As an athletic therapist with the Vancouver Police Department, Becky Swan gets perks any thrill seeker would love. Donning protective gear to wrestle with the four-legged members of the canine unit; firing weapons at the shooting range; riding the towering horses of the Mounted Squad…she’s done it all.
But ask her what she truly loves about her job with the police officers and civilian staff who make up the force, and personal perks have nothing to do with it. “Working with this population, you see how much they sacrifice day in and day out,” says Swan. “They’re amazing, tough skinned people. They don’t always get the best pay back in the media, so it’s nice to be able to help them.”
She joined the Vancouver Police Department in 2010 as a fitness coordinator, a job she saw posted on the Canadian Athletic Therapists Association web site shortly after graduating from the Athletic Therapy program at Sheridan College where she won a coveted scholarship to work with the Hamilton Tiger Cats.
The fitness coordinator role fell under the education and training department and it saw her administer and monitor physical testing of recruits, as well as manage the 24-hour gym that serves approximately 1200 members.
Soon after starting this new position she asked if she could offer one-on-one athletic therapy sessions. While management said yes, they did so with some skepticism. They weren’t convinced members would want free, in-house treatment. “I was booked up within a month,” remembers Swan.
Perhaps that shouldn’t have been a surprise. “Police officers put on 30 to 40 pounds of gear and then have to run and fight people,” says Swan. It’s physically grueling and can lead to injury. “The vest and belt can cause joint compressions,” explains Swan. It’s common for officers to lose range of motion in their hips and upper back. “They may also have PTSD,” says Swan. “Some have scar tissue from gun shots and knife wounds.”
In 2016 she transferred to the human resources department. Seems like an odd move for an AT with an undergraduate degree in human kinetics, but she wanted to more formally work in health and wellness. At the VPD, that falls under human resources.
In the fall of 2016, the VPD created its Athletic Therapy and Wellness Unit where Swan works full-time. Only a handful of police forces in the world have a similar program. It includes three pillars of service, with an emphasis on total wellness: treatment for injury rehabilitation; strength and conditioning through four gyms in Vancouver; and full-body wellness, including mental health.
An important part of this position is creating educational programs, and providing expert lectures on a number of subjects – everything from nutrition, to Traditional Chinese Medicine, to bike safety, to safety measures for jail guards. “I use all my knowledge from my undergrad degree and my AT training every single day,” she says. She recently expanded that education when she enrolled in the Rehabilitation Science master’s program at the University of British Columbia.
Her job may be physically intense, but “this is a really cool population that sparks my interest and curiosity,” says Swan. Besides offering the chance to give back, there’s an emotional connection to the work as well. “My dad is a retired RCMP officer and my grandpa worked as a warden,” says Swan. “Police officers are comforting to me.”