Volunteer massage therapists are a cornerstone of athletic health at the world’s largest sporting event, the Olympic Games.
Sports massage not only loosens tight muscles, it helps athletes stay in overall best shape physically and mentally for for high-performance events.
Massage became an official component of athlete care beginning at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. By now, you’ve seen the photos of massage therapists at the Olympic Village or posing with a world-class athlete—but how exactly can you work with Olympic athletes?
There are actually three routes to Olympic massage: volunteering at one of three U.S. Olympic Training Centers; being part of the medical team that works in the Olympic Village; or working with a specific athletic team or athlete. We’ll explore each route here.
Work at an Olympic Training Center
Thanks to the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), athletes have access to full-time volunteer medical staff for integrated health care services during the Olympics and while training at US Olympic Training Centers.
Since the late 1970s, the USOC Sports Medicine Division has offered volunteer opportunities to massage therapists looking to assist athletes in achieving maximum performance. Working alongside chiropractors, physicians and physical therapists, massage therapists are an integral part of a highly-esteemed team focused strictly on Olympians.
The program is open to qualified providers interested in offering two weeks of their time to work with athletes at one of three Team USA Olympic Training Centers. Locations include Chula Vista, California, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Lake Placid, New York, where athletes train daily.
Massage therapists looking for a training experience in a highly competitive environment may consider applying for the prestigious volunteer program.
Any massage therapist with a thirst for knowledge should consider applying for the USOC’s Sports Medicine Division, said Jenna Street, A.T.C., an athletic trainer health care service provider for USOC.
“We are a very manual therapy-heavy clinic,” said Street, who is based out of the Colorado Springs clinic. “We do a significant amount of manual therapy.”
Throughout the year, Street accepts applications from therapists with a minimum of three years of professional experience. Applicants who meet the pre-qualified requirements are automatically accepted.
On average, Street estimates she receives between 30 and 50 applications from massage therapists yearly. The cost is $35 to apply, which includes a detailed application requiring an established curriculum vitae.
The most successful candidates are those with experience working with athletes before, during and after sporting events, Street said.
Usually within a week of applying, applicants hear back and are sent a list of open dates for each of the three clinics.
Currently, 2018 volunteer rotations are being scheduled.
“Even though it’s a volunteer program, we try to give enough notice to allow for adequate planning for applicants to get here,” Street said, noting room and board are provided on location.
Monday through Friday, the team works with athletes for about 10 hours a day, weekends are shorter workdays. Massage therapists assist athletes in 30-minute sessions to focus on areas of concern, including injuries. Volunteers should be ready to handle a variety of orthopedic and general health complaints from U.S. Olympians and Paralympians.
Massage is a respected part of the athlete’s regimen at the U.S. Olympic Training Centers as it helps with injuries and assists in speeding up the rehabilitation process, Street said. Because sports massage is crucial to pre- and post- training, some lucky therapists are able to go to the Olympic Games as well.
Work with an Olympic Team
To work with a specific team, a national governing body may make a selection—based on word-of-mouth referrals—of a massage therapist to take with them.
In recent years, massage has become an “accepted and expected” part of an Olympian’s care during trials and competitions, explained Kathy…