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Southern Cross health expert gives marathon runners the edge

Southern Cross University Professor of Physiotherapy, Dr Maria Constantinou

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Words
Tamara Hamilton
Published
11 April 2024

Highly respected academic and physiotherapist, Dr Maria Constantinou will launch into her new role as Southern Cross University’s first Professor of Physiotherapy by sharing her wealth of knowledge during a free Gold Coast Marathon online panel, 'Pillars of Performance: Combining Nutrition, Physiotherapy and Psychology'.

Whether she is treating one of the greatest female tennis players of all time, an injured athlete from a developing country or an aged-care resident, Dr Maria Constantinou loves nothing more than to help people perform at their best, and to share her wisdom.

“Wherever you go as a physiotherapist, you need empathy, an ability to communicate and a desire to help,” Maria said.

Fourteen years into her physiotherapy career, having already worked in hospitals and aged care facilities, Maria pursued a new challenge.  She returned to study, earning her Master of Sports Physiotherapy.

She graduated just as the world’s top athletes prepared to descend upon Sydney for the Olympic Games – an event that would change the city, and Maria, forever.

In 2000, Maria volunteered for the Host Nation’s medical team, which opened her eyes to the inequitable access to medical and physiotherapy services among competing countries.

“The athletes might have the same physical skills but, because they haven’t had the same support, they may not perform at their peak and often battle long-standing injuries,” she said. “There were teams with no physiotherapists in their country.”

“The athletes were so grateful. The rewards you get may not be tangible, but they are immense. They will be with you for the rest of your life.”

“It is really important that you listen to athletes, hear what they want and what they need, as they know their body better than anybody else.”

Dr Maria Constantinou treats an athlete at Athens Olympic Games in 2004

Her enthusiasm for sports physiotherapy now well and truly ignited, Maria went on to work at major international sporting events over several decades, trained professionals in many small developing nations and once served as personal physiotherapist to tennis titan, Serena Williams.

“It is so valuable to see the passion, determination and focus that an elite athlete has to achieve their goal. That’s Serena,” she said.

“It is really important that you listen to athletes, hear what they want and what they need, as they know their body better than anybody else.

“You cannot make too many changes at the last minute. Although we are physiotherapists, not psychologists, we still need to be mindful that you don’t want to negatively impact the psychology of the athlete or affect their confidence.”

Having worked on athletes at the pinnacle of their sport, with every resource at their fingertips, as well as athletes from scarcely-resourced tiny Pacific Nations, Maria is an ideal panellist for the 2024 Southern Cross University and Gold Coast Marathon online event on April 18.

“In a marathon, you’re dealing with people at the elite level but you’re also working with people who want to meet a personal goal, those who are starting small and those who are attempting a full marathon having never done one before,” she said.

During the Pillars of Performance panel discussion, Maria will expand upon her top tips:

  • Set realistic goals
  • Seek medical support ahead of time
  • See a physiotherapist for management of any pre-existing or current injuries
  • Get expert advice on footwear – for training and events
  • Plan your recovery
  • Set your next goal.

“The excitement around the Gold Coast Marathon motivates a lot of people and it’s important to capitalise on that,” she said, “to increase awareness of the importance of physical activity for maintaining health and the prevention of chronic disease.

“When people are spurred on to continue moving, beyond the Marathon, that’s a good thing for the community.”

“When people are spurred on to continue moving, beyond the Marathon, that’s a good thing for the community.”

Dr Maria Constantinou with her medical team colleagues at the 2015 Pacific Games

Speaking of excitement, Dr Maria Constantinou is currently developing Southern Cross University’s new Bachelor of Physiotherapy course. Pending approval, the course will be offered at Southern Cross University Coffs Harbour campus in 2025 and Lismore campus in 2026.

Register now for the free online panel, 12-1 pm April 18, 2024, presented by Southern Cross University and Gold Coast Marathon.

Attendees can ask questions and hear from speakers, including record-breaking runner and Gold Coast Marathon Ambassador Erchana Murray-Bartlett, Southern Cross University Chair of Health Sciences Dr Chris Stevens, Professor of Physiotherapy Dr Maria Constantinou, and Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Scott Goddard.

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