Story by Jeff Gard/jgsportsmedia.com
Port Hope chiropractor Dr. Alban Merepeza has worked at six Olympic Games, but this year’s event in Tokyo will be unlike any other.
Merepeza’s previous Olympic ventures tending to athletes took him to Beijing in 2008, Vancouver 2010, London 2012, Sochi 2014, Rio 2016 and PyeongChang 2018.
“It’s definitely going to be different in so many ways,” Merepeza said of the Summer Games that were originally scheduled for 2020. “I already know that it’s different because obviously it’s been postponed for a year. I know it’s different because now we have to deal with are we going to be vaccinated and what time?”
There will also be a lot of restrictions on movement within Tokyo for the athletes, coaches and staff this summer and numerous other protocols expected to be in place.
Plenty of changes, to be sure, but Merepeza’s work with athletes remains a constant, including at the High Performance Centre in Toronto, even if his visits there are more limited than usual.
“We’re just trying to keep them healthy as they are trying to navigate the pandemic,” Merepeza said.
Merepeza, who’s had his practice in Port Hope for over 15 years, obtained an Honours Bachelor Degree in psychology from Trent University before graduating from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in Toronto where he earned distinct clinical excellence. He went on to complete the International Chiropractic Sports Sciences program and about three years ago earned a Masters of Science Degree through McMaster University’s Masters of Rehabilitation Sciences program. He would like to complete a PhD degree in the future as well.
Canadian Olympic sprinter Khamica Bingham is just one of the athletes grateful to work with Merepeza.
Bingham competed in the women’s 100 metres and 4×100 metre relay at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. The Brampton runner is currently training in Louisiana with hopes of competing in Tokyo.
Injuries happen and the past few years have been challenging for Bingham, but that’s where Merepeza comes in.
“When I started seeing Alban, he has been a key component in helping me to stay healthy, helping me to understand why the injury has happened and how to prevent it,” Bingham said. “I’ve been seeing him since 2017 and I’ve been really, really grateful for him. He is my go-to guy and I remember in 2018 I was dealing with my achilles injury and this is when I’ve already left for Louisiana so there was a bit of distance, but I would still come home and see him regularly for treatment and he brought me to the track in Cobourg. That was just for him to be able to see how my running (was) and if there was anything that could be contributing to the injury or preventing it from not happening again.”
Merepeza has often taken athletes to the track at Cobourg Collegiate Institute when they are visiting his practice in Port Hope. In addition to Bingham, those athletes include Olympic medalists such as Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse and Trinidad javelin thrower Keshorn Walcott.
“The benefit of bringing them there is that I actually get to see them in action,” Merepeza said. “If I get them on the track and I can see them, they’re running and I close my eyes and I just hear the sound of their feet. It should be pretty thumping and equal on both sides, but if I hear one side thumping and the other one sort of flat, right away I know there’s a force being applied there that’s not right.
“That’s usually the first sign of there’s an imbalance or mechanical deficiency somewhere we need to correct because if we don’t it’s 110 per cent certain that it’s a matter of time before it will be loading and stressing some tissue like the hamstring or the groin or quad, glutes or back.”
That gives Merepeza and the athlete a chance to make changes with particular exercises and “once we do, we do the exercises, you immediately see the change,” he said.
Merepeza continues to work with De Grasse, Bingham and Walcott and numerous others including Canadians like sprinter Crystal Emmanuel, men’s and women’s relay teams and Brittany Crew who he said is ranked sixth in the world for shot put.
Bingham has been able to compete in the United States as she prepares for the Tokyo Olympics.
“He’s been really helping me to stay healthy and I owe a lot to him that I’ve been able to stay healthy this season,” Bingham said of Merepeza. “Having the guidance of Alban has really been helping me to get my body intact and back to where it used to be.”
While he has still been able to work with athletes in-person when possible, Merepeza has also connected virtually with the competitors for the past year, though that’s not really a new approach.
“Even before the pandemic, I use video analysis quite a bit. I use video analysis because my approach to treatment 10 years ago used to be I’m doing hands-on and I’m getting them to move and releasing and manipulating and doing this and doing that and they stay healthy,” Merepeza said. “More recently as I’m getting more experience and I’ve seen a lot more in my career…I do a lot more through them, meaning, I’ll give them the rehab exercises and then they will not need me as much, which is fantastic because they are staying healthy without having the need to be dependent on me.”
By that, Merepeza means it’s important the athletes don’t need to see him in-person every week because they are healthy or at least able to help correct ailments on their own with the exercises he provides them. They send him videos of their workouts.
“Now we have a way of saying ‘Okay, I see what’s going on with your video so let’s try this’ and then the results are usually very predictable,” he said.
To learn more about Merepeza’s Olympic experiences, you can listen to a previous interview with him from this past August at: http://www.totalsportsnorthumberland.ca/2020/08/01/audio-olympic-series-interview-with-dr-alban-merepeza/
In addition, you can watch an interview Khamica Bingham from last Wednesday, Feb. 24, at: http://www.totalsportsnorthumberland.ca/2021/02/24/video-interview-with-khamica-bingham/