Throughout March, the Canadian Premier League will celebrate the contributions and showcase the impact of the women of the Canadian Premier League. We are proud to recognize the influence the women of our League have on our community both individually and collectively. We hope their stories inspire girls and women to see a future in our beautiful game, whether on the field or off of it, because if she can see it, she can be it.
Today, Dr. Danielle Braidwood, Team Physician, Atlético Ottawa, Mylène Gagné, Athletic Therapist, Valour FC, and Melissa Allen, Performance Dietitian, Halifax Wanderers, share their experience working in player health:
If you scroll through Dr. Danielle Braidwood’s phone, you will find pictures of X-rays, MRIs, joints, bruises and more.
She wouldn’t have it any other way.
The team physician for Atlético Ottawa is in charge of the overall medical health of the players who represent the reigning Canadian Premier League regular season champion. She oversees their cardiac, respiratory and mental health, and does everything she can to prevent injuries or other health issues from arising.
“My goal is to make sure that the coach has everybody available and healthy and ready to play,” Braidwood said.
The doctor’s first introduction to the world of sport medicine was in high school when she worked as a ski patroller. From there, she earned undergraduate and medical degrees, practiced family medicine, and completed a fellowship in sport medicine.
With Atlético Ottawa, a lot of the action for Braidwood happens outside the 90 minutes when the team is playing.
“The action is leading up to, in preparation for, and then follow-ups,” she said. “Your hope is that during the game you’re actually just sitting on the bench and not doing anything. If that’s the case, that means everything is going well.”
Her schedule outside of those matches is not so quiet. She is regularly called in to fix bones and heal injuries, no matter the time of day.
“You’re part of the team’s successes, and working and collaborating with the staff and the players throughout the year, but it also means you’re never off,” Braidwood said. “What I find the most rewarding is that you’re part of the team, and you see that what you’re doing is really making a difference. Your contribution is sometimes what makes a player get back to playing safely.”
Mylène Gagné, an athletic therapist at Valour FC, and York United’s Lead Athletic Therapist Laura Ozoria, one the club’s most recent hires, share a passion for injury prevention and rehabilitation with Braidwood. Helping players get back to full capacity,
and earning their trust while doing so, is part of what makes their jobs so special.
“We’re there from the moment you injure yourself to when you’re ready to return back to play … you build connections with these players,” Gagné explained. “They basically put their trust and injuries in your hands, which makes an impact especially when they go back on the field at one hundred percent.”
Gagné’s decision to apply to work with Valour, where she spends her days taping muscles, performing treatments and setting up the therapy room, came on a whim. She was still a student when she saw the job posting for a head athletic therapist role with the club, and decided to go for it.
“I always joked that I was going to make it into pro soccer because that was my dream … I messaged my [now] boss and gave him my resume and reference letters,” she said.
Gagné ultimately joined the club as an assistant athletic therapist, proving that passion, confidence and putting yourself out there can go a long way.
“It’s really hard, especially when you want to get a job in an environment that’s been dominated by male therapists … But don’t be afraid to shoot your shot and go for what you want,” said Gagné. “I wouldn’t have gotten this job with Valour if I didn’t decide to send that email with my resume.”
Melissa Allen, a Performance Dietitian for the Halifax Wanderers, knows it can be tough to break into a male-dominated industry. But she also knows sport can empower women and help them find their voice.
“We’re able to show leadership, teamwork, strength and endurance and we can highlight all of these amazing strengths that women have,” Allen said.
While Braidwood and Gagné focus more on the medical side of things, Allen provides players with nutritional guidance and information, meal ideas and body composition assessments, which help Wanderers players take their game to the next level. She also collaborates with hotels and catering companies to ensure her players get balanced meals when they’re traveling.
It can be tough to balance the team’s dietary preferences, cultural backgrounds and allergies, but the challenge of using nutrition to optimize athletic performance is one of the most fulfilling parts of her job.
“I got into [nutrition] because there’s a massive connection between what we put in our body, how it impacts the way our body works, the way our brain works,” Allen said. “It’s such an exciting thing when [an athlete] actually starts to see that difference, because then they’ve bought in and now they’re able to train and play at their optimal level.”
Volunteering, mastering the ability to make connections, staying on top of research and using language that athletes understand have also been key to Allen’s success in the field of sport nutrition.
“Be able to follow the lead of the coach … be able to support your physios, your strength and conditioning [coach]. You need to be able to work as a member of the team,” she said. “You also have to have the skill to be able to listen and observe … You have to have lots of empathy and understanding for the individuals that you’re working with.”
All three women encourage anyone with aspirations of working in player health to stay involved in athletics, get experience and think outside the box.
“You have to find your passion. If you’re going to be involved in sport, you can’t fake it,” Allen said. “We do it for the [love of] the sport. We’re passionate about athletes. We’re passionate about humans.”
Julia Ranney is a freelance writer based in Toronto.