Codell Story wearing his U.S. Army uniform on the left, and wearing his massage polo on the right.

Codell Story enlisted in the U.S. Army at the age of 20, in 2010, because he believed a military career would give him a chance at a life better than what he had experienced growing up in Montgomery, Alabama. It wasn’t a snap decision. Ever since childhood when a soldier had visited his elementary school, Story had known he would someday join up.

“I still remember it,” Story recalled. “I was in fourth grade and a guy from the recruiting branch came to talk to our class and he had the battle-dress uniform and his boots were shiny and he looked crisp and I was like, ‘I’m gonna be that guy one day.’”

In 2013 Story shipped out to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. When he retired from the military in 2017, Story’s low back was in pain. The Veteran’s Administration recommended chiropractic and massage therapy.

Codell Story during his enlistment in the U.S. Army. Photos courtesy of Codell Story.

Story started receiving massage, began to notice a positive change in his pain level and realized he was interested in pursuing massage therapy as his next career.

“Before that, I didn’t understand self-care and I didn’t do any self-care,” Story said. “It was push your body to the limit. And then once it’s broken, drink some water and keep pushing it.

He felt some trepidation, as a male, about working in an industry in which 85% or more of its practitioners are female. His interest in massage remaining strong, Story got past his trepidation.

“I didn’t want to go through life asking, what if I did it, what if I did it?” Story said. “So, I was just like, ‘I’m going to do it. I’m going to toss myself deep into it.’”

He graduated from the massage program at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in 2022. He opened his massage practice, Body Alchemy Bodyworks and Massage, in Iron Mountain, Michigan, in July.

Story specializes in traditional Swedish, sports and deep tissue massage for clients that include members of the Green Bay Packers. He also specializes in equine massage. He said the professional satisfaction he gets from helping his clients get out of pain is profound.

“I had a client not too long ago. They were having shoulder pain and [after massage] they were able to pick up their granddaughter for the first time,” he recalled. “My clients love coming in one way and leaving feeling 100 times better than they felt when they came in—or coming in with a headache or migraine and you’ve been able to work the occipitals and help that migraine subside. It’s just amazing.”

Equine clients can’t tell Story where the pain is, which he accepts as a professional challenge. “You watch for behavioral cues on them—like if you hit a hot spot and you watch them, the lips start to hang a little bit, you know you’re on the right spot because it feels good to them. Once they start yawning, once they start passing gas, then that’s how you know you finally got the right spot and the horse is starting to relax.”

Story’s work with the Packers, for whom he provides deep tissue, relaxation and sports massage on first-, second- and third-string players, came about when his massage program director Jaime Ehmer, was asked who among her students could be a good fit for the NFL team.

“I was, like, ‘Yep, I know exactly who to send over to you because, you know, he’s got that finesse where he can work with those deeper muscles, but also he can work with the fragile client too,” said Ehmer. “I think the diversity that he has, being able to work with just about anybody, I think is phenomenal.”

Story’s soft skills are phenomenal too, Ehmer said.

“As far as compassion and empathy, I think Codell, hands down, is one of the best,” she said. “He’s constantly wanting to learn different things to enhance his practice to help the clientele that he’s currently serving—and I think it’s really special when you have somebody who is so willing to go above and beyond for their clientele and for their profession and for their practice.”

One way that Story shares his abilty to connect is by mentoring male massage students in Ehmer’s program. “I think that also what helps him be successful is it’s not like this hoarding of information and knowledge,” said Ehmer. “He definitely wants to not only help himself, not only help his clients, not only help the field, but also help his colleagues and his upcoming colleagues.”

His life as a massage therapist is “worlds apart” from his life in the military, Story said, with one exception: Back when he was in the military he made friends that he will have for the rest of his life and he feels the same way about his new massage colleagues.

“We all get together and we figure out a problem,” Story said. “I call it ‘the meeting of the minds,’ and if I’m having a problem I can’t figure it out with a client, then I talk to someone else who has more years in massage, because they can handle the situation totally different than I can, or they have some easier way of going about it.”

There is an adage Story remembers from his childhood: Get a job that doesn’t feel like work and you’ll never work a day in your life.

“That’s what this feels like,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like work at all. I’m starting to become a massage nerd because I’m diving so deep into it. I love it.”

About the Author

Karen Menehan

Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor-in-chief for print and digital. Her articles for this publication include “Massage Therapist Jobs: The Employed Practitioner,” published in the Sept. 2022 issue of MASSAGE Magazine, a first-place winner of a 2023 FOLIO: Eddie Award for magazine editorial excellence, full issue; and “This is How Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Practices Make Business Better,” published in in the August 2021 issue of MASSAGE Magazine, a first-place winner of a 2022 FOLIO: Eddie Award for editorial excellence, full issue.