Riding high with British Equestrian and Tokyo-bound, physio Ash Wallace speaks to PhysioUpdate
In a PhysioUpdate Q&A, we caught up with Tokyo-bound Ash Wallace, head of athlete health and lead physiotherapist with British Equestrian. Among other things, Ash tells editor Ian A McMillan that attending the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be the fifth Games she has attended as a physiotherapist helping elite athletes in a variety of sports.
What is your role with British Equestrian?
I’ve worked with British Equestrian since January 2018, and my role is head of athlete health and lead physiotherapist. It’s an English institute of Sport role, but completely embedded into British Equestrian.
The job involves the strategic development and coordination of an athlete health strategy, which identifies key injuries and illnesses that may impact on performance. I lead the human sports science and medicine team, which is comprised of a sports physician, physiotherapists, a strength and conditioning coach, a performance nutritionist, a sports psychologist and a performance lifestyle adviser.
The key pillar of our work is to deliver a collaborative team approach to supporting performance by optimising athlete physical and mental health. I also lead a small team of physios and deliver to eventing and dressage athletes at competitions and squad training.
Tokyo will be my fifth Olympic Games, having gone to previous Games with hockey, bobsleigh, rowing and as part of the Team GB headquarters team.
What events are coming up next?
Tokyo Olympics is my next event in a month’s time!
What impact has the Covid pandemic had on your work?
It’s undoubtedly been a very challenging time. However, in elite sport we have been extremely lucky because we’ve been granted exemption by the government to continue training.
In the equestrian world, it has actually allowed riders to focus more on their off-horse training because they haven’t had the huge demands of their usual competition calendar. The challenges have been many; but being part of a high-performance system has helped to put together innovative and creative solutions, which I have no doubt will impact positively on performances in Tokyo.
Do you have ride and have a horse?
I started riding when I was eight and when I was about 18, I had to make a decision whether to pursue competitive riding or hockey. Much to my father's delight, I chose hockey and went on to play internationally for South Africa. I absolutely love riding socially and, when work quietens down, I’d love to have a horse of my own again.
Give some top tips for others keen to follow your lead
1 Be curious: there’s always so much to be curious about. Often, when physios start working in elite sport, it seems to be a destination as opposed to an opportunity to continue to question, explore and learn
2 Be a team player: in my opinion, the best clinicians in elite sport work collaboratively with the rest of the multidisciplinary to ensure the athlete is optimally supported
3 Be patient: I think it’s important to expose yourself to all kinds of clinical situations and experiences before specialising. I started my career in a neuro rehab unit and I’m grateful for all that it taught me about neuroplasticity and how it can be used in training and rehabilitation
When and where did you graduate in physiotherapy?
A long time ago! I started my career in 1990, working in Cape Town at the equivalent of a large NHS hospital while doing my post-graduate degree. I joined the English Institute of Sport when it began back in 2003 and have had the privilege of working in many roles, from setting up services in the beginning, to clinician at Olympic Games, to working in the innovation team, to consulting with Formula One!
Most importantly, I enjoy working with a team – and I have a great support team in British Equestrian, who are aligned and focused on helping each athlete achieve their potential.
I’ve always considered myself as extremely lucky to have chosen a career that’s my passion and my work.
How do you relax away from work?
I love the outdoors, so time spent walking or running with friends is my favourite relaxation activity. To balance out all the high energy, though, you can’t beat yoga or a good book. An annual visit back to South Africa is also a must for me, with a week in a remote Botswana safari camp the best of all!
Ash Wallace is head of athlete health and lead physiotherapist for British Equestrian
To find out more about British Equestrian, visit: https://www.britishequestrian.org.uk/
Author: Edited by Ian A McMillan