He’s not sure how he’s going to handle sitting in the audience, watching, after 45 years on the field, helping.
“It’s going to be very weird,” says Dr. David Levy, who has retired from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats after nearly a half-century on their medical staff, the final two-plus decades as head team doctor. “I think it’ll almost be uncomfortable at first.”
Levy, who started the first primary care sports medicine clinic in Hamilton back in 1983 — a financial and professional gamble, given the rarity of such sport-specific practices at the time — concedes that the first time a player gets hurt in Saturday night’s home opener against the B.C. Lions his first instinct will be to jump to his feet to help. He’s been doing that since he was a 21-year-old first-year Mac medical student, when the legendary Jimmie Simpson — a star player, then team trainer — invited him to help out behind head doctor Jim Charters and his assistant Nick Siksay.
For the first time since he was an undergraduate, Levy will watch a Ticat game from the seats, using the lifetime season’s tickets the team is presenting him for his long, distinguished career with the team, not only caring for athletes and coaches — 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 12 months a year — but also teaching two generations of aspiring sports doctors the ins and outs of a science that barely existed when he joined the Ticats for Angelo Mosca’s final season.
It will also be the first complete game he’ll watch with his wife Kathy, a member of the Burlington Sports Hall of Fame as a builder/coach for her work with breast-cancer survivor Dragon Boat teams. Twice she has been on world championship teams. Well, they did have that five minutes together in the stands during the 1996 Grey Cup, the last CFL title game played in Hamilton, but he was the Cup’s host doctor and had to spend most of his time on the sidelines.
“I’ve been blessed by having a great career, and it’s still going,” said Levy, who has left the Ticats but will continue his private practice, located primarily at the David Braley Sport Medicine and Rehabilitation Centre at McMaster. He will also continue to work the sidelines with the McMaster football team, the Toronto Rock lacrosse team, and when colleague Dr. David Robinson can’t make it, the Hamilton Bulldogs.
“But I wanted to cut my hours back, and the Ticat thing is part of that because I haven’t really had any time in the summer for 45 years. We have a cottage I never get to. And Kathy is very involved in Dragon boating and I can start supporting her the way she’s supported me with football over the years.
“It’s been a huge sacrifice for her. We’ve never been on a holiday when my beeper or phone hasn’t gone off. The therapists or the trainers would call. Been part of our life all this time. (They’ve known each other since 1978, and been married since 1986.)
Levy will be honoured throughout Saturday’s game, with the crowning touch being the announcement that the state-of-the-art clinic at Tim Hortons Field will be dedicated to him.
“We’re really excited to name the clinic here the David Levy Sports Therapy Clinic,” said Scott Mitchell, Tiger-Cats CEO. “I couldn’t think of a more appropriate thing than to name the clinic after Doc.
“Where do you start with Doc Levy? The rest of us have been coming and going and Doc has been the mainstay for those 45 years. He’s just done a tremendous job, and he’s an unbelievably respected person in his profession. His legacy will live on for a long, long time.
“We look forward to Doc being able to enjoy the fruits of his labours by being an alumnus, a very prominent alumnus.”
Levy says he’s “thrilled” that the clinic is to be named after him especially since, when he started his first sports injury clinic in 1983 on King St. East, he named it after his father Daniel, who had just died that year. He comes from a medical family and his father and mother (Frances) were the first “medical couple” in Hamilton.
He was in just the third medical graduating class at McMaster and says he was fortunate to study at a new medical school with innovative approaches. He had a number of mentors including Drs. Charters and Siskay, who were also on staff at Stelco, Dr. Alan Bass, a physical/medical rehab specialist who’d been team doctor for soccer giant Liverpool and Dr. Bob Jackson who taught him the arthroscopy he’d learned in Japan, which was then only a diagnostic tool, and not yet a surgical one.
“Mac was self-directed learning and I was doing mine in an area that was very young in those days.
“They were very open that if it was an experience I wanted to have, to go for it. So whenever I wasn’t on call at the hospital during my training years, I was able to be with the Ticats. And the team physicians took me under their wing.”
His work with sports teams, including Mac’s from 1978 to 2001, was always extracurricular to his private practice which dealt with sports injuries to university athletes and members of the community at large.
“It took awhile for my colleagues to realize that I was there to treat athletes and send them back to their family doctor, ” he says. “I did strictly sports-related injuries. My practice is a referral practice.
“When I went strictly into sport medicine a lot of colleagues just thought I wanted to be on the sidelines at football games. But exercise, and sport, is medicine.”
Levy was in Calgary in 1975 when Ticat Tom Pate — for whom the CFL’s annual award for sportsmanship and community service is named — suffered a late-game aneurysm from which he died three days later, one of his worst memories. One of his best was when Dave Sauve, later the Ticat president, suffered a paralyzed arm in a game but he was able to get him into immediate care from a neurosurgeon and avert permanent damage.
There have been hundreds of other injuries — an average of 15 players need some level of immediate postgame treatment — and just as many great times with the likes of football legends Bernie Custis, Ron Lancaster, Terry Evanshen, Darren Flutie, Ben Zambiasi and Danny McManus.
They’re all in the Canadian Football hall of Fame and longtime Hamilton coach and broadcaster John Salavantis feels Levy should be too.
“A man that’s spent 45 years with the same club,” Salavantis says, “on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week has got to be recognized as a real builder in the CFL.”
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