Going to the Olympics as a volunteer member of the support team is not a vacation.
“It’ll definitely be work and long hours,” said Kip Petch, a local sports massage therapist.
The Sochi Winter Olympics will be the seventh Games the 56-year-old Namao resident attends as a volunteer, and the fifth Olympic Games in a row.
Petch, who runs the Active Life Centre in Campbell Business Park, expects to log about 12 hours a day attending to the needs of Team Canada athletes at the clinic where he’ll be working for 24 days.
He’ll start out working in the mountain athletes’ village, with a potential switch with Team Canada’s other massage therapist midway so he can spend some time in the coastal village. The two of them will work with a team of other health-care professionals to keep Canadian athletes at the top of their game.
In addition to his efforts at the Olympics, Petch has volunteered his sports massage therapy expertise at other large international events like the Pan-American or Commonwealth Games over the years.
A day in the life of a massage therapist at a major sporting event is not usually an easy one.
“Some days you’re going to be swamped and you think ‘Oh my God, can I keep this pace up?’ and the next day it’s not [as busy],” he said.
At the Pan-American Games in Mexico, he got to put his endurance to the test.
“I did three days of 22 people each day. They were half-an-hour massages and so it was 11 hours,” Petch said.
Normally he did 12 to 15 half an hour massages a day. During that busy time, he didn’t even have time to enter his notes on the computer, instead scribbling on a sheet on the wall and having to enter all 66 sets of notes at the end of the three-day marathon.
Petch has an avid athletic history, playing every sport available to him in high school and moving on to college basketball in Quebec and soccer and track and field at the University of Alberta, continuing to play basketball until just a few years ago.
He fell in love with watching the Olympics in 1972.
“I really followed the American team, I followed track and field for sure,” Petch said, noting the American coverage was more thorough and their team more prevalent then Canada’s at that time.
Petch was born in the U.S. and spent the first several years of his life living part-time in the States and part-time in Quebec.
While he loved watching the Olympics, it was working as an athletic therapy student during the 1976 Games in Montreal that made him fall in love with participating as a support team member.
That volunteering spirit and love of sports has taken Petch from Olympics held in Canada to overseas Games in China, Italy, London and now Russia, not to mention his other travels for different events.
He keeps volunteering his time, taking away from his livelihood at the clinic, because it’s nice to be a part of helping athletes perform at their peak.
He also enjoys being welcomed back by athletes he’s worked with before, valuing the appreciation they show him.
Petch said he still gets emails from some athletes, and a broom from the silver medal-winning women’s curling team from 2010 is mounted on a wall his work room.
“It’s nice to know they appreciate what you did for them,” he said.
The Olympic path
To get to the Olympics as a volunteer sports massage therapist, one has to get through the Canadian Sports Massage Therapists Association and the Canadian Olympic Committee’s selection process.
Prior to his first Olympics in Torino, Italy in 2006, Petch had a collection of “thanks but no thanks” letters dating back to 2000.
“They know I’m low maintenance, that I work hard,” Petch said. “It is nice now to attain that sort of level where you have people’s trust.”
The Olympics might be a headline-grabber for Petch’s professional and volunteer experiences, but he’s also done smaller sporting events, works on committees in his industry, teaches at conferences and a nearby massage therapy school. He also works with the Canadian women’s soccer team.
He studied physical education at the University of Alberta, coming from Quebec to attend school. He stayed on as an athletic therapist with the Edmonton Drillers, eventually shifting to sports massage therapy as the Drillers wound down from a professional-level team.
“The massage therapists were always saying you know, you should go get your massage training,” Petch said, so he went to Grant MacEwan and did just that.
He and a classmate opened the clinic in St. Albert together. His classmate lasted six months. Petch, however, is still there 27 years later, having started as a massage therapist during a time when it wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is today.
“I feel like I was a bit of a pioneer,” Petch said.
When asked why he volunteers so much, not just at big games events but on boards, as a basketball coach at NAIT previously, and others, he said it’s nice to be around a team atmosphere even if you’re not playing.
“Programs aren’t just going to exist without the volunteers to step up and do it,” he said. “I’ve volunteered a lot of hours, that’s for sure.”
Be it a local athlete or Team Canada, Petch likes to have a small part in helping others achieve their goals.
“I have a flair for what I do. I have a passion for helping people. I think I do that at all walks of life,” he said.
Team Canada hockey player Meaghan Mikkelson can attest to that.
“I have met a lot of massage therapists through the course of my career, but very few that possess the same passion for what they do as Kip does. He is very unique in this way. In addition to this, he will do absolutely everything he can to be the best at what he does,” Mikkelson said in an email.
Mikkelson is already overseas getting ready for the games, but said she always makes a point of seeing Petch when she’s in St. Albert.
“Kip obviously has a tremendous amount of experience, which is extremely valuable, but what I find equally as valuable is his ability to read what is going on with your body and which areas need to be focused on,” she wrote.
Hearing Petch describe one of his best moments from past Olympics, it’s clear that he enjoys the appreciation he gets from athletes.
In 2006 at the Winter Games in Torino, Italy, Petch was stationed with the Canadian men’s and women’s bobsleigh team. He was in the stands for the men’s silver medal win and describes that moment with fondness.
But it’s the women’s fourth place finish that he brings up as one of the proudest For the women’s runs, instead of staying in the stands, he’d positioned himself closer to the finish line. The team missed out on a bronze medal by mere fractions of a second.
“I was close and they gave me such a warm wave and smile when they were up there,” Petch said.
Kip Petch, Q&A
What’s your favourite sport?
“I love all sports but my favourite is probably basketball.”
Who inspires you?
“Steve Nash for his incredible work ethic.”
What book or movie has had the most impact on you?
“Field of Dreams.”
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
“An NBA player or a PE teacher.”
What’s your favourite place to travel?
“Our own backyard.”
What’s your guilty pleasure?
“Spending alone time in my (woodworking) workshop.”
What would you like your tombstone to say?
“What you do has far greater impact than what you say.”
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment? “Being a good husband and father.”
What’s your theme song?
“Long May You Run by Neil Young.”