Benita Olivier

Lecturer, Wits

“The thing that’s most important to me is to balance your family, your life and your career.” Dr Benita Olivier (32) is a lecturer in the physiotherapy department at the health sciences faculty of the University of Witwatersrand, a full time lecturer in neuromusculoskeletal physiotherapy and a movement analysis laboratory co-ordinator.

She supervises several master’s and doctoral students and drives educational research related to the implementation of the Objective Structured Practical Examinations (OSPE) into the physiotherapy undergraduate curriculum.

Olivier hopes to be something of a role model for younger women who want to combine family and career. And she has some claim to know what she is talking about: “A born academic”, she says, “I had always wanted to do a PhD, but I also always wanted to have children, and I had two while I was doing my doctorate.”

Her doctoral thesis was on the role of intrinsic factors in injury and performance in cricket pace bowlers, and she has published extensively on cricketing injuries.

Her body of work is a significant contribution to our understanding of asymmetrical actions in sport and their role in injury. Olivier has no special interest in cricket, she says – it was the fast-bowling action, with its imbalances, that drew her to the sport.

In the movement analysis laboratory, she and her students have since captured bowling, golf and ballet to analyse the movements involved and understand the potential for injury. “We hope to reduce injury rates and improve people’s ability to perform,” she says.

Next up for Olivier is an initiative aimed at developing an injury prevention tool, which she will undertake using the funding she won when she was recently awarded the Friedel Sellschop Award that recognises and encourages truly exceptional young researchers. “There’s a lack of global vision on injury prevention,” she says. “Elite athletes tend to be the focus, but for people like you and me, injuries impact energy levels and our mental state. I would like to be known as someone promoting injury prevention and mentoring others in this work.” — Mandi Smallhorne