Dr Karen Schwabe, an academic at Stellenbosch University's (SU) Institute of Sport and Exercise Medicine (ISEM) who has more than 20 years' practical experience in the sports medicine field, has been appointed as the Spar Proteas Netball team's sport physician for the Netball World Cup 2023.
Schwabe is the programme coordinator of the MSc degree in sport and exercise at the ISEM.
Netball's most prestigious event will take place in Cape Town from 28 July, the first time that a Netball World Cup event is hosted on the African continent.
Schwabe, who feels “extremely blessed and proud" to have been appointed as the team doctor, has over two decades' experience of working within the sports medicine field, including all the pre-screening and medical care of the Proteas up to the World Cup.
“Among others, I was part of previous Olympic, Youth Olympic and Commonwealth Games; Western Province and Stormers rugby; Springbok Sevens teams; the FIFA World Cup (2010); the Women's T20 Cricket World Cup (2023); and the Australian Netball Team. I was also Head of medical services for numerous Two Oceans Marathons.
“In 2022 I assisted the Proteas with their medical screening for the Commonwealth Games and following this, they asked me to join them earlier this year!" says Schwabe, who has combined her two passions, medicine and sport, in her career.
“My love for sport comes from school where I enjoyed participating in a wide variety of sports. And to work with athletes, teams and events is always super exciting."
Schwabe obtained her medical degree (MBChB) at SU, after which she did an MPhil in sport and exercise and a PhD in human biology/exercise science at the University of Cape Town. “Now I am back at my alma mater."
The MSc degree that she coordinates is a three-year course under the guidance of Prof Wayne Derman, ISEM Director. It aims to produce proficient and clinically sound sport and exercise physicians.
Schwabe says one of her key roles as team doctor is to prevent injuries and illness in the period leading up to the World Cup. “Firstly, each player undergoes a very detailed medical screening a few months before the event. This includes a full medical and musculoskeletal screen. Various specific tests are done, such as a range of blood tests and electrocardiograms. Then the medical findings are addressed. Common deficiencies in female athletes include iron and vitamin D deficiencies. Weaknesses in the musculoskeletal system are addressed by giving the players specific rehabilitation programmes to follow.
“Secondly, ongoing monitoring of our players is very important. Our aim is to protect the health of the athlete," she says.
Asked what research opportunities could arise from the event, Schwabe says SU is a research-intensive university and this is a great opportunity to gather relevant data, especially since there is little data about netball compared to other sports such as rugby and soccer. “This includes monitoring of the illnesses and injuries and any possible association with load and trends going from a training phase to the competition phase. This is an exciting research field going forward."
Asked what her appointment means for SU, Schwabe says her hope is that all teams will look “to her colleagues and the physicians and researchers at SU and ISEM as a source of inspiration as a centre of excellence".
SU's Division of Sport Science hosted an international netball conference with the theme “Beyond the Court: Exploring Netball Science and Applications" on 20 and 21 July. The aim was to capture the essence of netball as a dynamic sport that combines scientific research with real-world applications. Attendees had the opportunity to gain insight in the latest advancements in netball research player management to reduce injury risk and discover technologies to enhance player performance.