Nicole Thornton always knew she wanted to run her own business, but she believes entering the massage therapy field — and selecting the name for her company — was a matter predetermined by a higher power.
While caring for adults with disabilities in a group home, part of her duties required helping her clients shower and dress. Thornton says she became fascinated by the massage therapist who came in regularly to work with the clients.
The "laying on of hands," a phrase that resonates with Thornton from her years growing up in the Christian faith, was an immediate attraction to her, one that encouraged her to pursue her licensing in massage therapy.
After a full year of education combined with hands-on training, Thornton graduated in January 2003 from the Galen Institute for Massage. While in school, part of her clinical work was completed at Norwich Inn & Spa, where clients often told her, "You have such heavenly hands."
"It was funny to hear that because while I was in school, my mom said I should name my business 'Heavenly Hands.' She was telling everyone about the business cards and what they should look like, so I thought and thought about it. It just stuck with me.
"Being a preacher's wife and coming from a church background, she would think that (name was fitting)," says Thornton, of her mom. "She spoke things into existence."
So while still a student, the New London resident started a business that she now operates from a single room in the Waterford Professional Complex building. The space is large enough for her desk and massage table, along with shelves lining one wall that are filled with bedding, incense and oils. Her specialty is deep tissue massage.
"I feel like I'm really doing work when I do it," she explains. "I have big strong hands. If you've got a kink in your neck that you need to work out, that little rubby dubby stuff won't work. When I'm on the table, I want to be worked, but I will give you what you want."
As she works, Thornton often finds herself humming, and more often than not, it's a gospel song. Since she can remember, Thornton has had a love for music (Several times during the interview she sang a few bars from different songs.) She started singing as a child when her family worshipped at Walls Temple A.M.E. Zion Church in New London.
"I was just blending in with the choir. I didn't know I could sing until my father got his church," she says, of the creation more than 20 years ago of St. John's Christian Church in Groton. "I said 'There needs to be a choir.' All the kids in the projects were my friends, so we got it started."
Recently, Thornton has become a fixture at local events — be it weddings, birthday parties or funerals. Standing at nearly six feet tall, and with a booming voice, her presence is hard to miss.
She loves to perform "anything a cappella" but "Stand" and "Ribbon in the Sky" are the most requested songs for funerals and weddings, respectively.
The tenacity and confidence it took to sing in front of a crowd for the first time were the same traits Thornton tapped into when she started her own business.
"I was a little nervous to really go and do this, but it didn't take long to realize that this will work out," she explains. "The nervousness went away and then it became more excitement."
Running her own business for the last nine years has allowed Thornton the flexibility to attend every school function for her daughter, Lexi, and also the time to care for her 101-year-old grandmother, who lives with her.
Thornton gave birth to her daughter one month before she turned 25, and at the time, was working three jobs.
"My goal was that I wanted my own house with my own yard. I had Lexi in '93 and in 1999 I had my house," she says.
That drive is part of what led her down the entrepreneurship path. As a "hands-on people person," she knew she wouldn't last at a typical 9 to 5 job.
"I can work for myself and control my own time," she says. "It works for me and it works for my clients."
567 Vauxhall St. Ext. Suite 311,
7 a.m. to 11 p.m.