A Massage as Good as Gold
By Lori Schafer
A Massage as Good as Gold
By Lori Schafer
Anna Gammal has spent the past 10 years specializing in sports massage and dedicating her life's work and focus to serving competitive athletes. A former 10,000-meter national champion in her native homeland of Greece, she watched the recent competitions in Beijing from a perspective far different than the 200 million viewers who tuned in to see records fall and hear anthems play. The emotional highs and lows touched her deeply, but Anna's thoughts frequently turned to her time spent with Olympic athletes from around the world and the benefits she has been able to provide by introducing massage into their training regimens.
Bringing personal experience, professional passion and therapeutic massage to serious athletes is a day-to-day privilege for Gammal, a 2000 graduate of Bancroft School of Massage Therapy in Worcester, Mass. She shares her knowledge of the aches, pains, joys and disappointments of the best athletic competitors in the world.
"Massage therapy allows me to relieve pain in others and to assist anyone in reaching their higher potential and ability. ... Providing what someone needs individually can be a challenge, but to be part of their transformation is exciting, rewarding and humbling. At the heart of it is the connection you develop with all of these extraordinary people."
Kareem Thompson, who competed in the long jump and 100-meter dash at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, saw firsthand what Anna was able to provide. "What an athlete feels and what is going on in the body can be different things. Anna was extremely intuitive and put my mind at ease very quickly. We developed a bond of trust that continues to this day. She was a real standout in my experience with massage therapists."
Developing an expertise in sports massage was a natural evolution for Gammal. In Greece, she competed and trained seriously, learning firsthand the importance and impact of massage for keeping the muscles supple and strong. However, it wasn't an automatic transition toward this career. Along the way, Gammal acquired professional experience as a preschool teacher, aerobics instructor and gymnastics teacher.
"From the start, it was clear Anna had all it takes to be successful - she had excellent massage skills, was developing her business skills and was not afraid to work hard to reach her goals," said Greg Hurd, LMT, MA, the director of career development and outreach at Bancroft.
Not long after graduation, Gammal moved into private practice. She founded Body & Beyond Massage Therapy in Hopkinton, Mass., where she treats clinical and sports massage clients such as Boston Marathon runners. She also maintained her close ties to the athletic community back in Greece. Because of her skills, personal background and commitment to the field, she was tapped to organize and co-direct the Olympic massage therapy team for the 2004 Athens Games.
George Kousaleos, BA, LMT, who served on the massage teams in 2000 and 2004, says choosing Gammal was a "no-brainer" when putting together the right group for Athens. As the 2004 Games approached, Kousaleos tried to find entry points for several months but was unsuccessful. Gammal, however, was already making connections in Greece and with the International Olympic Committee.
"Athens was interested in what we created for Salt Lake City [in 1996] and Atlanta. Anna spent several years organizing and recruiting 180 professional massage therapists to serve the world's athletes at the Athens games. Her leadership and hands-on participation were invaluable. Anna was clearly motivated by her own personal life experience as a competitor, but also because of her generosity of heart. She gave time, resources and was a key individual in making the Athens Massage Team the success that it was."
So, why wasn't Gammal in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics? According to Anna, each host country organizes its own massage services; it does not automatically carry over from one Olympics to the next. There were very early discussions with China organizers, but they chose to orchestrate massage services themselves - using only their own people - rather than rely on any outside volunteers.
Gammal continues to serve and advise current Olympic-level athletes and competition officials around the country, in addition to providing massage therapy to elite runners and competitors nationwide. She's been recruited by Olympic athletes and is looking to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
"My goal is to keep growing personally while educating people around the world about the benefits and importance of massage therapy in their everyday life," she said. "In terms of the advancement of our industry, there is a coming together that will occur between the body workers and the body scientists who study muscles and fascia. I want to be at the crossroads of that advancement."