USask alumna and Team Canada physiotherapist Rhonda Shishkin tapes the hand of Olympic women’s basketball player Kia Nurse. (Photo: Basketball Canada)
USask alumna and Team Canada physiotherapist Rhonda Shishkin tapes the hand of Olympic women’s basketball player Kia Nurse. (Photo: Basketball Canada)

Shishkin serving as physiotherapist for Olympic basketball team

She has been to the Pan-Am Games, Commonwealth Games and the World University Games, but this month Rhonda Shishkin (PT'95) gets to experience the pinnacle of sport.

The former Huskie Athletics physical therapist and University of Saskatchewan (USask) alumna will be wearing Canada’s colours while serving as the physiotherapist with the national women’s basketball team at the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, July 23 to Aug. 8. For Shishkin, it will be the highlight of her career.

“It is coming up fast and it is starting to feel more real now,” said Shishkin, who earned physical therapy and physical education degrees at USask and worked with Huskie Athletics for 21 years from 1997 to 2018. “I have been fortunate to be involved with Basketball Canada in the past, and have been to the Pan Am Games with them. I have been involved with Athletics Canada and been to a Commonwealth Games, and through my work with the Huskies I have been to the World University Games.

“But the Olympics is different. The Olympics are special. When you look at a lifetime of opportunities, it is one that really want to have on your list.”

For Shishkin, it has been a five-year journey of spending summers with the national team, an opportunity opened to her by Team Canada head coach and Huskie women’s basketball coach Lisa Thomaidis.

“A few years ago Lisa said they had a training camp coming up and needed a therapist and asked if I was interested and I said sure,” said Shishkin, who has known Thomaidis for more than two decades through working together with Huskie Athletics. “That door was opened for me and I was able to spend this last five years with them, so I am really fortunate to be with this team. Basketball has been a love of mine and I feel very fortunate to work with Lisa, who I worked with at the university since 1998. To be with a coach that you know so well and that you respect and that you work well with, is just an added bonus.”

Shishkin, who is now the director of physiotherapy at Craven SPORT services, left Saskatoon two months ago to begin her latest stint with the national team, moving from one pandemic protocol quarantine “bubble” to another. After starting training camp at the Toronto Raptors practice facility in Tampa, Fla., the Canadian team headed to Puerto Rico to compete in the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup from June 11-19, before returning to Tampa for final preparations prior to flying to Japan on July 4.

“When we travel, we re-establish our bubble,” said Shishkin. “Tokyo will have really strict rules about where you can and can’t be and how different groups of people will or will not mix. We are expecting that we will be at our Team Canada accommodations and at the basketball venue and that’s it. So, they are making sure we have access to TVs to see the other Canadians perform, but it won’t be like past Games where if you did have a day off you could maybe go see another Canadian team play. That won’t happen this time, but that’s what it takes to make sure we can do this safely.”

Shishkin said she is proud to represent her alma mater and Huskie Athletics at the Olympics, with her work at USask helping prepare her for this opportunity.

“I am certainly bringing my years of experience with Huskie Athletics to the services that I can give to these athletes and the things that I learned at Huskie Athletics about supporting athletes and communicating with athletes, has served me extremely well at this level,” she said. “And certainly Huskies provided me all the opportunities in the world to be on these types of stages, by supporting me going to a World University Games and supporting me when I was spending time with Basketball Canada. And that is something that I will be forever grateful for.”

Canada is ranked fourth in the world going into the Olympics, and one of the favourites to make the medal round that begins Aug. 4. For Shishkin, helping Canada win a medal is the ultimate goal, but her focus is simple: keep the athletes as healthy as possible.

“We work with the athletes to make sure they are as healthy as possible to perform their best on that stage on that day,” said Shishkin. “Ultimately, if I have everybody on the court to perform the best of their ability and see great performances by our athletes, for me that’s my success. I have one job to do and that is to make sure that they are available to play each day. And if they get a medal out of that, I will celebrate it as much as any athlete.”

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