Shefali Christopher, assistant professor in the doctor of physical therapy program, traveled to Yokohama, Japan, last week to support the USA paratriathlon team at their first international race of the season.
When the USA paratriathlon team won four gold medals and one bronze competing in Japan this month, Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy Education Shefali Christopher was there to support them as team therapist.
The Yokohama competition was a chance for athletes to earn valuable points toward Paralympic ranking that determines qualification for the 2021 US Paralympic Triathlon team. Those rankings in turn can earn country-quota slots for the Paralympic Games to be held later this year in Tokyo.
The main event consisted of completing a sprint-distance triathlon with a 750-meter swim in the port of Yokohama, followed by a 20-kilometer bike, and 5-kilometer run. Elite paratriathletes competed in the first World Paratriathlon Series race to be held since February 2020.
Christopher was able to work with several athletes during her time to make sure they were ready to compete. “It was a very different trip compared to previous paratriathlon team travel and unfortunately, I was unable to explore Yokohama,” Christopher said. “However as a physical therapist, I love treating athletes so the restrictions were worth the service.”
The event was held inside a strict COVID-19 bubble with many safety protocols. Christopher was required to be COVID-tested within 72 hours of traveling, a requirement that had to be certified and signed by a medical doctor on Japanese-government documentation. This was made difficult by a Sunday evening departure but was made possible by members of Elon’s Ready & Resilient team, with Jeff Stein, Dr. Ginette Archinal and Madelyn Pastrana helping her obtain the required nasopharageal PCR test and documentation. As the Japanese government is not currently allowing visitors, a special visa was also required.
Christopher carried a variety of other related documentation that was checked upon arrival, and she had to check into several location tracking apps during her week in Yokohama which informed the government of her whereabouts. The team could only use private transport as public transport was not allowed.
Once they arrived at the hotel, the team was not allowed to leave their rooms unless they were receiving treatment from Christopher or traveling to training. Meals were hung from the doorknob three times a day. Teams from each country were given a training slot and athletes, staff, and coaches were escorted by race staff from the hotel elevators to the bus. The only time the team was allowed to be outside was on race day.
Several PCR tests were performed during the six-day trip to Japan to make sure all race participants, staff, and coaches were COVID free. Although navigating training before the race was difficult, the Japanese government and race organizers did a wonderful job keeping everyone safe.
The team physical therapist assists getting the athletes ready for race day. Christopher spent time between training sessions treating the team whether it was a nagging old injury or flight-related aches and pains.
Christopher has been a contract physical therapist with the US paratriathlon team since 2018 and traveled to a variety of races, including the championships in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2019. She uses lessons from her trips to inform her teaching with rich case studies of patient encounters. She has included several projects on working with adaptive athletes into her classes as she is very passionate about equitable sports participation opportunities for all.