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 going.
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?