04/27/2020 16:40 EDT | Updated 04/28/2020 09:22 EDT

Canadian Super Bowl Winner, Olympians Wickenheiser and Rochette Join COVID-19 Frontlines

They’re stepping up and using their medical expertise.

Canadian athletes are capable of some pretty remarkable things. From gold-medal winning performances to astounding feats of charity, they’ve stepped up when they need to. Now, some are taking on an entirely new role in the COVID-19 pandemic: front-line health-care worker. 

From a Super Bowl-winning doctor to former Olympic medallists, Canadian athletes with medical training are heeding the call and stepping up to the COVID-19 front lines. Many are just out of medical school and haven’t even completed their residencies, but they say they’re ready to help. 

Less than three months after winning the Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs in a tight battle against the San Francisco 49ers, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is fighting a whole different battle.

The Associated Press
Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif celebrates after a field goal during an NFL football game in 2016.

The NFL star was the first medical doctor to play in football’s biggest game, and now he’s likely the first NFL player to fight the world’s biggest pandemic on the front lines.

Duvernay-Tardif graduated with a medical doctorate from McGill University but hasn’t yet completed his residency. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, he said once Quebec lifted restrictions and allowed medical students and recent graduates to step in, he rushed to help where he could.

“I had already wanted to, but when it’s real, it hits you, the gravity involved. Now, the discussion shifts from ‘I want to go back’ to ‘how am I going to go back?’” he wrote. “I discussed with my girlfriend whether we will continue to sleep in the same bed or live in the same apartment. These conversations made me realize even more the sacrifices that people in health care, on the front line, are making.”

His first day on COVID-19 duty was April 24, and he was assigned to a long-term care home about an hour outside Montreal.

“I found out that I would be working for now in more of a nursing role, helping relieve the workers who have already been in place,” he said. 

Duvernay-Tardif said he’s assisting with medication, personal protective equipment (PPE), and operations in the home.

“There’s so much that needs to happen just to visit with every patient—masks donned and hands washed and equipment like gloves and visors tugged on and off and thrown away. I handled a medication cart, making sure to administer the right dosage and in the proper way. Honestly, I was drained after—and looking forward to going back.”

I had already wanted to, but when it’s real, it hits you, the gravity involved.Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

But Duvernay-Tardif isn’t the only Canadian athlete trading sport for health care.

Retired figure skater Joannie Rochette, who competed in the 2006 Turin and 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, received her own medical degree from McGill on Friday, and said she’ll be deploying as soon as possible. 

“I’m just one of hundreds of graduates to get into the action,” Rochette wrote on Twitter

Rochette captured Canada’s heart in 2010 when she won the bronze medal in women’s figure skating only days after her mother Therese died of a heart attack. 

In an interview with French-language all-sports network RDS, Rochette said she was inspired to get into medicine by her mother, who worked as a nurse’s aide.

“I always wanted to do this, and that’s why I applied to health sciences when I went to CEGEP. My mom was a nurse’s aide and I went with her to care homes when she went to feed residents,” Rochette said. “The way she saw medicine, and doctors, is really what brought me here.”

Hayley Wickenheiser poses for a photograph with volunteers during a donation drive for personal protective equipment at XYZ Storage in Toronto on April 11, 2020.

Other Olympians are joining to fight, too.

Four-time Olympic gold medallist Hayley Wickenheiser was working on rotation in Toronto emergency rooms as part of her final year of medical school at the University of Calgary (U of C) when the pandemic broke out.

A directive from the U of C means trainees can’t directly treat COVID-19 patients. But that hasn’t stopped Wickenheiser from doing her part. The Canadian hockey legend has been working with Canadians Conquer COVID-19 to send PPE to front-line health-care workers. 

The four-time Olympic gold medallist has coordinated PPE drives across the country over the past few weeks. 

On Friday, she announced she is working with actor Ryan Reynolds specifically to send PPE to Nova Scotia in honour of one of the health-care workers killed in the shooting.

With files from Canadian Press. 

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