CHARLES Sturt University’s Doctor Stephen Bird was given the ultimate farewell last Thursday night when he was presented with a Western Region Academy of Sport life membership before he relocates to Cairns next week.
Dr Bird has been in charge of the academy’s strength and conditioning program over the past 10 years as well as facilitating an internship system that has affected hundreds of young athletes and coaches.
During his time directing, 29 student interns and 1243 athletes have graduated from the program.
It was estimated by WRAS executive officer Nancy Haslop that Dr Bird has contributed more than 2000 hours of his own time to help develop the system.
“It [the life membership] wasn’t something I was expecting at all,” Dr Bird said.
“I’ve had a full-time role at CSU for a while now and part of that has involved a university commitment to WRAS and providing in-kind support and one way we’ve done that is through the strength and conditioning work.
“Ten years ago we had basically come to the conclusion that the country-based kids actually had a better skill base than most of the city kids but they were lacking in athletic services, a major part of which is strength and conditioning.
“Since then over 1200 athletes have been through the program and we’ve been fortunate enough to gain some awards for it, with a couple of NSW sports injury awards as well as being a five-time winner of the Strength of America award.”
Naturally, there is a tendency to focus on the athletes themselves that have been through the academy and been influenced by Dr Bird’s work in his particular field.
But he takes just as much pride in those who have gone through the internship system and are now playing roles with major sporting organisations.
“We’re very fortunate that the university allows us to offer this support and to have final year students doing the internships. It is a pretty long process in terms of applications and that sort of thing; it covers all facets of training and strength and conditioning,” he said.
“We’ve had guys go on and work with the NSW Waratahs; we’ve got one now that is working in injury rehabilitation with the Australian sevens team as they look towards the Rio Olympics.
“It is also nice to look at how many athletes we’ve had go over to the United States and earn NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association] scholarships based on how they present physically and the sort of shape they’re in.”
Unfortunately for WRAS, Dr Bird has been given too good an opportunity to pass up in North Queensland with James Cook Univers-ity as well as the Cairns Taipans NBL club.
“I did some work in the past through CSU with the Perth Wildcats and now a chance has come up to work in sports science with the Cairns Taipans and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
“It is bittersweet in a way. The internship and strength and conditioning programs were my babies in a way, so it is hard to leave that behind, but there are other staff who will take it in the right direction.
“I think the most satisfying thing for me hasn’t been any one athlete or a standout performer, it has just been the opportunity to watch the transition from pre-elite youth, to elite youth, into senior sport and see them do it without being injured.
“It is nice to see them having that base physically that prevents them from suffering injury problems throughout their later careers.”