Three companies, one owner, give new twist to athletic support

There’s something about growing up on a farm. Maybe it’s having total responsibility for an animal. Maybe it¹s the early morning hours, frost on the grain stubble. Maybe it’s the cooperative effort that every farm family must have.

Whatever… Rick Schaly grew up with two passions: hockey and healing.

After Sunnybrae School in Stroud, he attended Central Collegiate, switching to Innisdale so he could take the grade 13 physed course which concentrated on anatomy and biology. Why? Because he’d already decided on a career in sports injury management. Why? Because he played a lot of sports and he got hurt a lot.

He was clear. “I wanted a clinic. I wanted to brace.” Rick himself was wearing several braces… ankle, knee, elbow, in order to play hockey. He grew up playing Barrie Minor Hockey, then played goalie for a Jr. B year with the Barrie Colts. He got into refereeing and by the time he was 20 he was travelling three nights a week as an OHL referee.

Sheridan College and Sports Injury Management in 1970 captured Rick’s brain and his heart. When he opened his first Sports Therapy Clinic in Angus in 1988, he had no idea how far it would go. A second store opened in Barrie in the Yonge St Medical Clinic. A third store in Collingwood brought him in contact with his future wife, Tamara. A fourth store in Huntsville rounded out the first few years of business.

In 1978, Rick and Tamara decided they wanted to manufacture their own product. It was decision time. A whole new part to the business. Time to bring babies into the picture. Time to settle into family life and buy a cottage. Selling the Collingwood and Huntsville clinics gave them startup money for Trainers Choice and in 1994, Rick launched his first three knee braces and Trainers Choice was born.

“I looked at the best features from four or five products and put my own spin on it. We started building our braces in a small spot on Churchill Dr.”

When Trainers Choice is developing a new product, everyone gets involved… athletic, physical and occupational therapists, kinesiologist, doctor and the TC sewers. “The sewers help us get it right from a practical side… use and production,” says Rick. “With that much knowledge around the table we create products that function, work, fit and sell well.”

The process is now well established. Create. Find a test patient. Get subjective and objective information–fit, function & result. Alter. Launch.

In the past two years, Trainers Choice leapt into the retail market, first in PharmaSave stores. They manufacture 45 products and import another 15,000 products which they supply… anything an athletic team needs for medical and first aid supplies. Sourcing worldwide, Rick calls Trainers Choice a top to bottom company.

The big coup happened two Olympics ago where Trainers Choice signed an agreement with the COC (Canadian Olympic Committee) to exclusively supply any carded athlete in Canada (there are 1000 of them) their medical and first aid products at no charge. By supporting those athletes as they train and by supplying every qualifying event leading up to the Olympics, Trainers Choice gets to use those five rings and the Olympics flight crest on all their packaging. It¹s a big commitment for Trainers Choice but it’s paid off.

They also supply the Pan Am Games, the CIS (university) championships. “At this point we’re supplying every major sporting event with their medical supplies.” That Olympic commitment kickstarted the company’s retail sales. After PharmaSave, they found ready acceptance into Zellers as well as major pharmacies and food/pharmacy superstores in Canada’s east and west as well as Quebec. What has this meant for Trainers Choice? Well, this weekend they’re bringing in automated shelving and storage. They now have seven inside sewers, 10 contract sewers and 15 sewers on subcontract with another company.

And while this was happening, Rick and an investor teamed up to open Mind to Muscle, an elite sports training facility on Welham Rd, phase three of the original plan, allowing the company to heal, brace and strengthen the bodies of its clients. Mind to Muscle provides training services to the Barrie Colts and specialized service to Mariposa Skaters, truly serving the elite.

While all this growth is occurring, Rick and Tamara have added a second child to their family as they tend to the three sectors in their business. Rick is the big picture member of the team; Tamara is the stickler for details: think and do.

And does Rick do any athletic therapy anymore? “I receive athletic therapy. I use Mind to Miscle twice a week. My passion is creating and executing the plan, so running the business is now the hardest part.”

He’s developed skill at hiring the best people, selecting the right person and building skills around them. As he looks back on the 18 years of business and at the 100 employees now working for three companies, Rick lauds early entrepreneur training through Young Entrepreneurs of Ontario.

The three companies have received recognition from the Ontario Athletic Therapists Association, and recently as a nominee and finalist for a Bell Canada Business Award.

And all from a homegrown, farm boy! You’ve done us proud, Rick. Thanks!.