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World class: Christopher brings lessons from the World University Games back to the Elon classroom

Shefali Christopher, an assistant professor of physical therapy education, recent returned from Taipei where she was a member of the medical team supporting Team USA at the World University Games.  

Shefali Christopher, assistant professor of physical therapy education, working with a Team USA athlete at the recent World University Games. 
Christopher, left, with Shannon Kaplan, a physical therapist who graduated from Elon's Doctor of Physical Therapy Education program in 2016. 

​Shefali Christopher took her experience and expertise from the classroom to the arena and back again this summer as a member of the medical delegation supporting Team USA at the recently completed World University Games in Taipei.

Christopher, a new assistant professor in Elon’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Education program, offered support to U.S. athletes across a broad range of sports during the games, which ran Aug. 19–30. Previously on the faculty at Duke University, Christopher has participated as a physical therapist for Team USA at earlier World University Games in Italy and South Korea.

​“It’s rewarding and challenging because of the adrenaline rush that comes with tending to these top athletes and helping them get back in the game,” Christopher said. “You have to have your wits about you, and help make the call about what the best treatment is, and whether the athlete can go back to compete or not.”

The World University Games, known around the world as Universiade, is an international multi-sport event organized for university athletes by the International University Sports Federation. The Universiade is an international sporting and cultural festival staged every two years in a different city around the world, representing both winter and summer competitions. It is second only in importance to the Olympic Games.

​Christopher first became involved with Team USA while at Duke University in large part because the head physician for the team was Dr. Ron Olson, a sports medicine specialist. Her first experience was on the ski slopes in Trentino, Italy, where she was joined by two physical therapy students.

Christopher with U.S. track and field legend Carl Lewis, who coached the Team USA track team. 

“We’re assisting athletes to help them get ready to participate in a few minutes, or in a few days,” Christopher said. “I’m there to help them excel, to get back out there and perform the best they can.”

Christopher said she has been part of the team of health care providers that tend to athletes in sports that, unlike swimming or basketball, don’t have their own medical staffs. In Taipei, she worked with athletes in table tennis, judo and water polo.

Though their primary mission is to support Team USA, Christopher and others also helped treat athletes from other countries who did not have the extensive medical staffs that Team USA is able to bring to the games. “The head of our medical delegation believes that it’s important to help some of the other countries that were struggling to cover the needs of their athletes,” Christopher said. “At the end of the day, we want everyone to be healthy.”

Christopher provided support to a range of Team USA athletes during the games.

Christopher said working with athletes at the games is a “very rich experience” that helps her hone her own skills and knowledge and provides examples to bring back to the classroom for her students. Along with working with athletes, the physical therapists on the team participated in seminars to share different types of techniques that work with different pathologies. Different sports require different remedies that depend upon how the athlete is going to be using the joint or limb.

“Not only do you have to use your skills, but you have to think through each sport,” Christopher said. “I’m hoping to be invited again in two years, and I’d like to open up opportunities for Elon students to have this kind of experience.” 

Owen Covington,
9/4/2017 3:00 PM