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behind the double blue Josh Shewell

Being in the spotlight is an interesting proposition. Players and coaches love it when things are going well, not so much when things are going poorly. For Josh Shewell, it’s someplace he never wants to be.

The only time Shewell is the centre of attention is when he’s doing one specific thing on the football field, the thing he’s trained to do – treating an injured athlete. The Mississauga native is in his first season as the Toronto Argonauts Head Athletic Therapist.

Promoted to the top job in December after serving as Scott Shannon’s assistant for the last five years, Shewell is responsible for caring for injured players, doing his best to prevent possible injuries, or safeguarding any minor injury from getting worse.

It’s a tough job with long hours, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I honestly don’t think I can say I’ve been overwhelmed,” said Shewell of his workload, “But there’s points where it gets close.”

With his work load it’s easy to understand why. He arrives at BMO Field at 6:30 every morning to open the clinic, then starts treatments at 7:00 until player meetings begin at 9:00. When the players leave the clinic, he retreats to his office to do an hour or so of paperwork before taping players and then heading to practice.

“The priority is hydration,” he said of his time spent at Lamport Stadium. For the record he was hydrating during his conversation with Argonauts.ca. “We’re also there in case anything happens. I have a list of guys who I need to check up on, the guys who are limited in practice, guys who are coming back from injury. Some guys need an exercise program and need to be watched as they’re doing their exercises to make sure they’re doing them safely.”

After practice it’s back to BMO Field where there are more therapy sessions. He’ll finally call it a day after spending eleven to twelve hours with the team.

Born in Toronto, raised in Mississauga, Shewell attended Our Lady of Mount Carmel before heading to Western, earning his bachelor of arts in kinesiology. In his fourth year in London he participated in the athletic injuries program.

“I got to be with the varsity basketball team for the season,” explained Shewell. “I was exposed to the industry at that level and just what athletic therapy is. I played AAA baseball my whole life and was very competitive. That team environment was always something that I enjoyed, so when I was chosen to be part of the basketball team, and being a part of that team environment, I thought that this was kind of fun. I get to be close to sports, I get to help people with injuries, and if I can’t play it, be as close as I can without actually being on the court.”

That year the Mustangs went deep into the playoffs, eventually losing in a national semi-final. If there was any doubt in Shewell’s mind that this was what he wanted to explore, it was gone.

Following two years of post-graduate work at a physio clinic in Mississauga, the calling of becoming an athletic therapist wouldn’t subside. He attended Sheridan College for three more years, earning his Bachelor of Applied Health Sciences in Athletic Therapy.

He now had his certification, but was in search of a team.

Being a baseball fanatic, Shewell applied for an opening with the Blue Jays, made it to the final two applicants, but lost out to a buddy of his. He was crushed.

As fate would have it, a placement opening occurred with the Argonauts a couple of weeks later. Dave Wright and Scott Shannon comprised the athletic therapy department at the time, and they brought him aboard for the 2012 season – not a bad year to work for the Argos. He worked the training camp and it opened his eyes to football.

He loved it, despite having to treat injuries that were at times more severe than a normal injury you’d see in baseball or basketball.

Like the one receiver Maurice Mann suffered at training camp in 2012, when the Argos were practicing at an Oakville high school. His route took him to the back of the end zone, where he fell on the track that surrounded the field, and suffered a severe gash that resulted in over 30 stitches.

“The defensive back landed on his leg and pinned his leg against the track,” Shewell recalled. “He took off a layer of skin. I didn’t see it (Wright and Shannon were already treating it), I was there behind the commotion, but from what I was told you could see the bone.”

A pretty gruesome way to learn a lesson, but that incident became a major learning opportunity for the newbie.

“I took note that Scott and Dave handled it calmly,” said a reflective Shewell. “Other players will always react truthfully and would have a normal human reaction when they see something like that. As therapists we have to remain calm and we’re taught the biggest thing is to keep the athlete calm. There are situations where a player could go into shock, you need to keep them calm and reassure them. With Dave and Scott there was no panic, it was just another day at the office. With every situation we have to approach it that way.”

He acted as a third therapist with the Tiger-Cats in 2013, getting to the Grey Cup, but enjoying his first full season of working in football.

The next year Wright left for the Ottawa Redblacks. Shannon became the head therapist and hired Shewell as his No. 2 man. When the head therapist job opened at the end of last year, he was promoted.

The hours are long, the in-season days off are virtually non-existent, but Shewell loves what he does. While he’s the person in the organization that players least want to see, when they do have to connect with him they know they’re in very good hands.