Toronto (Sept. 18, 2000) - For many of Canada's paralympians it has taken years of training and competing nationally and internationally to qualify for the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games, October 18 to 29. It will be the job of Gaetan Tardif, one of three physicians accompanying the Canadian team, to see to it that injury or illness does not hamper their individual and collective dreams. In the past, he has volunteered at the World University Games, Canada Games, and the Ontario Summer Games, but this is his first Paralympics. Other mission staff has already told him to expect to be busy over the course of the 11-day games.

A former amateur long distance runner, he knows what types of injuries he will see - plenty of sprains, strains, scrapes, road rash, tendinitis, and heat related illness among the 166 athletes, as they compete for gold in 18 sports against nearly 4,000 athletes from 125 countries. The mission staff will be working 12-14 hour days and covering multiple events during the games. While the ratio of mission staff to paralympic athletes is higher than for the Canadian Olympic team, the medical team is relatively smaller. Dr. Tardif says the challenge for team physicians and therapists will be in trying to be there for everyone. A clinic will be set-up in the Olympic Village for the Canadian athletes. A member of the Canadian medical team will accompany those with more complex needs, such as X-rays, to the main clinic run by the Australian hosts.

Dr. Tardif, Toronto Rehab’s vice president, medicine and physician-in-chief and one of Canada’s top physiatrists, applied for a spot on the physician team nearly two years ago. Physicians go through a rigorous application process that takes into account their skills, experience and commitment to sport and the needs of disabled athletes. For the first time, Olympic and Paralympic mission staff trained together during a four-day session this past spring in Toronto. With nearly half of the paralympic athletes hailing from Quebec it was important that all mission physicians speak French and English. Dr. Tardif also has a diploma in sports medicine and until recently co-owned and operated the University of Ottawa Sports Medicine Centre.

According to Dr. Tardif, few sports medicine physicians in Canada specialize in the needs of disabled athletes. "Some of their injuries are quite different than those you would see in mainstream sports medicine. If you are competing in a wheelchair, for instance, it is all hands, elbows and shoulders," he said. "Muscles, joints and tendons in these areas take a pounding. I have dealt with lots of athletes, and people in general, with disabilities."

As a medical student at the University of Laval, Quebec City, Dr. Tardif says more emphasis in his chosen field of physiatry was placed on the rehabilitation of musculoskeletal sports related injuries. As the paralympic sports movement grows, he believes there is a need for a dedicated sports medicine facility in Toronto. This is a need he hopes to fulfill in the not too distant future by adding a clinic to Toronto Rehab's Lyndhurst Centre that would specialize in the medical needs of disabled athletes.

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