'You just adapt': Sask. physiotherapist keeping Canadian women's Olympic basketball squad healthy

The Canadian women's basketball team has risen to fourth in the world under coach Lisa Thomaidis, but she isn't the only Saskatoon product responsible for the team's success.

Canadian team has 4 wins and no losses in pre-Olympic tournament in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Saskatoon physiotherapist Rhonda Shishkin and Canadian Olympic basketball player player Kim Gaucher pose during a recent practice. The team is undefeated so far at a tournament in San Juan, Piuerto Rico. (supplied by Rhonda Shishkin)

The Canadian women's basketball team has just completed a perfect four-win sweep of opponents in the opening round of the FIBA Women's Americup under coach Lisa Thomaidis.

The squad has steadily risen to fourth in the world rankings, but Thomaidis isn't the only Saskatoon product responsible for the team's success.

As the team prepares for next month's Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, Saskatoon physiotherapist Rhonda Shishkin is helping the injured athletes heal and ensuring the healthy ones stay that way.

Shishkin and the rest of the medical staff also face the added burden of keeping COVID-19 away from the team.

Shishkin spoke to CBC Saskatchewan reporter Jason Warick just after the team's dominant victory over El Salvador this week.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Saskatoon physiotherapist Rhonda Shishkin spoke to CBC News from her hotel room in San Juan, Puerto Rico this week. She's been selected to the medical staff for the Canadian women's basketball team as it prepares for the Tokyo Olympics. (Jason Warick/CBC)

CBC: Congratulations. How does it feel to be selected to Canada's Olympic team?

Shishkin: It's great. It was on my bucket list. There were a lot of people who supported me at home, and a lot of things that had to fall into place. It's an awesome opportunity for me.

What's it like for everyone to be playing games after such a long layoff due to COVID?

We came to Tampa first for a camp to train at the Raptor's facility. The last time we were together was February 2020, so to get these women together and start training is certainly exciting.

Now we are here in San Juan, Puerto, Rico. We were here two years ago for a tournament, but this is certainly different with the COVID protocols. We have one floor of the hotel and we never really see anybody else. We have specific times we can be in the training facility and there's no overlap. The feeling is quite different.

Saskatoon physiotherapist Rhonda Shishkin works on a member of Canada's Olympic women's basketball team. Shishkin is helping to keep the players healthy, but is also working with the rest of the medical team to ensure strict COVID-19 protocols. (supplied by Rhonda Shishkin)

What's it like during the games?

Everything is spaced out like in the NBA and WNBA. Everyone's got a chair and you stay there. You have your masks on. But it's great to just have the opportunity to play against some of the strongest teams in the world to prepare for the Olympics.

There are all of these additional considerations with COVID protocols. How had that been?

It's a continuation of what I've been doing in my private practice [at Craven SPORT Services in Saskatoon] — wearing the goggles, wearing a mask, wiping everything down and reminding the athletes of the protocols. Everything we can do to keep COVID out of the bubble.

All Olympic athletes and staff are already under pressure. Does this add to that?

We've been together for a month now so the COVID protocols are somewhat routine. But you keep reminding yourself, because you don't want anyone out. It's sure in the back of your mind so we don't have any troubles.

Canada's head coach Lisa Thomaidis, seen here with players at in the quarter-final game against France at the 2016 Olympics, isn't the only Saskatchewan leader on the team. Physiotherapist Rhonda Shishkin is helping keep players healthy as they enter the final preparations for the Tokyo Olympics. (Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images)

What's it like to spend all this time together in the bubble?

It's been a month, but there's two months to go. We can't go out for a coffee or go for a walk. Pretty much this is our unit, our circle. Everybody was excited to see each other at the beginning, but we're trying to recognize how everyone is different, how some need more space. We're talking about 25 people. You just adapt to changes and go with it.

What things are you doing for the athletes?

We have two categories. We try to focus on injury prevention like nutrition, recovery, sleep and all these factors. We do maintenance and recovery treatment. We also have athletes who came to camp working through an injury, and we are managing it and helping them return to play. We want them to keep them improving.

After opening the tournament with a 101-41 rout of the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Canadian women's basketball team defeated Brazil 71-67 in AmeriCup action Sunday. (Twitter/@CanBball)

Both you and head coach Lisa Thomaidis are from Saskatoon. How does that feel?

It's exciting. I've known Lisa since 1997 or '98. I know this coach so well, so I can do a lot to support her efforts. It's pretty unique, to be able to be at the Olympic Games with someone you know and respect.


Jason Warick


Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.


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