Graduate from school of hard knocks-The Province

Player spent so much time injured he became club physiotherapist

Marc Weber
The Province

Thursday, May 15, 2008 

Chris Franks can heal their pain because he feels their pain.

"Two ankle surgeries. Groin surgery. Hip surgery. Nose, face and cheek. Countless muscle pulls. Chronic lower back pain -- it's a genetic thing I inherited from my old man," Franks says, reciting his grocery list of grief.

Franks, one of the longest-serving players in Vancouver Whitecaps history, was also one of the most often injured. Despite a playing career that spanned an impressive 12 seasons, from 1994-2005, he sits only 10th on the team's all-time games-played list.

"I probably cost them more in physio than my contract was worth," Franks quips.

Yet he has gained through his pain, and so have the Whitecaps.

Franks is now in his second season as the team's head physiotherapist and there's no doubt that his past ailments have helped him in his current role.

"He's probably had any injury we can come up with," says veteran midfielder Martin Nash. "When you tell him about an injury, he knows what's going on. He's a very good physio."

"It helps that you can judge a timeline a bit better," adds Franks. "Tell them what their symptoms might be so they're not shocked why things are taking so long or why they're in so much pain."

Franks' body was banged up at an early age. He recalls sharp pains shooting down his back and legs in high school, and after a basketball spill in Grade 9 he had hip surgery to remove bone chips.

A couple of years into his Whitecaps playing career, while studying human kinetics at UBC, he started thinking seriously about a career as a physiotherapist.

"It kind of just seemed like a good step for me -- you're in there [the medical room] all the time and you have an interest in sport and in the body," says Franks, who was treated by two of the best B.C. has ever produced in Alex McKechnie and Rick Celebrini.

McKechnie is famous for treating Shaq and the L.A. Lakers, and Celebrini is currently the manager of medical services for Vanoc.

"They were a really good example for what a physio should be," Franks says. "They were fantastic physios but also good handlers of personality."

The relationship between physio and athlete, and physio and coach, is an interesting and important one. Balancing the team's interests with the individual's can be a delicate situation.

"You go through the gamut," Franks says of working with coaches. "As a player, they either try and get you to push through it more, or they want you to be reasonably fully healthy.

"This year it's been great in that Teitur [head coach Thordarson] is really understanding."

Staying out of the physio room was always a challenge for Franks the player, mostly because prevention wasn't a priority on the pitch.

"He was such a tough player -- relentless," says current Whitecap and longtime teammate Geordie Lyall. "There's a story with him in a UBC game. They were up like 5-1 and he goes flying into a tackle and breaks his leg. That's just the kind of guy he was."

Actually the score was 4-0 in the 1994 CIS final when Franks charged into the fray and broke his ankle. He kept playing for a time, too.

"You've heard of a 50/50 tackle," says UBC head coach Mike Mosher. "Well, Chris never met a 30/70 tackle he didn't think he could win."

In hindsight, all those struggles -- the long days of rehabilitation, long nights trying to get his body to quiet down -- were a great resumé builder. As important perhaps as anything he's learned in a textbook or experience he's had with a patient.

"He probably didn't have to study much," says Lyall. "He is a case study."

Given the choice, though, Franks would have spent more time on the field and less on the training table.

"I would rather not have had to have gone through all that," he says, "but it was beneficial, for sure."

For him and for the Whitecaps.

mweber@png.canwest.com

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BEST AND WORST OF ...

Chris Franks has endured six surgeries and broken his nose seven times. He works as a physiotherapist at UBC's Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre, in addition to his role with the Whitecaps.

Worst injury suffered

I was playing with the under-20 [national] team. The goalie and I went up for a cross and he caught my face instead of the ball. He basically splattered my cheekbone. It was a nose, cheekbone combo. My face was kind of just smeared over to one side. They had to go up through the mouth and pop the bone back out and I was on a liquid diet for a few weeks. It's still numb on that side.

Worst injury treated

A guy [who came into the UBC clinic] had fallen out of a three-storey building. He'd reached out to grab on to something [to stop his fall], snapped his biceps, let go, and then landed and cracked three vertebrae. These construction workers -- sometimes they're not the safest.

© The Vancouver Province 2008