Chris Carmichael, who runs a Colorado training service, created
the rehab program for Canadiens captain Saku Koivu, whose
non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was found to be in remission on Feb. 7.
Koivu returned on April 9, in time for Montreal's playoff
series against the Bruins.
You trained Lance Armstrong when he was coming back from
treatment for testicular cancer in 1996 and '97. Is that why the
Canadiens hired you to work with Koivu?
George Gillett, the Canadiens' owner, called me in September to
ask if I'd design a program to help the team's endurance. Two
days later Mr. Gillett left me a voice mail saying, "I need to
talk to you, our captain just got diagnosed with cancer." We went
from there. After Lance and Saku, I've got a cottage industry
What's especially difficult about rehab after cancer treatment?
Lance and Saku are different athletes who had different cancers,
but similar things happened. First, there's significant muscle
loss, because these guys go from being the most active people on
earth to being inactive. Second, their stamina goes way down:
They simply can't get through workouts. It's also tough
psychologically for cancer survivors. When I met with Saku, he
asked me things like, "Can cancer come back because of hard
training?" Of course the answer is no.
What was Koivu's program?
He'd do three workouts a day--cardio, aerobic and resistance
training. All together, five hours a day, six days a week. We
began training a month after he stopped chemo, and three weeks
into it, Saku made a breakthrough. He was suddenly able to lift
heavier weights and do much more biking at his target heart rate.
Did you think he'd be back for the playoffs?
I thought it was a very aggressive schedule, but he was
determined. Next year felt too far away for him. The truth is
there were a lot of unknowns. If a guy injures a shoulder, you
can say, "Okay, you'll be out this long, and this is how you come
back." There's no template when dealing with cancer.
Koivu benefited from you. What did you learn from him?
Being part of a comeback like Saku's, or like Lance's, makes you
feel like anything is possible. I feel fortunate to have played a
role in it. --Daniel G. Habib