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Former Swavesey Village College student Gabriella Pimentel recognised in Queen’s New Year’s Honours list

Gabriella Pimentel was awarded a BEM in the Queen's New Year's honours list.
Gabriella Pimentel was awarded a BEM in the Queen's New Year's honours list.

An idea to help two elderly grandparents during the first lockdown has resulted in Gabriella Pimentel being awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list.

As a physio, when the country closed down in the spring it meant all the practices shut overnight and so with no income, Pimentel returned from London to her parents in Cambridge.

Meanwhile, her grandfather was no longer able to attend his three-times-a-week cardiac rehab classes and so, with time on her hands and being close to her grandparents, Pimentel came up with an idea.

Using the knowledge acquired from a module on elderly healthcare from her sport medicine masters, she devised a half-hour cardio workout class on WhatsApp.

“I posted a little bit up on Instagram because it was cute seeing my grandparents doing all these exercises with tins of beans, and quite a few of my friends commented on it saying their grandparents would love it and wished they could follow it too,” says Pimentel, 28.

“I decided to upload them onto YouTube and what proceeded to happen was a little bit mental because BBC News picked up on it and did a story on it.”

With the help of a graphic designer, they branded it a Quaran-tin Workout, producing 92 videos in a row and ended up publishing an e-book.

“The first workout video has got something like 9k views on it,” says Pimental, who is from Bar Hill.

“It went completely beyond what I was expecting because it was literally to keep my grandparents entertained.”

There were even offers to sponsor the channel and advertising, but it was never about making money for Pimentel, just helping her grandparents, and as lockdown eased, the physio business picked up again.

Having been appointed a senior lecturer in clinical specialist physiotherapy within the faculty of sport, health and applied science at St Mary’s University, although Pimentel stopped posting new workouts, the 92 routines remain on the YouTube channel.

But that was not the end of the Quaran-tin Workout story.

“I got an email that I actually thought was spam – I thought ‘I can’t have been awarded a BEM, this is ridiculous’,” she says.

“I ignored the email, and then I got a phone call from the Cabinet Office saying ‘today is the deadline, do you want to accept the award?’.

“It’s gone from there really – it’s been ridiculous.”

Gabriella Pimentel was awarded a BEM in the Queen's New Year's honours list.
Gabriella Pimentel was awarded a BEM in the Queen's New Year's honours list.

The foundation and knowledge for the routines came through Pimentel’s background and involvement in sport.

The former Swavesey Village College and Hills Road Sixth Form College student grew up playing football locally – for Bar Hill, Cambridge City and Exning – before going to study at the University of Nottingham.

After graduating, she moved to Brighton, working in the academy at Brighton & Hove Albion, and then becoming head physio for the women’s team and all of the women’s centre of excellence.

Pimentel moved to Chelsea – during which time she did her masters – to be lead physio of the women’s reserves team and support the first team, and she also worked with the FA and the England women’s under-18s, under-19s and under-20s teams.

It meant that the first six years of her physio career were working primarily in football, particularly in the women’s side of the game, which gave a unique insight and helping influence her research role at St Mary’s.

“As I’ve had quite a lot of contact in women’s football, a lot of the projects that I’m going to be getting my students to do are actually looking at a lot of the prevalence of stuff from female athletes,” explains Pimentel.

“Things are completely different. From the build of women compared to the build of men, but also things like hormones.

“Hormones have a huge influence on, for example, the properties of ligaments and tendons. Also, menstrual cycles mean that women are much more prevalent to injury at certain parts of their cycle.

“It’s completely different, but the majority of research is done on male athletes because there is a lot more money to pump into it.

“It’s growing massively as women’s sport continues to grow, but there is not a lot of stuff out there just about female athletes.”

It is a fascinating area of discussion, and being a player and a physio, Pimentel has a broad overview which means a different take on the game for men and women.

“I think that men play a much more physical and powerful game, which people think sometimes might be more interesting to watch because it’s faster paced,” she says.

“But I personally think that women’s football is a lot more technical because they don’t have the speed or brute strength, instead it’s about tactics, game plans, set pieces.

“I think it’s a much cleverer game.”

It also throws up different types of physical problems.

“Most well-known with female injuries is ACL injuries in the knee,” says Pimentel.

“As women’s hips are a little bit wider, it means that the knees cave in a little bit more. Basically, the angle of the knee is changed by the width of the hips which means that women are much more prevalent to an ACL injury than men – it’s obscenely more prevalent in women.

“There are so many other injuries that are more prevalent in women that just haven’t been researched. It’s really interesting.”

But the reporting of injuries has inhibited more in-depth analysis.

“The men’s team will report injuries much earlier than the women’s team, and that’s down to medical provision,” says Pimentel.

“Women tend to report injuries much later than men so we see a lot more chronic injuries and stress responses. That’s another thing, women have lower bone mineral density than men so you get a lot of stress fractures and overload injuries.

“For a long time, they assumed men’s research and men’s injury auditing would be transferable to women’s sport. It’s just absolutely not, there is a huge gap in the market.”

The Quaran-tin Workout has earned Gabriella Pimentel a BEM
The Quaran-tin Workout has earned Gabriella Pimentel a BEM

Alongside her role at St Mary’s, Pimentel works for Warrior Sports Rehabilitation doing one-and-a-half clinical days with them and a day a week at a private hospital in Marylebone for hip and knee patients.

She is also an expert in high grade hamstring injury rehabilitation and general lower limb injury – hamstring injuries was the area of her sports medicine thesis.

“We basically looked at a grade four injury which is where the tendon comes off the bone,” explains Pimentel.

“Where the hamstring attaches just underneath the bum, when that tendon pulls off it is a grade four.

“The only way for it to be reattached is surgically but there is no research out there as to how to properly rehabilitate it and what the long-term outcomes are.

“I did my thesis looking at professional rugby players who had had this injury and then went back to playing sport again.

“We looked at what their recurrence rates were of reinjury but also we had a look at the individual muscle itself and had a look at how well it was working even though the physios had cleared them as completely fit.”

But it was the final year dissertation of her undergraduate degree, which featured cardiac rehab, that proved so important during lockdown, and helped earn the BEM for services to the elderly during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I did my sports medicine degree, and a lot of that is about exercise prescription, benefits of exercise and I’m physically active myself,” she adds.

“I’m always around different exercise, and I know it benefits strength exercise.

“I ended up finding quite a nice little template that I use – I would just sub in different exercises using basically tins of beans which is where the Quaran-tin pun came from.

“It was just a way of making sure my grandparents stayed fit.”

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