Dr Dan Exeter
I am writing this having just returned from the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and reflecting on what has been a very successful event for our New Zealand team. It’s an enormous privilege to represent New Zealand, and nowhere is there more of a sense of pride in our small nation than in an Olympic or Commonwealth Games village. This was my second games, after Rio 2016, and the first pleasant surprise was finding a village that was actually finished (and in fact had been for months)!
Over successive Commonwealth and Olympic Games, the New Zealand Olympic Committee has worked tirelessly to create an environment that not only caters for the needs of our athletes, but creates a performance benefit. In the Gold Coast, our athletes approached their apartment accommodation by walking down a street lined with townhouses and marquees – all full of equipment and people to assist them. Within our New Zealand section of the village we were almost self-sufficient, with our own basement gym, recovery pools, diagnostic ultrasound, uniform centre and relaxation spaces. In order to enhance the support, a team of ex-Olympians acted as athlete support, helping facilitate everything from airport meet-and-greets to the all-important coffee and pineapple lumps in the athlete’s lounge. It was a cheerful, wonderful, nurturing environment where the athletes’ needs were paramount.
For the health team, a typical day started with some exercise, before a team meeting at 7am, where we prepped the day and kept our Type A personalities honed with a morning trivia quiz. Then it was either off to support athletes at their training and competition venues, or manning our village health centre in Townhouse 74. What our facilities allowed was the ability to work as a truly multi-disciplinary team. Many consultations were conducted with a doctor, physiotherapist, coach and athlete all in the same room – each party providing their expertise and insight as we sought the common goal of optimal performance. As expected, we were busy. At our peak, we performed 108 consultations (medical, physiotherapy and massage therapy) in a day. That equated to almost 50% of the athletes in the village at that time.
There were some challenging decisions to be made in the Games environment, and these had to be considered in the context of an athlete that may have worked for four years to peak at this very time. However, this didn’t mean that rules could be broken. The principle of ‘first do no harm’ remains even more critical when the stakes are higher, and athletes can seem oblivious to harm, especially long-term harm, when the stakes are high. However, with everyone in the same room, it was in some ways easier to reach decisions that encompassed all opinions.
What was a personal highlight, much like it was in Rio, was crowding into a room with other members of the health team, support staff and athletes (often mid-treatment) to watch key events. In my opinion, there are few things better than watching sport with those so heavily invested in it. It was times like these that everyone in the village drew strength from each other – especially as the games wore on and those of us in support roles started to sense the beginnings of fatigue setting in. However, the deeds of our athletes, who continued to push themselves, proved as inspiring to us in the health team as it did to those who were still to compete.
All in all, it was a brilliant experience, and will leave me with lasting memories. So if you see me in the clinic, consulting in bare feet, shorts and a t-shirt, you know I’m just missing life on the GC.