Going for the Gold
Benny Vaughn talks about volunteering at the 2008 Olympics

by Chris Towery, Associate Editor

If you work in sports massage, there’s probably no higher honor than being asked to work with Team U.S.A. during the Olympics. Benny Vaughn, of Forth Worth, Texas, has had such an opportunity not once, but twice—first during the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, and this summer at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in China. However, even if you’re a highly skilled professional therapist, providing massage at the Olympic Games is not something for the faint-hearted. In addition to being completely voluntary, the month-long assignment entails grueling hours, up to 25 massages a day, and the pressure of preparing world-class athletes for one of the pinnacle moments of their careers. But as Vaughn relates in the following interview about working with the U.S. Track and Field team, the final payoff in emotion and pride at having been a part of such a momentous event makes it more than worth the personal sacrifice.

Benny Part OneMASSAGE Magazine: What kind of preparation did you undergo for the Olympics?
Benny Vaughn: The preparation I do is in three parts. First, my physical fitness activities are increased, so I’m doing longer aerobic activities, whether that’s riding a stationary bike, walking or stadium steps. The second thing is more functional strength training— push-ups, pull-ups, using some resistance training like barbells and dumbbells. I basically just increase the exercises I normally do—doing more of it—more intensely. The third thing I do is start seeing more clients in my office. I already see a lot of people on a normal basis, but part of the reason I see even more people is because I’m going to be away for a while and want to get caught up. That also gets me into the next level of being able to work on 15, 20, 25 bodies a day. I go from an average of six clients a day to averaging nine or 10 a day. I always try to emphasize to massage therapists that you really have to prepare for your work, whether it’s in your office or at a sports venue. You have to treat it like an athletic event, or you can easily break down or get injured.

MM: What kind of selection process do massage therapists go through in order to work at the games?
BV: From what I understand, you have to submit an application to the U.S. Olympic Committee (U.S.O.C.). If you’re selected as a potential candidate, you go out to one of the three Olympic training centers and volunteer for two weeks. You’re assigned to a team or teams, and you’re required to do massages, help the athletic trainers out—whatever needs to be done. During that time, you are evaluated by the Olympic Training Center staff. They look at things, such as your skills, the ability to communicate, the ability to work as a team with the athletic trainers, physical therapists, team physicians and administrators. They evaluate you and determine whether you would be a positive pick. Then you’re typically sent to a USOC-sponsored event overseas or in the States to work for a week or two to prepare for the Olympics, which runs four weeks.

I’ve never gone through that process. I’m an exception, because when I got involved many years ago, they didn’t have the massage-therapist rotation. In fact, they didn’t have any massage therapists at the Olympic Training Centers. That changed, I think, in 2001 or 2002, when they brought in the first athletic trainer and massage therapist to the training center.

MM: How long were you away for the Olympics?
BV: In terms of official work, I was there for four weeks. But then I stayed an additional week and took a personal trip to Tibet.

MM: What was your initial impression of Beijing when you arrived?
BV: What I saw when I landed was a very modern China that is moving quickly—an extremely modern, high-tech, rapidly moving society. Beijing is about twice the size of New York—maybe three times the size. I think it has something like 18 million people. Their skyline is not as compressed as New York, but they have some impressive, incredibly modern-looking buildings. For example, there was one building near the stadium that had high-definition, Jumbotron screens on its sides that were just massive. You could stand on the street 10 miles away and watch what was going on inside the stadium.

MM: How was the pollution?
BV: It may have been an issue for some, but it certainly wasn’t the gloom and doom that had been predicted. We had some days that looked like a bad day in Los Angeles, and we had some days that looked like here in Ft. Worth. But we also had some incredibly clear days.

MM: Where did you stay while in China?
BV: We first went to Dalian on the southeast coast. It’s a seacoast city, with maybe nine or 11 million people. We had the U.S. Track and Field training camp there, and we were housed in a resort hotel. We stayed there about 10 days. The Chinese have one of their national athletic training centers there for track and field, and that’s where we trained.
Then we went to Beijing for the actual competition. We stayed at Beijing Normal University, which we used as the U.S.O.C. high-performance training center. There we had hotel/dorm-style accommodations. This is where most of the U.S. teams trained—softball, track and field, basketball, fencing, weight lifting. It was a huge campus that housed many things, from medical facilities to weight rooms to a natatorium, which will all be inherited by the university after the Games.

MM: Did the Chinese place any restrictions on you while you were there?
BV: The only restrictions I experienced were on travel at our training camp in Dalian. Essentially, we could only travel into town or to practice facilities with a Chinese security escort. We could go into Dalian to shop, but only with the escort, and our shopping was limited to within the designated mall or marketplace only. The travel restrictions were for security and to ensure the safety of our team and officials. In Beijing, there were no restrictions at all. You were free to travel anywhere a taxi could take you. There was basically no difference between moving around Beijing and how a visitor would move around an American city.

Continue to part 2