After playing for the Nigeria D’Tigresse Women’s National Basketball team in 2006, local sports medicine physician Mary Apiafi recently had the opportunity to keep the 2018 women’s team in good shape.
Twelve years after wearing the same uniform herself, Apiafi jumped at the opportunity to serve as the D’Tigresse’s interim physician as the team readies for the Women’s National Basketball World Cup this September in Spain. Her time with the team spanned from the middle of July to the middle of August.
During the month-long time with the team, Apiafi practically was working two full-time jobs as she balanced her patients at the Community Orthopedic Specialty Care and the national team.
Though it was a daunting task, Apiafi was honored to have worked with such a high caliber group of athletes.
“It’s quite an adventure, first of all,” said Apiafi. “Being able to give back to a team you were a part of, that’s something special. But professional sports in general, that takes things to the next level. Keeping in mind that injuries are always injuries, and the goal is to get the athlete back in the game in a safe and responsible manner. That’s always at the forefront of my mind when dealing with athletes at all levels. Things tend to be just a bit more timely when it comes to sports at that level.”
To keep the peace with her patients in Kokomo, Apiafi worked a split schedule between Community Howard Regional Health and her time at the Riverside EpiCenter in Atlanta, Ga. In a typical week, Apiafi spent Monday through Friday with her day-to-day patients here locally and then would spend Saturday to Monday in Atlanta with the Nigeria national team.
While she was away from the team, Apiafi had to continue coordinating with the schedules of coaches and players in order to ensure the treatment they needed was taken care of.
“I spent every Saturday to, give or take, Monday and Tuesday with the team, but most of the time I’m responsible for the coordination of medication, management, referrals to practitioners the players need to see,” said Apiafi.
Prior to joining the Community Health Network in the summer of 2017, Apiafi worked with the highest level of professional athletes in her time with the Cleveland Clinic. There, she spent countless hours alongside the Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Cavaliers during the World Series and NBA Finals seasons.
Though her focus is not on the level of play, as she also is responsible for coordinating with Taylor High School athletes, Apiafi said she is more interested in taking care of athletes and ensuring they are preventing injuries.
In her time spent with the Nigerian team, her favorite part was educating athletes about injuries and how to prevent future damage.
“Watching the athletes as they mature and learn more about injuries is important to me. I talk with them about injury prevention, about diets, how to prepare for game-like situations in terms of adequate nutrition and adequate rest. Seeing them go through training week-by-week, getting toward the end of camp here in Atlanta, I look forward to the final game to see how things turn out,” said Apiafi.
As the D’Tigresse has wrapped up its time preparing in the states, Apiafi is thankful to her employer and the opportunity they have allowed her to be a part of.
“My Community Health family here has been extremely supportive, especially the team at Howard. All I have to do is reach out to them if I need something, and they are so quick to lend a helping hand and get me what I need. Our network has been such a great resource,” said Apiafi. “On a moment’s notice I’ve been able to get an athlete in Atlanta in to see a physician by the next day. To have that kind of assistance reminds me how fortunate I am because that sort of connection is not easy to come by.”
With her time as an interim team physician wrapped up, her goals are to eventually become a team physician for a professional team and ultimately be a team physician at the Olympics.
In the meantime, she is available locally at Community Howard Regional Health.