Massage Therapists Find Olympic Experience Rewarding

By Editorial Staff
May 29, 2009

Massage Therapists Find Olympic Experience Rewarding

By Editorial Staff
May 29, 2009

In August, Massage Today (MT) reported that two massage therapists appointed by the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and 100 international massage therapists selected by the Athens Health Services Sports Massage Team (AHSSMT) were headed to Athens, Greece, to provide massage during the 2004 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.1

While the two USOC-appointed therapists worked exclusively with athletes from the U.S., the AHSSMT, which was organized in part by Massachusetts massage therapist Anna Gammal, a native of Greece, and George Kousaleos, a second-generation Greek and founder of the CORE Institute in Fla., worked with athletes from around the globe.

Organizing the AHSSMT was a two-year process -- one that Gammal believes was well worth the effort, according to a narrative she wrote and provided to MT. "Massage therapy was a big success at these Olympic Games," the narrative said. "In total, we gave about 5,500 massages to Olympic athletes - 3,500 at the Olympic Village and 2,000 at the Olympic venues where therapists were assigned. This was a huge number for only 100 massage therapists."2

Although working with the athletes was memorable, Gammal notes that one of the most worthwhile aspects of her experience was having the opportunity to educate native Greek health professionals, such as medical doctors and physiotherapists, about the therapeutic benefits of massage therapy. "... Massage therapy is not just for 'relaxation,' as is the common belief in Greece, but a truly therapeutic and important health service ... if I [have] help[ed] bring this understanding to the health community in my home country, then this Olympic adventure may have afforded me the chance of helping far more people than I imagined," she remarked.2

Kousaleos agrees, noting that oftentimes people from other countries are not familiar with the wide-reaching benefits of massage therapy. "Each day brought opportunities to share and communicate with elite athletes and their coaches, who were so thankful for the sports massage services our team provided. Many came from countries that don't have professional massage therapy, but utilize manual therapies as a part of physiotherapy or other medical specialties. These athletes were especially impressed with the skills of the massage therapists in full-body massage that supported a heavy training regimen. Their prior experience with massage therapy was injury- and region-specific."3

Christine Tan, a massage therapist from New York City, was one of two therapists appointed to the USOC's 46-person volunteer medical staff. For Tan, the most rewarding part of the Olympic experience was knowing that the athletes appreciated the massage treatments. "It's amazing to be among the U.S. and world's best athletes," Tan said. "This is the most stressful time of their lives; it's good to see them feeling better on a daily basis."4

Volunteering at the Olympics had such a profound influence on Tan that she is contemplating pursuing additional education related to athletic training. "It was an incredible experience. I highly recommend every [therapist] go through the [USOC] volunteer process. It is possible for anyone to go to the Olympics that wants to."4

From working with the athletes, to interacting with people from around the world, to simply performing a labor of love, one thing is clear: the Olympic experience was meaningful to the massage therapists involved.

"Each day in the Olympic Village I would contemplate the amazing opportunity that I had been given to come back to the birthplace of my grandparents to be a meaningful part of the 2,700-year history of the Olympics and its return to Greece," said Kousaleos thoughtfully. "I would look to the heavens and thank each of my 'papous and yiayias' [grandfathers and grandmothers] for the courage it took to leave their beloved country 100 years earlier to come to America and build a life that has supported all of their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. I know they were watching and beatifically smiling with appreciation, love and joy for all who made these Games so very special."3

For more information on the AHSSMT, visit; for more information on the USOC, visit


  1. Massage to play prominent role at Athens games. Massage Today. Aug. 2004.
  2. Gammal, Anna. Athens 2004 Olympic Adventure. Written narrative provided to Massage Today by the author.
  3. E-mail interview with George Kousaleos. Aug. 29, 2004.
  4. Phone interview with Christine Tan. Aug. 28, 2004.