Taking local expertise international: Rich Trenholm on the Para Pan American Games medical team



Main photo: Members of the Canadian team preparing to enter the stadium for the Para Pan American Games opening ceremonies in Peru (from left) Stephanie Dixon, chef de mission, Dr. Rich Trenholm, Stephanie Yang, table tennis, Amaya Iribarren, massage therapist, and a local volunteer (supplied)

By Don McCormick

Members of Huntsville’s TriMuskoka Triathlon Club continue to have a presence on the international sporting scene. The most recent case in point is the participation of Huntsville physician Dr. Rich Trenholm in the Para Pan American Games in Lima, Peru from August 16 to September 2, 2019. Trenholm, who is one of the founders of the TriMuskoka Triathlon Club, was one of the nine-member medical team covering those games.

One does not simply volunteer for a position like this. One has to earn one’s way by quite a rigorous selection process. Trenholm has a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Kinetics, a Master’s Degree in Biomechanics (physics of human movement), and a medical degree. He has worked with onetime local physician Derek Mackesy and Dr. Margaret Burkhardt at one of the sport and exercise clinics in Barrie, and has taken postgraduate courses in subjects like musculoskeletal medicine, anatomy, biomechanics, and sport and exercise medicine.

But even that would not earn him a position on a Canadian medical team. The medical specialty of sport and exercise medicine is governed by the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine (CASEM) of which Derek Mackesy is one of the founding fathers. One has to be certified by CASEM to apply to be on a national medical team. Trenholm wrote and passed the certification exams for CASEM in 2010.

He then had to accumulate points by participating on medical teams in sporting events and other sport medicine activities. To that end he has volunteered at several endurance sporting events including being medical director at several of the Muskoka Ironman events, at the Ontario Games, and has been on the Board of CASEM and chaired a national special interest group of endurance sports medicine for CASEM.

In 2018, Trenholm applied to CASEM to qualify as a medical team member on a national team and in March of 2019 received word that he had been selected as a member of the medical team for the Para Pan American Games.

Trenholm is a sport and exercise medicine specialist, and a founding member of Reactivate Muskoka (Reactivatemuskoka.com), a sport and exercise medicine clinic in Huntsville. He is used to dealing mainly with able-bodied athletes but at these games he would be dealing mainly with disabled athletes.

“It was challenging,” says Trenholm, “in that you had overlying medical conditions on top of sports injuries. And you don’t have the luxury of time. If you have some one who’s injured you have 24 hours or less to turn them around and get them back onto the field of play. If I’m doing event coverage I might only have minutes to get the athlete back into play.”

In dealing with these athletes, Trenholm was impressed “with how humble these athletes were and that was a real joy. They were so grateful that I was there and they were so welcoming to me to be a part of the team.” In addition to doing medicine, Trenholm helped with things like putting bikes together and getting equipment ready and “I felt like I was part of the team and that was an amazing feeling.”

Among the highlights for Trenholm was “walking into an opening ceremony with other Canadians into a stadium with 40,000 Peruvians and hearing your nation’s name being called out and the crowd going crazy is an unbelievable feeling. Hearing our national anthem being played with the Canadian flag being raised [during a medal ceremony]was a totally incredible feeling. Being there, singing the national anthem at the top of your lungs—there’s nothing like it.”

The cycling coaches included Trenholm with a small support role during the competitions. “It was probably just a small thing to them but it was such a big thing to me. It made me feel connected, like I was part of the team.”

Dr. Rich Trenholm examining a member of the Canadian cycling team at the Para Pan American Games in Peru (supplied)

Dr. Rich Trenholm examining a member of the Canadian cycling team at the Para Pan American Games in Peru (supplied)

There were some athletes that particularly impressed Trenholm. “Priscilla Gagne is a visually impaired Judo athlete, one of the best in the world. For someone who is in a combat sport she was unbelievably humble and nice. There was a poor call by the referee that cost her the gold medal. She sought out her opponent to apologize for what she did. She was so compassionate and human towards her opponent. She was selfless.

“Ian Kent, a former professional table tennis player became afflicted with dystonia, a condition where his back went into spasm and never released,” explains Trenholm. “He has to walk backwards wherever he goes.” He has accepted his condition and has used it to become one of the best in the world at table tennis. “He is inspirational,” says Trenholm. “It truly signifies that anything is possible.”

While Trenholm received many wonderful experiences he also feels he contributed. Providing his medical expertise is an obvious one but there were others. “I brought my energy, my humour, my joviality to the medical team. I think I lightened the mood,” he says. He was the only member of the medical team with gynecological and obstetrics expertise and that was appreciated by the female members of the team.

Will he do it again? “Oh yes,” exclaims Trenholm. “It is such an overwhelmingly positive, inspirational, pride-filling opportunity and experience that you wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. To wear a national team jacket because you were selected to be on a team to represent your country is something else.

“My skills, my knowledge, my energy, my passion for physical activity and sports and my love for travel were all brought together [by this experience],” says Trenholm. “And I see this as an opportunity for my family. I hope that, over the next several cycles of games, I can take my family to, say, the Winter Olympics in China, or France for the next summer Olympics. I want to be able to expose them to that opportunity, to meet those kinds of inspirational people.”

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