Courtenay to Victoria with a few detours for physiotherapist Connor Willis

Connor did his undergrad here in Victoria, and his Master’s in Hamilton. And he grew up just a few hours North in Courtenay. We talked about rugby, the benefits of physiotherapy, and craft brewing. 

How was Hamilton?

Hamilton was great! People really say bad things about Hamilton, and the winters there, but I loved it. I found the winters very sunny! I actually struggled more with the summers — it’s so hot and humid. I’m Swedish so let’s blame my mom’s side of the family for that! [laughs]

McMaster is a great school as well, and the Master’s program has a unique approach —  it’s very hands-on and self-directed. Working in teams, developing learning objectives and finding the highest evidence in the literature was a high priority. I’ve become very accustomed to receiving feedback and developed a growth mindset. 

What’s happening in the ‘physio world’ these days?

The evidence is changing quickly these days, which is really important. It makes it a good time to be a physio because there is so much we’re learning. These days, for example, there’s growing evidence about the benefits of avoiding surgery and finding alternative routes to recovery and improved performance.

One challenge with surgery is the likelihood of a waitlist — especially these days. You can get started with physiotherapy right away. In some cases, physiotherapy is an alternative to getting surgery. It’s less invasive – it’s sometimes called ‘conservative management’ because the level of intervention is more minimal. At the same time, though, people have more control over their program so it’s maximal in that sense. Even if you go through with a surgery, the physio you get can help prepare you for a strong recovery. The stronger you are going into surgery, the stronger you are coming out of surgery

Connor sits across a table with a fireplace in the centre outdoors holding a foamy coffee and smiling.

Did you go to sports in Hamilton?

My partner and I went to the World Junior Gold Medal game in Buffalo. We got to see Canada win gold and that was super cool. I also got to see the Hamilton Bulldogs play, including the OHL championship game. I also went to a couple BlueJays games and also got to see the Tiger Cats play.

Do you watch hockey here in Victoria?

I go to a lot of Royals games here in Victoria, and I’m a Vancouver Canucks fan. I listen to some podcasts about hockey like Spittin’ Chiclets and Kes and Juice with Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa. My partner and I tried to get into the rivalry series game at Save-On Foods Arena. It’s the Canadian women’s team versus the American women’s team. They were sold out completely, which was super cool, but we were sad that we couldn’t go. And of course now, so much is cancelled or postponed.

As an aside, my uncle, Dion Willis, sang the anthems for the Canucks and the Coyotes game, which the Canucks won. He crushed it. The Canucks are undefeated when Dion sings.

And you used to play rugby right?

That’s right! I started playing rugby when I was thirteen. I played soccer too, but I got tired of it. In rugby my size was a benefit, and my soccer fitness was an advantage.

Is Rugby more of a thing out here on the West Coast?

Yes, Victoria is definitely a rugby center in Canada and Courtenay is also a big rugby center. My club up in Courtenay was called the Comox Valley Kickers. I also played for the Tsunami North Island Selects. I became an inside centre starter for them. And then I got an invite to try out for Team BC, and I played with them for two years. That got me a tryout with Team Canada in Shawnigan Lake. That was a two and a half week process. Team Canada is typically housed here in Victoria though. I played with them for a tour and we went to England. It was an incredible experience. 

Did rugby get you interested in physiotherapy?

Well, I was already interested. My sister has mental and physical challenges. She has benefited so much from physiotherapy and other professions. Seeing my sister struggle was hard. It was hard on my parents too. My parents are amazing, though, and they made an effort to make sure we were always as active as possible. It was huge for us that Emily got support from physios and other practitioners. When you grow up with a sister with special needs everything involving her and her care seem completely normal. Thanks to her I was able to be a part of the special needs community, which also opened the door to new experiences for me. I volunteered with Special O (Special Olympics) Victoria and worked with the Athletic Fit Club to help some individuals with mental and physical disabilities become more active. And because of my family, I was really good at it, and it came very naturally to me. I was also involved with the soccer team, where I was able to act as one of the assistant coaches. Through this I was asked to work as a personal trainer for an individual going to the Special Olympics in Austria 2017. He worked really hard, and won 2 gold medals in the game. Although I didn’t get to go along, he told me all about it, and it was an incredible thing to be a part of.

I worked with the Cridge Brain Injury society one summer and I was one of the activity coordinators working with adults. It was really great. We went to a BC Lions game, which was a blast. I got to take the guys out of the house and do some fun things in the community.

I also worked with RIV, Recreation Integration Victoria, working with youth in summer camps. We worked with kids with ADD, ADHD, Down Syndrome, and those who were on the Autism Spectrum.

What’s keeping you active these days?

I used to go to Esquimalt Rec and Oak Bay Rec, and I like to lift weights. I run on the treadmill and do a little on the bike. I thought I might do softball this spring, but things have changed. I have also recently purchased kayaks, so you may see my partner and I kayaking in the Gorge

And what about the rest of your life here in Victoria?

Well, my partner Allison is a learning support teacher at Spectrum Community School. We watch The Bachelor sometimes. Don’t write that. [Laughs]

I also love that there’s a thriving microbrewery culture around here. We look forward to going to Phillips Brewery, Ile Sauvage, and Spinnakers. We also went to a Moon Under Water event a little while ago. They tapped a keg, a new beer, called Moon Juice. It was a delicious raspberry sour! We also love their Wings!

Connor and his partner stand in hiking clothes with trees and water behind them from a high rocky view point. Both are smiling widely.
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Posted by Arbutus Physiotherapy & Health Team

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