finding the fungus
why locating the smell may be more
important than you think
- The official magazine of the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association
words vanessa mariga illustration josh cappel
Red, sore, prickly spots cover
Jerry Brouse’s arms and legs every hockey season.
The burning, itching rash forced the Cambrian College Golden Shield
defenceman to hang up his skates before the end of last year’s season.
"Doctors told me that my hockey equipment was irritating my skin,” says Brouse.
“I’ve been playing for 16 years, but last year was the worst that it’s ever
been. Just non-stop scratching – it was the itchiest thing that I’ve ever
been through. By November I was done playing. I just couldn’t take it
It isn’t a surprise that Brouse’s equipment has led to irritating
complications. Sweaty gear houses more than just toes and feet.“
It’s a great medium for
bacteria and yeast to grow. You sweat on [hockey equipment], it gets warm and
moist, and then you shove it in a bag in a closet somewhere until the next
practice,” says Duncan MacCannell, a University of Calgary graduate student in
microbiology and infectious diseases.
MacCannell swabbed a sweaty set of hockey equipment to see what festered
within. He says for the most part the worst aspect is the rotten stench. But
a stinky jock strap or glove could be the least of a hockey player’s problems
if he or she has an open wound.
Take Mikael Renberg for example. In January of 2003 the Toronto Maple Leafs
forward burst a blister on his left hand while lacing his skate. He pulled on
his hockey glove, and developed an infection that nearly cost him his hand.
“When you enclose a space, like in a hockey glove or under a shoulder pad,
you’re closing off air movement,” says Dr. Grant Lum, medical director of at
George Brown’s fitness and lifestyle management program, and an NHL Players’
Association consultant. “These enclosed areas fill with sweat and create a
reservoir for bacteria. If you put your hand in with an open wound you’re giving
that bacteria a portal to enter your body,” says Lum.
He says there are three possible stages of an infection. The first is mild.
You have an open wound with some swelling around the edges. As the infection
develops, the swelling increases and the wound oozes puss. During the third
phase the wound closes, trapping the bacteria – usually anaerobic bacteria, a
group of bacteria that thrives with lack of airflow and oxygen – inside. The
bacteria festers, it spreads beneath the skin’s surface, and tissue could
begin to rot.
Until now, many athletes were content to hose their equipment down on the
driveway. Some locker room lore even insists that washing your gear could
bring bad luck. But now athletes may be hosing that attitude instead.“You
don’t just spray your personal clothes with a disinfectant and wear them the
next day,” says Randy Rhode, president and co-founder of Esporta Wash Systems
Inc., a Kelowna, B.C.-based company specializing in cleaning hockey and
football gear. “Then why is it that the one thing we sweat in the most we
With over 100 locations across North America and Sweden, Rhode and his wife
Margie patented a special system that breaks down bacteria with an
enzyme-base, cleans the gear, disinfects and sanitizes it, and then gives it
a shot of fragrance for good measure.
Rhode suggests that a hockey player have his gear professionally cleaned two
to three times a year, but in the meantime there are a few basic rules any
athlete should consider.
Wash after every game and every practice with a disinfectant soap. Don’t
share towels, gear, or shirts. Bandage any wound or blister. And if worse
comes to worst, sit the game out and give your wound a chance to heal.