Stevenson-Flom: Working with the athletes

At Monday's morning meeting at Athletes Village, and no, this isn't a kindergarten class but rather a collection of International, seasoned medical professionals, we all gathered together with the sole purpose of helping and keeping the London 2012 Olympic Athletes in peak physical and mental condition. The buzz was, that since the Opening Ceremonies on Friday, July 27, 715 massages have been given in the Clinic and two have gone to Athletes who have gone on to win a Silver and a Bronze medal! We are prevented, and I am sure you all can appreciate this, by ethical standards, from reporting about any Athletes we work on by name, but statistics are fine and in fact good to share. It does wonders to help reinforce why we volunteer.

While I was not on shift during that time, I was as caught up in the excitement of this announcement as those who were. The bottom line of the meeting was....this team of hand picked professionals, all volunteers, counts. We can make a difference between a good performance and a medal-winning performance. And, the Games have just begun with many competitions at dozens of venues yet to come!

So, with live video of today's events from multiple venues on in the public areas, our day began. I have been a therapist at hundreds of events and even many that were Olympic Qualifiers, but none that had put butterflies in my belly like I had this morning. It wasn't exactly nervous butterflies but rather the shear magnitude of it all butterflies.

As should have been anticipated because of the time (6:30 a.m.!) and the clients (ages 15-20's), Athlete's were not queuing at the door. That actually gave me the opportunity to get to know my home away from home. There are 6 bays, similar to what you might see in an ER and each had 2 or 3 massage tables or as the Brits call them, "couches," in them along with several private rooms reserved for those with religious and/or cultural needs. Some couches were standard tables and others were hydraulic, all on loan from the manufacturer.

There are 2,000 bath-size towels ordered for delivery to our floor each day. They will be used for table covers, a privacy cover for the athlete and will be rolled for bolstering. I was amazed at the figure but after my shift was over and I assessed the number I had used alone, it made much more sense. There are 3 choices of product, something every therapist and most frequent massage clients have their own preference of. I am not enamored by any of them, but then I don't use a lot of lotion with my work.

Any student I have ever had will attest to that! But because of IOC rules, every product used must meet their standards. A benign ingredient to us could contain an element that would effect the anti-doping standards. I'll use the respected industry standard, Biotone, dolled out in plastic shot cups, when I do in fact need a lubricant.

The first person on my lovely new hydraulic table was none other than a physiotherapist for Trinidad & Tobago. No pressure there! In Europe, a Physio is a combination of a Physical Therapist, Massage Therapist and Athletic Trainer. He had been abusing his body, trying to help get his teams ready for competition. He told me that he had had a massage from the Team's MT last evening that didn't cut the mustard.

For my Clan in the profession: his forearms (flexers) could have doubled for a philharmonic string instrument! I greeted him, just as I have instructed my students to do, with a reassuring smile and a firm handshake. Then I saw it! That look that I often get, especially from athletic men, the look that says, "You're a women and I want "deep" work and I already know I am not going to be happy." But in addition to thinking it, this gentleman actually said it. Great way to start my Olympic career! I could have done 2 things. It would have be easy to give him to one of the male therapists on our team or do as I did, "Stay Calm and Carry On." Long story short, he is booked with me Tuesday and Wednesday.

My next three clients were all athletes. Each had, surprise, surprise...low back and hamstring issues. The athlete from Benin, Africa, was in exquisite physical condition but suffered a hamstring strain in practice 4 days ago. Our team's Physio had been working with him and had, this morning cleared him for soft tissue work. Accompanying him, in fact, sitting at tableside, was his female coach, watching every move I made. Long story short, he is booked with me Tuesday and Wednesday and so is she.

The next two, a man and a woman, were both Nigerian competitors. Their sessions were fairly routine but no less intense. The fact of the matter is that when your are working on an athlete of this caliber, every stroke counts.

This was (another) Bucket List Day in my Olympic Adventure. I am completely exhausted but in a good kind of way. The crowds continue to increase around the Olympic Stadium and the venues, as does Security, with Police from London and all surrounding areas, the military and private security everywhere you look.

I'm going to close my eyes tonight feeling proud, excited for tomorrow and safe. Wishing you all pleasant Olympic coverage viewing!


Laura Stevenson-Flom is a nationally certified, state-licensed massage therapist with a specialty in sports massage and a private practice in her Colchester home. She will be serving as a volunteer massage therapist at the Summer Olympics, helping assist athletes from around the world. She's been assigned to Athletes' Village, one of seven Olympic Park venues.

Find more from Laura at

Reader Comments