Chris Hofley sits down with Head Athletic Therapist Marcelo Cuenca to talk about how he found his way to Ottawa, what he loves about his job and what goes into keeping a team of football players healthy.
REDBLACKS: Where did the journey to becoming the REDBLACKS’ Head Athletic Therapist start for you?
Marcelo Cuenca: I was raised in Toronto and grew up in Vaughan before heading to school at York University, which was close by. I studied kinesiology initially and they offered a concurrent program in athletic therapy, so I did the combination of the two and spent six years at York.
REDBLACKS: Is that where you got your first taste of working with a pro sports team?
Cuenca: Yeah, in my program at York we did a lot of internships, working with universities and working in a clinical setting. In my last year, in 2010, I worked with the Toronto Argonauts. That’s where I got my foot in the door with the CFL.
REDBLACKS: Had you always wanted to be an athletic therapist?
Cuenca: I knew I wanted to be in health care and work in sports, somehow. Through the program at York, I came to love the profession and realized it was geared towards m own goals. I knew from my first year that the Argos full season internship was a big deal – they take four students for training camp and they kept one on all season. So it worked out pretty well.
REDBLACKS: Can we assume sports played a role in your life growing up?
Cuenca: For sure, but it was mainly soccer and martial arts – karate initially and now Muay Thai. But I didn’t grow up with football, I got into it through my job.
REDBLACKS: So from York University to working for the Argos…how did you find your way to Ottawa?
Cuenca: Getting jobs in athletic therapy is pretty tough and I was lucky enough to get a contract out of school working with Carleton University’s varsity teams. I was also fortunate to work with the Ottawa Senators at the same time. I had these two opportunities that I amalgamated to give me full time work for the year. After the NHL lockout and working in a clinic and at Carleton, Dave Wright was hired as the head of OSEG Athletic Therapy in 2014 and I got in touch and got the assistant job working under Dave.
REDBLACKS: Speaking of Dave Wright, he has moved onto the next chapter of his career and you have taken over the head athletic therapist job. What did you learn as Dave’s assistant along the way to help you prepare for the new responsibility?
Cuenca: Dave taught me a lot in terms of skills, no question, like rehab work, on-field management and in the clinic. But more than that, he taught me the other side of this job, the admin side.
You’re dealing with player insurance and working with all the different specialists, doctors, diagnostics, coordinating all that. Every player that signs with the club has to have medical before stepping onto the field and we regularly have new guys coming in, so that’s a big deal.
REDBLACKS: What’s the grossest injury you have seen in your line of work?
Cuenca: Every season there’s pretty bad knee injuries and bad fractures and they’re always concerning. But one that was really gnarly was a contusion one of our players had on his forehead. When he went to make a tackle, his helmet wasn’t on properly so most of the contact occurred at his forehead.
He didn’t fracture his skull or anything and cognitively he was good, but he had a massive bruise or hematoma above his eye. It was scary because it looked like something had shifted, but it was just the fluid, because your scalp there’s so much pressure that builds there and it’s very vascular, so it literally looked like a tennis ball above his eye. It was instant.
REDBLACKS: What do you like most about your job?
Cuenca: I love game day, no question. We work really hard and long hours for it and it feels like it’s all worth it on that one day of the week. We play a very small role but it is pretty cool when our team – there’s going to be four athletic therapists this season – see everyone’s hard work pay off, like seeing a player come back from a long-term injury.
REDBLACKS: What’s the toughest part of your job?
Cuenca: In pro sports, your time is spread very thin, especially during the season. There’s no days off, so you miss a lot of personal events. That’s the hardest part, no question. up early no problem. The hours are tough but more so I feel bad for my family, my wife. You feel a bit guilty sometimes but I know this is my calling and she supports me.
The REDBLACKS 2017 mini-camp kicks off Thursday, April 27 and all training sessions are open to the public. For more information, please click here.