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Massage Today
June, 2001, Vol. 01, Issue 06

Bringing Massage to the Boston Marathon

By Editorial Staff

April 16th, 2001 was Patriot's Day in Massachusetts. It was also the 105th running of the Boston Marathon, one of the most prestigious sporting events in the world, and the 19th year that massage therapy has been available to the marathon's participants.

In 1983, a small team of sports massage therapists first gathered at this event, headed by Gayle Davison and Benny Vaughn.

That initial Sports Massage Team (SMT) was to be comprised of 20 therapists and 20 student therapists, but as race day approached, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) cut the team down to the 20 experienced therapists. A few of the students were able to volunteer in other capacities, and actually got pressed into service as the lines for post-event massage grew to a capacity the original team could no longer handle.

One of those students who "snuck in" to participate in the first Boston Marathon Sports Massage Team was Rick Guilde of Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Today, Rick holds the distinction of having participated on more Boston Marathon sports massage teams than any other individual. Of the 19 years the team has been in existence, Rick has been prominent at 18 of them!

The team has grown over the years -- that initial team of 20 is now 175 strong, and is captained by massage therapist Jeff Forrest of Massachusetts. Students are now an important part of the process. This year, 55 individuals from six different schools helped make up the team. One school even traveled from New Brunswick, Canada to participate.

The SMT is broken up into subspecialty groups to work on the main group of runners; the elite athletes; the wheelchair athletes; VIPs (corporate sponsors, family members, etc.); and triage. About 50 therapists travel to the race start in Hopkinton to do pre-event work, and the balance are also available to serve the long lines of runners waiting for post-event massage.

The runners always appreciate the skills of the sports massage team. Rick Gilde recalled one of his favorite quotes from an anonymous runner: "You guys are the heroes, we're the dummies." Runners Steve Berhard from Macungie, PA, and Matt Olin from Los Angeles, CA both mentioned how important post-event massage was to their recovery.

At event registration, the massage therapists are given volunteer jackets; instructed how to set up their tables; and given some brief instruction on what resources are available to assist them with thermal issues and cramp management. It's a long day for the massage therapists, who arrive in the morning and don't leave the massage area until 7 or 7:30 in the evening. All told, the team is involved in about 1,200 massage encounters.

The sports massage team is part of the all-volunteer effort of the Boston Marathon. The massage therapists are considered part of the medical volunteers, and at the 105th running, were given the white volunteer jackets that signify medical volunteers. The massage volunteers aren't just local: Yvonne Fey traveled all the way from Berrysburg, Ohio to volunteer her services!

The dozen therapists who volunteer for triage are also healthcare-trained as nurses, EMTs, PTs, OTs, ATs, etc. The triage area is close to the medical tent, for those runners who underestimated the nature of their discomfort when presenting themselves at the massage area. This year's triage was staffed with many of the students from the KINE-CONCEPT Institute in Fredericton, New Brunswick, due to the extensive medical training the Canadian massage program provides. Barry Antoniow, RMT, administrative director of the school, expressed his pleasure at being able to give the Canadian students experience at a major international event.

Space limitations have put the sports massage team at capacity. The John Hancock Company generously donates space in their Boston headquarters, but the team can set up only about 90 tables in the post-event area. Podiatrists in the massage area assist the massage therapists with any obvious foot issues; a chiropractic team is also in the vicinity.

In addition to their participation on the sports massage team, massage therapists were also volunteering in other capacities along the 26.2-mile race route from Hopkinton to Boston. At First Aid Station #12 (17.5 mi.), massage therapist Jeanne Dodge was part of a team that treated over 20 "soft tissue" injuries in a few hours. They ranged from runners with "tight muscles," to those running with pre-existing injuries, to those with spasms and cramps.

Speaking of her Boston Marathon volunteer experiences, Jeanne reported the following:

"As you can tell, I'm completely spoiled. This group has been built over the past 10 years or so. We have a high degree of respect and are very clear about working and cherishing our 'team.'

"I should give you some idea of who this team is (in no particular order): Cindy is a paramedic (who takes vacation days from her ambulance service to come play with us); Jeff is an EMT (a former military medic with rescue work and haszmat duty in his background); Amy is and EMT and is finishing her training to be a PA; Ken is on the staff of Health Services of the American Red Cross and an EMT; Ed is an RN/NP and EMT (he also instructs EMTs as a civilian and for the National Guard); Ann is an RN; Kathy is an RN/NP (and the medical director for the Massachusetts Special Olympics); Craig is a former EMT, currently instructor trainer for the Red Cross in all of the aquatics courses and emergency first response, etc.; Mike is an EMT; Brenda is an EMT; and I'm a massage therapist and EMT.

"I should point out that Cindy and Jeff are technically the only 'professional' EMS folks in the group; the rest of us work in another area of health care and/or are 'amateur professionals.' We do this because we love working together; we all have incredibly high standards of care; we have fun; and yes, we are crazy."

As you can see, massage therapists play a prominent role in the success of the Boston Marathon each year. Those wishing to volunteer in any capacity can do so via the Boston Athletic Association's official marathon website ( Volunteer applications are usually due in February for this annual April event.


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