UEL Road to Rio: Physiotherapy lecturer Liz Nicholls heading to the Olympics
UEL physiotherapy lecturer and practitioner tours the world treating sports stars
This summer Liz Nicholls will board a plane to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the 2016 Olympic Games.
She’s a physiotherapist with bags of experience, including Olympic, European and Commonwealth Games under her belt and a growing number of overseas tournaments with the Women’s Tennis Association.
But it was not always like this for Liz.
How many of us wish we were doing our dream job, far away from the grey and impersonal drudgery we do day in and day out?
Liz was that person. At 30, she found herself frustrated in her HR management job.
“I wanted to do something to help people,” says Liz. “I felt like I needed a hands-on environment. The office wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I needed to make a change.”
Liz studied for a full-time diploma to qualify as an aromatherapist. It was her way of trying something different outside of her day job.
Then one day a chance chat with a friend led her to leave her job and start a physiotherapy degree course at the University of East London (UEL). She chose physiotherapy because she wanted to be involved in the medical professions.
“I had a great time at UEL,” says Liz. “After graduating I worked in the NHS then moved into private practice.
“Another chance conversation with a friend resulted in me applying for a teaching job at UEL. It was so unexpected, but I thought ‘why not?’”
Liz was delighted to land the job and began teaching physiotherapy to students at the School of Health, Sport and Bioscience at the University’s Stratford campus.
She is now a senior lecturer and programme leader, but Liz’s story doesn’t end there.
When London secured the bid to be the host city for the 2012 Olympics, a new chapter in Liz’s life began.
“A group of us from UEL went over to Beijing for the 2008 Games,” she says. “It meant we could meet people in the organising committee and physical therapy teams and learn as much as we could in preparation for the 2012 Games.”
It was thanks to this trip and the networking that ensued that the US Olympic Committee chose UEL's state-of-the-art SportsDock facility as the training base for Team USA at the London 2012 Games.
“It was a massive scoop to get Team USA living on campus, and training at our fantastic SportDock facilities,” says Liz. “It was also through the China trip that I was offered a job with the London Olympic Organising Committee (LOCOG) medical team.
“I was delighted to accept, and got to do a one-year paid secondment with them.”
Liz was part of the elite medical services team on hand to provide world-class medical care to sports teams, royalty, and spectators during the London Games.
“LOCOG did everything 150 percent, and I got to work with the best practitioners in the entire world," she says. "They could have dealt with anything.”
Being a huge tennis fan, Liz got to work as a venue manager for the Olympic tennis tournament, which was held at Wimbledon. She then went on to work at the Olympic Park, covering swimming, hockey, and Paralympic football.
“There are really two highlights for me,” she says. “Being there when Andy Murray took home gold on the Sunday was amazing, just so special.
“The other moment I will always remember is being at the venue for the Paralympic football for Paralympians who were blind or had neurological impairments.
“As he walked with his aid towards the pitch, I heard one of the players ask ‘What’s all that noise?’ and the aid had to explain that the match was sold out, that the arena was packed with people who had come to watch them compete.
“He had never experienced that level of support and interest in his sport. It was very moving.”
Liz got to meet some of the biggest names in the world of Olympic and Paralympic sport. Thanks to her outstanding professionalism, she was invited to apply, and offered a place, as part of the medical services team at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
The year after she was off again – this time to the first European Games, in Baku, Ajazabijan, to work as a physical therapist. Again, Liz proved herself an adept networker who stood out for her commitment and the quality of care provided.
The next chapter in Liz’s new life will see her travel to Rio this summer for the athletes training week before the start of the Olympics, and the first week of the Olympics.
“Physiotherapy is a demanding but hugely rewarding career," she says. "If you like working with people and making a genuine difference in their lives, physiotherapy could be for you.
“I love my job and I am so grateful for all the amazing opportunities that it has brought to me. Having said this, I could not have achieved many of the wonderful experiences that I have had if it wasn't for the support of UEL and my manager.
“It is such an honour to work in every aspect of physiotherapy, whether that is in the NHS, at UEL or within in elite sports. I would definitely recommend this career for those who want to escape the desk job!”