For Carly Vandergrient, there are no off days during the Hamilton Tiger-Cats season.
As head athletic therapist, she is the first responder and chief caretaker of the players’ health needs, responsible for everything from pre-season medicals, to day-to-day treatments — both preventive and injury related — to bracing and taping for practice and games. In the latest in a series of conversations with Ticats beat reporter Drew Edwards, Vandergrient talks about what a day in the life looks like, the challenges of her job, her unique position in professional sports.
DE: What’s your average day look like?
CV: On practice days, I get to the stadium at 6:30 a.m. and get set up and then treatment and taping starts at 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. We set up the field, have some breakfast, then resume taping from 10:30 a.m. until practice starts at 11. Then we’re on the field for practice, then back to treatment until 4:30 p.m. or so then we do the charting and paperwork. Then there’s prep for the next day.
On game day I go the stadium five hours before kickoff to get set up because some guys like to get there early to get ready. Some guys have pretty elaborate tape jobs and certain players like to have their taping done by certain people: Peter Dyakowski won’t let anyone else tape him but me, for whatever reason. I think he knows I have to be there every single day so it’s always the same.
DE: How did you get into this?
CV: I was active as a kid, played four different sports in high school and came to Mac for kinesiology and to play varsity volleyball. I had shoulder surgery my first year and got involved as sports medicine intern during my rehab. I worked with the various sports teams at Mac while I was doing my degree and then got a job in the rehab clinic after graduation. I thought there was more to learn so took an athletic therapy degree at Sheridan and got a scholarship that involved working with the Ticats. That opportunity led to where I am now.
DE: You were young when you got the head job.
CV: I was 26 and it was a little overwhelming. But Chris Puskas, who was leaving the job to take over at Mac and the team doctor David Levy — who is like family to me — were so supportive. My first year, I was probably getting three or four hours of sleep a night just trying to keep up with the things I needed to know. But I felt if I turned it down, especially as a young age and as a woman in pro sports, the opportunity may never present itself again. Either you figure it out, fail trying or don’t take it and have regrets down the road. And I’m not a shoulda-coulda-woulda kind of person.
DE: What’s the toughest part of the job?
CV: It’s a bit of an art form trying to deliver bad news to people each and every day — I’m not the bearer of good news much of the time. At the same time, it’s rewarding to help those people get back to health, to see an injury from the second it happens until a player returns to play. But it’s not easy telling coaches that a player is out or telling a player that they miss a chunk of time.
DE: When you’re dealing with a player that’s just been hurt, that has to be a difficult moment.
CV: As people, we commit so much of our lives to helping these guys. I’m an empathetic person and I genuinely care for the players’ well-being, whether that’s keeping them healthy or getting them back to health. You couldn’t do this job if you didn’t feel that way so when you see a player that works so hard, knowing how much they sacrifice — when that gets taken away by injury, you have to sympathize with them. Hopefully that makes it a little easier on them in some way.
DE: As far as I can tell, you are the only head athletic therapist in professional sports who is a woman. Does that mean anything to you?
CV: I’ve always worked with other women while with the Ticats so it never seemed particularly unique, and more and more players have experience with athletic therapists who are woman: nobody’s ever been shocked that I have this job. It’s not something I think about and it certainly doesn’t change the way I do my job.
DE: Has there every been a moment of uncomfortableness for either a player or yourself?
CV: I’ve never had a player be rude or disrespectful. If you treat a player with professionalism and respect right from the get-go, they have no choice but to treat you with respect. A good therapist is a good therapist and that’s all players care about.
Notes: Ticats receiver Bakari Grant missed practice for a third straight day on Wednesday and is unlikely to play Friday versus Edmonton. Running back Anthony Woodson, defensive back Donald Washington and defensive end Arnaud Gascon-Nadon are also out. Safety Craig Butler is expected to miss a third straight game with a lower body injury.