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Renee: a sports physiotherapist in the making

by Amanda Collins

At 29 years of age, Renee Azzopardi found herself facing one of the most difficult challenges of her life: looking after her beloved grandfather, a man who cared for her as a child and whom she thought of as a second dad. A stroke had left him with serious health complications, and Renee stepped up to the plate to help care for him.

At the same time she took on this duty of care, Renee was partway through an Arts Degree at University, and putting her studies on hold, she realised that she was not actually enjoying the arts path that she had begun to tread.

“I went through a bad stage because my grandfather, he had always looked after me. And I was partway through a degree that I didn’t really like,” she said.

As her grandfather’s illness progressed, Renee began to spend more and more time helping and observing the teams of allied health professionals that were working with him, in particular his physiotherapist.

“I observed how his physio was working with him, I loved how much she was helping him, and watching the difference it made,” she said, adding “I began to think, ‘I like sport, I’ve always wanted to end up doing something sport-related, and physio really helps people, so why don’t I try the road to becoming a physio’”.

Her prime concern being the health and wellbeing of her grandfather, Renee began looking for study options that she could fit around her life as a carer, and came upon Open Colleges Certificate IV in Allied Health Assistance (Physiotherapy).

“I enrolled because I could look after him and study at home. There were no lectures to go to, I could study when I wanted to and leave it when I didn’t have the time, or just didn’t feel like it,” she said, adding “I liked that I could even call people, I wasn’t just left on my own”.

“It was also a great sampler course. It let me get an idea of what studying physiotherapy at university would be like, and what the job would be like. So I could try it before committing to years of university,” she said.

Unfortunately, her grandfather’s time came and he passed away. The grief overwhelmed her, and there were many times when she just didn’t have anything to give to her study.

“The course allowed me time to grieve for him but I still had time to get back into it when I was ready,” she said.

Slowly, as she waded her way through grief, Renee was able to do little bits of study, to rebuild her life with the memory of her grandfather’s generous and loving support firmly in her mind.

Through her study, Renee discovered her passion for physiotherapy, and her work placement paired her with a physiotherapist who was willing to act as a mentor and even offered her a job.

“I made a friend out of the physio I did my practical experience with. He’s always there if I have a question.  He also got into physiotherapy late, so I was lucky to get to work with him and listen to his advice,” she said.

Almost at the end of her course, Renee is now filled with excitement for her future and is busy planning for entry into university to study physiotherapy next year.

“Having done this Certificate IV, it will show the university ‘hey, this girl is serious’ and I’ll have a good chance of getting in,” she said.

Full of plans and visions for her future, Renee confided that she would love to combine her passion for physiotherapy with her love of NRL football to be a sports physiotherapist working with an NRL club.

“I love Rugby league,” she said, adding “I’m a real sports fan so I’d love to work with a club. But if that does not happen, I would also really love to work in a hospital helping people, just like the physio helped my grandad”.

Are you a sports fan?

Studying a Certificate IV in Allied Health (Physiotherapy) could be a stepping stone to university where you could study physiotherapy, and ultimately to work with athletes. For more information, click here.

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