Jeroen Deen with Aselefech Mergia and Lucy Kabuu
photo by Justin Lagat
Interview with Jeroen Deen, one of the leading sports physiotherapists in the world
Looking back at this January alone, there is one common interesting fact about almost all the international athletes who have performed brilliantly at the start of the year. Zane Robertson who ran 59.47 in half marathon to become the third fastest non African of all time, Arne Gabius who set the German national record and a WL in the 5000m, all the top five women and top four men at the Dubai Marathon, among others, were all clients of one physiotherapist before heading for these races.
Jeroen Deen with Zane Robertson, photo by Justin Lagat
Jeroen Deen has been shifting his working bases since 2006 between Kenya and Ethiopia, working with the best athletes from these regions and also with foreigners who travel here to train. In this interview, I sought to know why his services are so important to the athletes.
What does it mean to be a Physiotherapist?
Jeroen: To be a Physiotherapist makes you a service provider (in treatment, rehabilitation and specific training) in the medical field of prevention and curation of physical ailments, which keep someone from participation in society, in work, or in a hobby. For 90% of my clients, the athletes, all three are indicated. Injuries for professional athletes are their enemy, but also a perfect learning moment to improve on the athletes’ professionalism!
How important is a physiotherapist to an elite athlete?
Jeroen: He/she is an important part of the whole team around an athlete, the athlete in the middle, with family, friends, colleague athletes, manager, coach, all assistant coaches and training camp staff around them. A physio is usually the first person to notify non-well being, as (he is) the person physically and mentally the closest to an athlete. In the line of the physio is another step to the specialized doctor to team up temporarily, when needed.
Top five athletes at the Dubai marathon were your clients before they went to run there. Same to Zane Robertson and Arne Gabius, how does that make you feel?
Jeroen: I was just doing my job the best way possible, teaching the athletes how to take care of themselves and to never over- or under-estimate the role of a physio. But not to say that I am not very proud of the athletes who did very well. I also get overjoyed by athletes, not only when they win, but when they get themselves back together and in course to harvesting victories later! This assistance of the top 5 at the women and top 4 at the men in Dubai is only statistically interesting.
Zane Robertson came back today (4th Feb) from Japan and we had a great moment together
. We went through a lot from the moment he and his brother came to Kenya in 2007, but my Physio attention is at the moment more with Jake, than with Zane, the work will be perfect if both the guys shine, but even Zane knows, this dream debut on half marathon (59.47 in Marugame, Japan) is just a beginning for much more to come! Assurance that the guys will stay with their feet on the ground comes because they went through so much hardships, maybe even more than many Kenyan athletes, because they have to become like them.
Arne Gabius, like many other running “Wazungu” (foreigners in Kenya) in love with the Kenyan running culture, its people and athletes. The “Wazungu” I am able to see, I treat them in the same way as all Kenyan athletes and my pride in them when they shine is not different from my Kenyan clients.
What makes you love your job? Especially working in Kenya?
Jeroen: Seeing athletes being able to assist their extended families, churches and communities and making their country proud of them, by winning international medals fills me with the greatest joy. Education (and being educated back by working with colleagues) is another great motivator and seeing the teamwork pay for the athletes who believe in the system is a beautiful feeling!
I am not in it for the money, I don’t ask for a percentage from the winning prize, just a treatment fee, all the training advises and core stability sessions are a service included in the treatment fee. Rehabilitation from an injury is already stressful enough for an athlete and keeping the cost as low as possible is very important for me, there I know the situation and background of many athletes.
What should athletes look for in finding the best physiotherapist for them?
Jeroen: Search for one who is around and available, there are no miracle Physios, continuity is key! Further on, a physio must be a communicator, between athlete, coach, doctors and management. A trustworthy relationship goes even better than “the best physio”, but it doesn’t mean all people can fit, a proper education (in massage therapy, or physiotherapy) is a preamble, the quality isn’t in the talk; it is in the result! My advice to athletes is to be the ones searching for a physio rather than the physio searching for them. I offer my job to anyone, I don’t make promises, I don’t give direct indications, I explain all I do and most important, I have respect for anyone who saw the client before me because I assume that every therapist does his utter best to assist his client!
How is your work different from that of a coach?
Jeroen: There are many moments where a Coach and a Physio/Doctor’s paths cross, that’s the main reason they have to work so close together, teaming up, working in a system, where all opinions are equally important and are being heard. The results of the last few years in Kenya and Ethiopia, where we set up these systems, speak more than a thousand words.
Are there any dangers in working with unqualified Physiotherapists?
Jeroen: There are even dangers working with qualified Physios, like in all professions all around the world, there are no guarantees in licensing. Qualified will at least tell someone went through schooling and has the quality to work in a team and the professionalism to judge objectively if and how they can do an intervention .To take off your hands when in doubt and seek advice from a doctor/colleague Physio is part of the qualities of a qualified Physiotherapist.
His statement on doping: The doping question comes around very often in the last few years. Any short cuts are popular in the countries where we work, I can’t deny that, seeing and knowing what is going on, but my statement is: professionals in the field of athletics need to stay as much as possible away from this destructive part of their own profession. I can handle an absolute 0 % attitude towards doping, I am independent, have only to hold myself responsible to God and my client and I will only assist in information to prevent mistakes. I will never work with athletes who willingly cheat.