Chris Pikosky will never forget the e-mail he received from John Norwig, head athletic trainer for the Pittsburgh Steelers, just weeks preceding Super Bowl XLIII. Pikosky, a licensed sports and medical massage therapist based in Naples, Florida, said he was “on cloud nine” as he read the following words: “We’re adding you to our massage staff for the week of the Super Bowl.”
For Pikosky, who has worked with such legendary athletes as Greg Norman and Pete Sampras, being asked to serve as one of three massage therapists for the Steelers during February’s Super Bowl week was the “single defining moment of my career.”
“The fact that I was there to be a part of it, work with the players during the week and be a part of their physical preparation—it was a thrill and a validation of all the years of hard work I put in,” says Pikosky, 40. “Their bodies are the most important piece of equipment they have … [and] massage is a valuable tool that they utilize regularly for recovery and maintenance. The fact that the Super Bowl is such an explosive and physical sport, these players take advantage of every resource they can,” including massage and proper nutrition.
Pikosky, who graduated from Southern Connecticut State University with a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology and minor in nutrition, found massage therapy to be a natural extension of his career in wellness. Upon graduation, he was hired as a physical-therapy technician at Water Works Total Rehab, an outpatient physical-therapy clinic in Naples, where he has been employed for 14 years. (He is currently the clinic’s assistant director.) However, in his first year working at Water Works, he recognized the benefits of manual therapy and decided to pursue massage therapy.
In 1995, he graduated from Venice School of Massage in Bonita Springs, Florida.
“I realized that in order to hone my skills in manual therapy, I thought I should get my license in massage therapy,” he says. “When I went to school, it just opened my eyes to the different applications of massage therapy.”
In school, Pikosky said he learned about the clinical benefits of massage therapy and not just its role in relaxation, spa settings or in palliative applications. “Right away I was able to see tremendous benefits of massage as a therapeutic tool and not just something as a leisurely indulgence,” he says.
After receiving his licensure, Pikosky developed his manual-therapy skills by working in a multidisciplinary setting, alongside physical therapists, occupational therapists, physiatrists, chiropractors and athletic trainers. Each day, he observed these professionals and brushed up on his analytical and problem-solving skills with regard to mechanism of injury and the causative factors of pain and musculoskeletal dysfunction.
“When you’re working with a team of professionals and you watch other people problem solve and develop treatment protocols, you begin seeing things on a very comprehensive perspective,” he says.
Pikosky is certified in myofascial release, craniosacral therapy, Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) and as a Golf Fitness Trainer by the International Sports Sciences Association.
About 11 years ago, Pikosky decided to seek work relationships with professional athletes. He began working with the Florida Everblades, a minor-league affiliate of the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Carolina Hurricanes, with whom he still works today. This professional relationship opened the door to other sports massage experiences, and he soon began providing massage services to various members of the Hurricanes and other NHL teams, such as the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning.
“The biggest thrill about working with the athletes is they are the absolute best at what they do,” he says. “That’s what excited me about working with athletes—not only my affinity for sports, but my appreciation for the hard work the athletes put in to be the best.”
After studying under Aaron Mattes, creator of the AIS technique, he established a work relationship with IMG Academies, a sports training and education institution, which sent him to tournaments to massage such pro tennis players as Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, Yannick Noah, Jim Courier, Todd Martin, John McEnroe and Sampras.
But Pikosky still desired to work with the National Football League (NFL). In 2008, he contacted Tom Shaw, a human performance coach for elite sports players who works intimately with NFL players. During the summer, before training camp starts for the NFL, more than 40 football players convene at Shaw’s training camp at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. After he verified Pikosky’s references, Shaw invited him to Orlando to attend the summer training camp for two weeks.
While there, Pikosky met four Steelers players: Ike Taylor, Santonio Holmes, James Farrier and Bryant McFadden, along with other NFL players.
“I’m staying in a two-story townhouse, and every night my apartment was full of NFL athletes and Olympic athletes,” Pikosky recalls. “The players love massage.”
Because of his impressive stay, Shaw recommended Pikosky to Norwig when it came time for the Super Bowl.
“Football players, they do whatever is necessary to stay in the lineup and that often means employing their own full-time massage therapist and human performance specialist in addition to the team’s staff,” says Pikosky. “If a player misses a game due to an injury and the backup comes in and has a good game, then that injured starter just lost his job to the backup—that’s one of the reasons they do whatever is necessary to stay in the lineup, which is why they look at massage as an investment in their career.”
While at the Super Bowl, Pikosky described the scene as “a combination of the Academy Awards, the biggest sporting event and a rock concert.”
In addition to athletes, Pikosky has provided massage to many celebrity entertainers, such as Sting and Elton John, and professional dancers, including Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.
For more information on Pikosky, visit www.peakperformancelmt.com.
—Jennifer Whalen, Associate Editor of Integrated Media