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Massage Today
June, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 06

Sports Massage at its Finest

By Cliff Korn, BS, LMT, NCTMB

In terms of onsite media coverage, the Boston Marathon ranks behind only the Super Bowl as the largest single-day sporting event in the world. Approximately 500,000 spectators annually line the 26.2-mile course, making the Boston Marathon New England's most widely viewed sporting event.

Organized by the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) and with John Hancock Financial Services as its principal sponsor, 2005 marked the 109th running of the world's oldest annually contested marathon.

This year there were special remembrances and honors for Johnny Kelley, the heart and soul of the Boston Marathon. A starter on race day 61 times, Kelley completed an almost unimaginable 58 Boston Marathons. He was a two-time winner of Boston in 1935 and 1945; finished second, a record seven times; and recorded 18 finishes in the top 10. He completed his last Boston Marathon in 1992 at the age of 84! Remaining "Young at Heart" (the name of a sculpture dedicated in his honor) until his last days, Kelley passed away, Oct. 6, 2004, at the age of 97.

Massage therapy has long been associated with the Boston Marathon* and is offered to the athletes on a limited, first-come first-served basis. Treatments last from five to 15 minutes and focus on the specific need at that time. Pre-event massage is offered in the Athletes' Village on the morning of the race; post-event massage is offered at the John Hancock Building at the corner of Berkeley and Stuart Streets near the family meeting area. Expected wait time for a massage varies depending on the number of volunteer therapists available. In addition to the pre-/post-event massage arranged by the BAA, Dana Farber Cancer Institute and others, John Hancock also provides massage therapy as part of its elite athlete services. Massage Today referred to this in the April 2004 issue* but this was the first time that I have had a personal experience with the elite athlete side.

I regularly see athletes in my practice and have had many runners, and pro- and semi-pro ball and hockey players as clients. It didn't prepare me for the sheer joy of spending almost a week working on nothing but elite athletes! John Hancock's team of invited athletes is designed to include the best marathon runners in the world, and this year's team of 20 men and 12 women was no exception.

Hailing from Australia, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Russia and the United States, I found one great similarity in the running elite - they all felt like filet mignon under my hands. The incredible muscle tone and conditioned bodies coupled with the intensity of their desire to excel made the work doubly enjoyable.

As enjoyable as it was to work with this level of athlete, it was perhaps even more rewarding to work in the company of one of the most experienced sports massage teams imaginable. Led by a man in practice for 19 years who has been involved with the team for all of that time, our select group of five therapists had superb hands-on mentoring.

Comprised of two men and three women, my 12-plus years of practice put me near the bottom of the experience chart! Two of the women on the team had more than 15 years of experience each, and the third, while shorter on years of experience, had been instrumental in organizing the massage therapy teams at the Athens Olympics and had led many of the activities associated with that colossal athletic spectacle. I have never before had the privilege of associating with such a group of dedicated, focused and capable massage professionals.

We worked with the elite runners from the time they arrived in Boston, assisting them acclimate to the time zone and long travel. We then continued working with them right through race day. Since the 32 elite athletes were all contenders to win, the goal of seeing that everybody we touched was capable of absolute peak performance on race day was paramount, and the entire process very professionally stimulating. Since it has always been one of New England's premier sporting events, I have watched the Boston Marathon many times. The experience took on a whole new meaning to me, though, after having worked on so many of the top finishers. It's a feeling of excitement, pride and gratitude that is hard to explain but easy to feel.

As we changed to a post-event triage area after the finish, dealing with muscle cramping and the inevitable tightness and soreness that running 26.2 miles full-tilt will bring, I was once again astounded at the abilities of these athletes. In relatively short order they were cooled down, dry and in full recuperation. That evening at a party held in their honor they were even up and dancing!

I hope you have an opportunity to participate in something that affects you as positively as my experience with the 2005 Boston Marathon affected me. Sports massage is a wonderful thing; the experience prepares you well for almost anything that makes its way to your treatment room. I am pleased that I studied sports massage early in my practice, participated with local sports massage teams, and tested onto a national sports massage team. I was able to show credentials and experience allowing me to participate with this select group of professionals whose function was to make one of the world's foremost athletic events just a tiny bit better. It's rewarding to know that we did just that.

Paraphrasing a summary from the BAA's Web site, the Boston Marathon is fabled, hallowed, venerable, and all of those adjectives that speak of an historical and special event. Each passing year is another chapter in that long and illustrious history. Because of the athletes who used massage to ease their discomforts and tune their bodies to peak performance, this year's race will be remembered by this massage therapist as one of the really special ones, even though they all are.

Thanks for listening!

*See Massage Today articles "Bringing Massage to the Boston Marathon," June 2001. and "How Far Does Your Touch Reach?" April 2004.

Massage Today encourages letters to the editor to discuss matters related to the publication's content. Letters may be published in a future issue or online. Please send all correspondence by e-mail to , or by regular mail to:

Massage Today
P.O. Box 4139
Huntington Beach, CA 92605

Former editor of Massage Today, Cliff is owner of Windham Health Center Neuromuscular Therapy LLC. He is nationally certified in therapeutic massage & bodywork and is licensed as a massage therapist by the states of New Hampshire and Florida. Cliff is a member of the International Association of Healthcare Practitioners; a professional member and past president of the New Hampshire chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association; a certified member of the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, Inc.; and a past chairman of the board of directors of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.


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