Spring 2018 Alumni Profile

Martha Purdy
BSc Physiotherapy, Dalhousie University
Class of 2002

The Dalhousie School of Physiotherapy has outstanding alumni who make important contributions to our communities and to the physiotherapy profession as a whole. In this issue, the School is pleased to feature Martha Purdy from the Physiotherapy Class of 2002.

As a competitive trampolinist in her teens, Martha’s first exposure to the profession of physiotherapy came when she suffered a back injury. Seeing the benefits of physiotherapy first hand played a role in her educational and career choices.

Since graduating from the BSc Physiotherapy program in 2002, Martha’s career has taken many exciting twists and turns.

In 2003, Martha began the non-traditional career-path of working for Cirque du Soleil. Martha shares, “Although my clinical experience was limited, my experience as an elite trampolinist proved to be very valuable when communicating with coaches and performers, and also for understanding the demands of being an acrobat.” For Martha, a typical day of work at Cirque du Soleil would involve injury prevention and treatment sessions with the performers - watching practices, teaching Pilates, communicating and planning with the artistic team, as well as responding to any emergencies that occurred during the shows.  Typically, 9-10 shows were performed in a week, with one day of rest and recovery for the athletes.  This made for a demanding workload. Having toured with the show Alegria throughout North America, Japan, Europe and Brazil, Martha collected, “too many fond memories to count!”

Leaving Cirque du Soleil in 2008, Martha moved into private practice. It was during this time that she was introduced to Osteopathy by a colleague who was both a Physiotherapist and Osteopath. Believing that Osteopathy would enhance her “toolkit”, Martha enrolled at the Canadian College of Osteopathy. After five years of part time school and two years of working on her thesis, Martha recently graduated with a Diploma in Osteopathic Manual Practice (DOMP).

In 2011, Martha started SYNERGY Physiotherapy + Pilates, a clinic that helps to improve health, wellness and performance. “I really wanted to offer an environment that supports and empowers my clients, not only from injury recovery, but also through the promotion of healthy movement and exercise”, she explains. To do this Martha knew that the more time she spent with her clients, the more support and education she could provide. 

The business model appears to be working as, now in its 7th year of business, Martha describes the Synergy team as “wonderful physiotherapists and amazing clients, that inspire me every day.”

Not one to stay idle, Martha spends her “spare” time as a member of the medical support team for the Women’s National Gymnastics team. “Working with Canada's National team is quite different than a regular client at the clinic.” Martha explains, “With the 2020 Olympics being two years away, Canada is already looking to secure an Olympic team spot in the upcoming World Championships this October in Qatar.  For many athletes, they are working on increasing the difficulty of their routines, which increases injury risk. Staying healthy requires careful monitoring of workload, as well as treatment to prevent and treat both acute and chronic injuries and promote tissue recovery from training.”

What type of skills are required to work with elite athletes? Communication and the ability to work in a team setting. As part of the integrated support team (IST) for Gymnastics Canada, working with other members of the team; including a chiropractor, mental health performance consultant, dietician, strength and conditioning specialist and other physiotherapists, as well as with individual coaches and National Team Director, is essential to support the athlete's best performance.

 As an IST therapist for the Canadian National team, some of Martha’s responsibilities include:  injury prevention planning, strength and conditioning, coordinating medical care for athletes in their home town, providing treatment and promoting athlete health and wellness, as well as educating athletes, coaches and parents. One of her roles at Gymnastics Canada is to help integrate Pilates, by coordinating and teaching workshops during training camps, creating a Pilates based warmup for the National team and providing individual Pilates support. Although Martha found that post-graduate courses such as orthopedic division manual therapy, sports first responder training, Stott Pilates certification, acupuncture/needling, and osteopathic training, are key skills in her work with the National team, she emphasizes the importance of “field experience” in developing the necessary technical, communications and critical decision-making skills that are paramount when working with elite athletes.
Martha is excited as she looks to the future. “My focus is to continue developing my sports therapy skills to help support Team Canada as they prepare for Tokyo 2020.  I will be attending and presenting at the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine conference in June, and I will be taking an advanced functional needling course, as well as a movement assessment course this fall.“ To this busy schedule, Martha will add a trip to Paris and Qatar for a World Cup and the World Championships with the men's and women's gymnastics team.
For those looking for an interesting and varied career in Physiotherapy, Martha offers the following advice: “Choose to work in an environment that is client focused and encourages ongoing learning. This is essential to developing your manual and communication skills.  Spend quality, focused time with your client, and you will both be successful.”

Team Canada at the International University Sports Federation Games in Taipei 2017.