Melissa Deonaraine


1. Why did you pursue athletic therapy as your career?

I was training for my second Canada Summer Games as a field hockey athlete and wanted to address some lingering injuries. I saw a sign for athletic therapy while waiting for my initial assessment with a physio. Made sense for me to go to an athletic therapist as opposed to a physio since I was an athlete and I needed to address my chronic injuries. As I continued with athletic therapy treatments, my injuries improved. Sports physios at national tournaments telling me to keep up with athletic therapy because it was making a difference. I was impressed that this profession I stumbled on could make such an impact on my life improving the quality of life allowing me to be active, feel good about myself not to mention learn so much about my body and how to take care of myself. No other professional had been able to provide me with anything like that. That’s when I decided to pursue athletic therapy.

2. What is your most memorable moment in regard to athletic therapy?

I was host society para-athletics medical staff at Parapan Am Games in Toronto. It was slow in the clinic because a lot of teams didn’t realize there was therapy on-site, so I went around the training field being friendly greeting athletes brushing up on my Spanish while trying get some business in the clinic. One hot outdoor shift I convinced an athlete that I could grab them and their coach some cold water while I grabbed some for myself and my partner who was staying cool under the shade of a tree. I got back when this athlete was stretching near our assigned spot. I asked them about themselves and shared a video from the night before of the fireworks for Panamania. The following day I arrived at the clinic only to be greeted by the same athlete as an old friend, happy to see me. The athlete asked me to help him retrieve something from his backpack. Following his directions, I pull out a packaged item of a Paralympic t-shirt in my size. He gestures that the shirt is for me. I was blown away from his gesture. I gave him a hug to show my gratitude and received a hug in return from a man with no arms.

3. Who are your biggest mentors and what impact have they had on you?

My first interaction with athletic therapy happened when I received treatment by Pat Smith. I was frustrated with my family doctor and physio telling me I had growing pains (with no extra height to show). Pat worked differently from the physio by spending one-on-one time with me, addressing concerns, modifying treatment depending on how much pain I was in all to help me reach my goal. I was impressed with how much he knew, how much he went out of his way to help me get seen by the appropriate docs to address

Tara Arbez was there helping me to be successful on my second attempt with the CATA national exam. Tara taught me how to be strong and smart when it came to physical assessments (given my petite frame), refined my clinic skills improving my confidence. I still go to Tara when I need insight.

Can’t forget Jackie Elliott. She’s like a mama bear, intense and cares that all her students are successful. Scared the heck out of me at times but I don’t think I would be the athletic therapist I am without her presence.

4. What is the most valuable advice you have received during your career?

Don’t care about negative things people say and listen to your gut. I wasn’t the favorite in my class, felt like the underdog, told by others that I take on too much, discouraged to continue my pursuit as an athletic therapist and even bullied. I kept that advice in mind pushing through hard times even when I struggled to find a job. It will be 4 years this August since I started my private practice. It’s a place that patients and their families want to visit not to mention encourage others to come for treatment. I’m different (and love that fact) but taken those past experiences making my clinic feel like home when anyone visits, giving them a sense of comfort and a place, they want to be (even when I go hardcore decorating the clinic for different seasons). I volunteer because it’s something I value as a part of my life; I appreciate the experiences I gain, making friends all around the world and participate in something that matters to me. I am very proud of what I have accomplished so far in life because everything I did was for me. I have some projects I want to tackle so hopefully I get to share that in a few years.   

5. What advice would you give to young athletic therapist starting out their profession?

Let go of your pride, learn to ask for help but don’t expect others to do the work for you. Live life like a university student; not checking your bank balance but hungry for work. Work every day like you have a fire lit under your bottom because someone hungrier than you will take what you have if you take it for granted. 

Respect your patients and treat them the way you want to be treated. Don’t take them for granted because without them, you don’t have a job. Work hard to make good impressions from your expertise and professionalism that when those patients feel better they send business your way because you’re the goods.

Be confident and genuine not cocky. Admit when you’ve made a mistake but also learn and grow from those moments. Cry or feel hurt/upset/discouraged when something bad happens/doesn’t go your way but remember to give yourself a time limit to do all that then let go of the garbage and move on because you have the power to change the future 

6. What do you love most about being an AT?

I love that my job is unique/different; no two days are the same, I get to interact with a variety of people who appreciate and value what I do to improve the quality of their life. Athletic therapy has a dynamic lifestyle that can be challenging while asking you to be fearless, sometimes mentally/emotionally/physically exhausting (depending on the day) when you finally have a moment to sit down but eager and pumped to do it all over again the next day despite the long hours. It’s one thing to make a diagnosis, it’s a completely different thing to solve that puzzle with a time frame and deadlines. Patients look forward to coming in for treatment, tell me this miss me, I have little 4 year old patients asking when they can go see Melissa, patients bring me homemade soup/snacks/meals/treats/gifts/cards to show their appreciation. How could I not love my job.

7. What is the worst patient injury you have ever experienced and what did you do to treat it?

I was attending a family bbq a couple of years ago celebrating my mom’s birthday when I saw out of the corner of my eye that my mom was collapsing to the ground. I got to her first stabilizing head and neck while kneeling on the grass wearing a sun dress and stilettos. She was unresponsive, not breathing so I applied a modified jaw thrust. My younger brother performed primary and secondary surveys. Paramedics showed up right around the time my mom gained consciousness. I continued to stabilize head and neck while the paramedics worked around me. My hands were shaking by the end from being stuck in that position but from shock that it was my mom. Thankfully my mom was okay after being taken to the hospital and got things checked out.  

I have far worse injuries I have treated like a patient who was hit by an SUV, flew in the air, got stuck under the vehicle after ¾ limbs, head and torso being run over. After 5 months and numerous setbacks plus surgery, I had them moving and feeling better about themselves. My patient, their family, and doctors are fighting to continue athletic therapy coverage with the insurance company because of the success the patient received in such a short time. 

I’m grateful for all that I have learned as an Athletic Therapist because I was able to be fearless and take on scary challenges whether personal or professional.

8. How do you promote the profession of Athletic Therapy?

I use social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Google+, and my website. I have taken numerous pictures for custom home programs emailed to patients print (some call it the bible when they have enough handouts) or take on their tablet while on vacation to keep up with their home program. I started to make videos to save time/insurance coverage with patients going over the same thing time after time. Last year I created videos for NATM that would provide patients and the general public with simple quick videos highlighting simple things we do/cool tips. 

I have been the workshop facilitator for the past 3 years with the University of Manitoba Undergraduate Healthcare Symposium introducing potential undergraduate students in the field of athletic therapy. I also attend various events such as galas making connections with different groups/individuals, end up educating them.

I have run promotions in the winter asking patients to bring in canned/dry goods for those less fortunate in return for discounted athletic therapy treatments. Last year I asked for gently used clothing and had numerous patients bring in items.  

Working MATA multi-sporting events educating athletes as I tend to their injuries discussing how athlete therapy could help improve recovery and refer them to contact AT’s in their area.