Body checking: Donald Fuller helps to heal injuries, both on and off the ice
Much like the athletes he has treated, Donald Fuller has needed to stay agile and think on his feet; skills he has used to navigate a career change in an ever-evolving industry. Growing up in London, Ontario, Fuller knew he wanted to be involved in the health-care industry. “I like being involved in the care of people’s injuries and illness, and working with people to aid their recovery,” he says. As a sports fan and active participant, Fuller wrestled throughout high school and, when he went to McMaster University to study physical education, continued with wrestling and played rugby in his final year, enjoying the camaraderie and competitive aspect of the team environment.
After graduating, he found Sheridan’s hands-on elements appealing and enrolled in the Sports Injury Management program. “Sheridan was a great experience,” he says. “I enjoyed every course I was involved in. Because it’s such a close knit program, you get to know all of your professors and everyone in your class very well.” Fuller points to Barry Bartlett and Anne Hartley as two professors who particularly shaped his time at Sheridan. “Their teaching styles were infectious and they had a wonderful influence upon their classes. You wanted to do extremely well as their student,” he says. “Barry and Anne were influential on the program at Sheridan, and the profession of Athletic Therapy has benefitted exponentially from their professionalism, knowledge, and expertise.”
Upon graduation in 1991, Fuller returned to London to begin a Master’s degree in sports medicine, but was soon lured away by work opportunities. “There were so many opportunities to go and work that I couldn’t pass up at the time,” he says. He vowed to finish his masters eventually and is currently in the process of completing his Master’s of Science in Kinesiology online.
Fuller’s jobs took him from his first role as an assistant athletic therapist at Laurentian University to head athletic therapist at the University of Victoria and, in 1999, a role with Hockey Canada that took him to Calgary and then around the world. “It was an unbelievable experience,” he says. “We went to places I wouldn’t have been able to travel to on my own, such as the Nagano Olympic site, St. Petersburg and Moscow, and other cultural experiences that were fascinating.”
On a trip to Sweden, Fuller met the former owner and the former general manager of the Minnesota Wild, who would eventually bring him on board with the team as head athletic therapist beginning in their inaugural NHL season in 2000. “Working in professional hockey was definitely a challenge,” he says. “The game has changed so much in terms of the physical and medical testing that is required to be done during the pre-season and post-season.”
Fuller worked to improve injury prevention and team health, including a notable incident where a player shattered his femur during a game. “He was tripped from behind and crashed into the boards and had no chance to brace himself,” says Fuller. “I remember hearing it and thinking, ‘that doesn’t sound good at all’.” Fuller worked on stabilizing and getting the player boarded for transport to a 12-hour surgery, then worked with him for months until his eventual return to the NHL.
Now, Fuller is starting on a new path in Minnesota. He’s working as an emergency room technician in a level one trauma centre in the Twin Cities, where he’ll be using his skills to perform lifesaving procedures such as CPR, taking vitals, assisting with trauma patients, starting IV drips and wound care, as well as running EKGs and doing triage. “I’m looking forward to the change and the challenges of this opportunity,” says Fuller, who also owns his own Athletic Therapy practice, Woodbury Manual Therapy. “It’s important to be open-minded about your opportunities. You never know what opportunities will arise through the people you meet and work with.”
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