Going for the Gold: Benny Vaughn talks about volunteering at the 2008 Olympics, PART TWO

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Benny Vaughn crew Part TwoMM: Can you walk us through what a typical day of work would be like during the Games?
BV: On many days, my crew—four of us—would be the first to arrive at the stadium to prepare our area for the athletes. We would usually be rolling by 6:15 a.m. in a U.S.O.C. van with a driver and a guide, who would take us to the stadium. But on a couple mornings, we just took a taxi. We would arrive at the stadium around 6:30, when they first opened the facility for the day. We would get everything set up, and the first buses with athletes would come about 7:30 to 7:45 a.m., depending on the day’s events. The events would start about 10 a.m. and would run until about 11 pm, and we wouldn’t leave until it was all over. So by the time we would get back to our rooms, it would typically be well after 1 a.m. 

MM: You must have gotten pretty tired.
BV: That would be an understatement. You have to be totally committed. You have to be very skilled, so you work efficiently, and you have to be physically fit and well to make it.

MM: Did you get to meet or work with any of the massage therapists from other countries?
BV: We were all working at the warm-up track for track and field, so there were folks all over the place. Often we were busy working and could see other countries’ therapists working, but we didn’t get to interact much. You’d see people, speak briefly with them, shake hands, maybe exchange pins or be able to glance over and see what someone else was doing, but there wasn’t much opportunity to interact for very long.

MM: What kind of massage techniques were you using on the athletes?
BV: The strategy before an event is to invigorate, to stimulate and to prepare the athletes psychologically. That means the massage work is brief, the rhythm is a little faster and the therapists have to be in a positive, supportive state. That’s very important. You can’t be fretting over your lost luggage or fretting over the schedule getting changed. My primary role was to prepare the athlete and make sure they’re ready to compete. So the athletes might ask, “Does that hamstring feel OK to you?” In fact, the hamstring may be just fine, but they just need some reassurance.

After an event, our focus is on recovery, and the massage is a little more sedative. So I slowed down the rhythm, and the strokes are a little longer and deeper. I gave the athlete a safe space, basically to decompress.

MM: Were you ever working with athletes during their events?
BV: The only time I was doing massage during an event is with decathletes because they have 10 events total—five events on each day—and there’s some time between each one. So between the javelin and the 400, I might be massaging an athlete’s hamstrings and trying to get their hips loosened up to run the 400. With every other sport, I work on them before they race and afterwards.

MM: Were any of the athletes you worked with injured?
BV: The only thing we had injured was a little pride, specifically with the dropped batons [Team USA dropped the baton in the men and women’s 4×100 meter relays]. That creates a very different psychological atmosphere within which the therapist really has to be able to buffer and work well. People are stressed and pretty upset. But we have sports psychologists, and we work closely with them because frequently massage therapists are the first to identify a potential issue. It’s not part of our job, but it’s simply something you do as a professional if it’s clear there’s something going on that the psychologists might need to be aware of.

MM: Were you able to watch any of the events as a spectator?
BV: There’s an athletes-and-coaches seating area in the stadium, which is right in front of the three flagpoles where they do the medal ceremonies. We could go in and out of there with our credentials, and I got to check out some of the Games.

Continue to PART THREE