of people that are coming up with some of these opportunities.”
How the Olympics Shaped Him
Paul started his Olympic journey with the 2010 Winter Olympics in 2007, training Short Track Speed Skaters leading up to Olympic Trials. While he didn’t participate at Olympic Village, the excitement of being a part of such an important community led Paul to train for the 2014 Sochi, Russia Olympics and the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. Eventually transitioning to Long Track Speed Skating, the “big brother” so to speak, Paul noticed the stark differences between what seems like two very similar sports. While short track travels with a smaller team, they always have a good Olympic medal potential. Long track, however, travels with more athletes, and also has more specialization such as the 500m, distance skaters, and so forth.
“Physiotherapists, in my opinion, are the best multi tool a national team could have, besides the coach. Across the board, a well-trained sport physio with an orthopaedic background is invaluable,” shares Paul.
Not to toot his own horn, but purely out of the invaluable experience he received while working with the Olympic team. During this intense time of training athletes to compete on the world-stage, Paul was also running a clinic in Calgary with his wife, also a PT, and had two growing sons. His schedule involved working at the clinic four days a week, four days at the Olympic Oval treating athletes and getting them ready for races. During Nationals he’d be at the Oval all weekend. It was a schedule that inevitably had to change.
It Takes a Team
“If I didn’t have my wife there’s no way I could’ve done what I did. You may know your physio stuff, but being on a team and on the road is a whole different animal. It’s like a mini corporation that you travel around with. You are accountable to the high-performance directors and indirectly to the major sponsors and stakeholders. There’s a lot of moving parts to these teams.
While your role is important as a physiotherapist, once you get all of the physicians, dietitians, coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, sports psychologists, and physiotherapists in a room, you realize that your part is just one piece of the puzzle in an athlete’s life. And with the variety of influences and histories each athlete brings, such as diet, sleep issues, mental health, you quickly realize the important role each person brings to the team.
You’re essentially trying to build them into a super soldier, but also make them into a decent human being; it’s not easy. These coaches don’t have an easy job.”
Paul poses the question, just imagine if everyone in life had this kind of supportive team?
Empowering Others Along the Way
Now, with even more time to invest in his “team” close to home, Paul is excited to continue those hiking, mountain biking and paddle canoe trips with his sons as a Scout leader – watching the youth of today embrace activity and leadership.
“I kind of like my role; I get to have fun and make sure they’re okay. I can be Dad to my kids and be a leader to the others. We did a 16-day canoe trip and it was hard (Northern Alberta and Saskatchewan). But I got so much enjoyment seeing stuff that freaked me out but watching these kids accomplish it. I didn’t think about work at all!”
With a UBC education, a 2008 Fellowship, and a Sport Therapy Certificate he completed while travelling with the Olympic team in 2016, and finishing his fourth year on the Sports Therapy Canada Board, Paul certainly has no lack of education or experience. But he’s just getting started. While simplifying life may be on his to-do list a little bit more than usual, he knows he still has so much to learn.
“There’s always stuff to be better at with sports physio and you have to be exposed to other sports. I played rugby for many years and have been the physio for my son’s team but I would like to experience working with some of the elite teams at some point.”
Ending on a high note with the Olympics in 2018 was a gift, one that Paul is very grateful for, and now it’s time to recharge the batteries and play a little closer to home.
“I think I got pretty lucky.”