The fact that a good majority of her clientele, and the population at large, probably cannot distinguish between what differentiates an athletic therapist from a physiotherapist is not likely to throw easily the longest standing AT in the region much of a curve ball at all.
Given that she has grown accustomed to her somewhat jokingly entrenched moniker as the “Princess of Pain”, Kim (Lafreniere) Brouzes is not about to sweat the small stuff.
With more than twenty years of treatment to her credit and a reputation in the region that few can match, safe to say that she has reached a point of comfort and self-content.
It might not be what the 47 year-old mother of three (all girls) first envisioned when she enrolled in Human Kinetics at Laurentian University back in the mid-1990s, but truth be told, there really wasn’t much of a vision at all in place at the time.
“I didn’t have a bloody clue,” Brouzes said with a laugh. “Laurentian was close, Laurentian was familiar, from years of swimming. There were enough courses (in Human Kinetics) that even if I didn’t choose the right one (program) at first, I could transfer and figure it out. I had a pretty good inkling that I wanted to be in health care.”
During her time at LU, there were signs of what the future held in store, perhaps as she completed a practicum with Wendy Hampson, athletic therapist to the Voyageurs. “Wendy was such a mentor for a ton of students at Laurentian,” said Brouzes, a long-time competitive swimmer with ELAC (Elliot Lake Aquatic Club), moving on to swim under Doc Tihanyi during her varsity days.
But it was only after she had left the campus located just off Ramsey Lake Road, spending a year or so in Kitchener-Waterloo, that Brouzes would be struck by her epiphany, this while helping out at a facility that housed both athletic and physiotherapists. “I spent a month on the AT side, and that really sold me,” she said.
“It was loud, the atmosphere was vibrant, positive. There was a deeper level of conversation that the athletic therapist had with the athletes. When you are an athletic therapist working for a team, there is a different boundary there; you are a family member. This is an environment of faith and trust, because you are so connected there.”
“As soon as I was in that environment, I felt that this was the environment that you can heal from.”
At the time, however, athletic therapy was only beginning to take root in Canada. The only post-secondary designation in the country would come courtesy of a Sheridan College affiliated program, one that was initially established by the National Hockey League as a means of providing NHL team staff some form of formal schooling.
Three years of studies would lead to obtaining a certificate in Sport Injury Management, which gave way to the written and practical exams with the Canadian Athletic Therapists Association. Along the way, practical experience came courtesy of the Sudbury Wolves and the Sudbury Spartans, and coach Peter Campbell and the Laurentian men’s basketball team.
It was a period that helped Brouzes map out the ensuing decades.
“I liked the familial environment of a sports team, and the adrenaline rush of having an athlete down on the ice,” she said. “But, with that, I also had in the back of my mind that a family was going to be very important to me - so I wanted to run a clinic.”
The contacts that she had made to this point would prove critical. Working with the Wolves opened the door to a connection with Gabe Belanger and family, huge advocates for the work she was doing. Local doctors, some who crossed paths with Brouzes via her sporting involvement, provided valuable referrals.
Word was circulating quickly, which in a city such as this, could make all the difference in the world. “If I tried this business model anywhere other than in Sudbury some 21 years ago, I don’t think it would have been as successful as it’s been,” said Brouzes, who has operated Active Therapy Plus almost since she returned to the area back in 1997.
There was plenty more learning to be had along the way.
“When I first started, I really didn’t know tissue,” she said. “I wasn’t really sure what I was improving, I just knew that I was getting improvement. As my hands evolved and my treatments evolved, I realized that a lot came from a restriction. What I am doing, quite often, is removing scar tissue or adhesions - and I’m only working on the site of the trauma.”
And what to make of this Princess of Pain?
“If I did to people what they thought I was doing to them, I would actually be harming them,” she said with a smile. “I now have a couple of hundred patients that I know when their body is swollen, I know when something is acting up. And I know how to get them out of it, just because I’ve worked on their bodies so many times.”
Though she may have started this journey blissfully unaware of some key differences in professional designations, Brouzes now speaks with the benefit of years of experience.
And she speaks with the gratitude that comes from having obtained her accreditation from the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario, the reason that she has been deemed an essential service, during the pandemic, while conventional athletic therapists have not.
“Physiotherapy has a regulatory college,” she explained. “They are very science and evidence based. It’s been around a long time, a very tried and true profession - and one which offers a lot of different branches, different areas to specialize.” Most importantly, it requires the completion of a two years masters degree, on the heels of a four year undergraduate offering.
“With my students that come in, I try and steer them towards physiotherapy,” Brouzes added. “ I don’t think that the profession of athletic therapists is going to continue to go strong. I think athletic therapy has hit its peak, going as far as it’s going to go. Physiotherapists will always have a job in some realm, in some location.”
The truth is that her voyage is not likely to be replicated, on a local level, anytime soon. Kim Brouzes knows that, better than anyone.
“I am incredibly grateful for being one of the practitioners who is allowed to be open during COVID,” she said. These days, she partners with community projects seemingly on a weekly basis, using her network of clients to better a region that she holds dear.
"There isn’t too much that I haven’t done,” she said. “In terms of moving forward with my bucket list, I’ve probably crossed things off five times over now.”
She has even embraced the concept of a team approach, when it comes to the healthcare field, partnering with a physiotherapist, no less. “I no longer feel like the low man on the totem pole - and physiotherapy is much better than I am in some aspects of treatment.”
Not that her clients, the many with whom she has forged such a strong, trusting relationship, are likely to know the difference. Their concern is to leave her office, pain free - and that is something that Kim Brouzes can deliver, far better than most.