One day as I was driving my car, I looked in the rearview mirror to see police lights. Oh. Now I was getting pulled over.
I was in the left lane heading to my favorite smoothie shop, so I just continued turning. Then I realized the officer wasn’t pulling me over, but just using the same lane to do a U-turn to respond to another incident.
Being distracted, I missed my turn and ended up in the parking lot of a building with a sign that read “Cortiva Massage Therapy School.”
It felt like fate.
I was searching to start a new journey that would be challenging in my life.
You see, not so long ago I lost my dominant arm—and almost my life—to a drunk driver. This happened shortly after returning from Iraq, where I served in the U.S. Air Force.
Through the rehabilitation process, I experienced various therapies that helped me regain my strength and self-confidence. Massage was one of my absolute favorites.
When you lose something so precious as your arm nearly at the shoulder, you need to find new ways to experience authentic happiness in life. Massage helped me find my new self and accept what some would call a physical disability.
So back to the day I was driving. I found myself sitting in the massage school parking lot. It took a bit of courage, but I walked in wearing a tank top so it was obvious I had no right arm.
I am forever grateful that I took that first step to better my life through massage school.
While everyone in the school was taken aback by the thought I could be a successful therapist, they were supportive of my dream to be the first single arm massage therapist.
Almost overnight I found a different path in life to not only care for the wellness of others, but to serve as an example through my action and determination.
Massage School Days
The first day of class was unique. Obviously, everybody else had two hands. I was inspired to work harder than ever to prove I could do it, and was determined to finish massage school. I wanted to make my students and teachers proud. I needed to use my positive attitude and the power of my hand and arm to develop techniques and deliver high-quality massage.
I told the class about my passion and determination so I would not become frustrated and quit.
I was ready to be America’s first single-armed, licensed massage therapist from Arizona.
Every day I came to class eager to learn and adapt to this two-handed profession. Knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to massage like everyone else, I began figuring out which techniques I could master.
At the same time, I strengthened my body, especially my core, shoulders and arm so I could offer the same quality as any massage therapist.
Recognizing that tapotement massage technique wasn’t going to be very useful as I was instructed, I began using my finger to tap really fast and hard.
Soon I had fellow students and massage school teachers interested in how I was able to adapt and develop my style of massage.
There were days I left the school to ice my shoulder for hours because it was so sore from massaging.
Yet I always woke up the next day ready to try it again and push my body to the limits.
After finishing my first five weeks with a 3.4 GPA and about six different techniques, I was given the chance to start working on actual clients.
Admittedly, I was nervous as my first client sat down.
I remained confident and took a moment to explain my situation. I asked the client to give me an honest evaluation so I could continuously improve.
After the very first 50 minute massage my arm and back felt pretty good—but another client was waiting outside the door. Working harder than ever, I put my passion into my hand and massaged the second person.
At the close of a session, each client would write a review to help bring light to what I needed to work on or what my strengths were.
I was ready to hear the negative reviews I thought I would receive, but my instructor walked in with a big smile to hand me the reviews. Both clients were more than impressed by their massages. My attitude and self-confidence were boosted.
I could not be prouder to be in this amazing profession. It is my aim to encourage every licensed massage therapist to be proud by taking the profession seriously while expressing the positive attitude worthy of every client massage.
Because of that police car, and missing my left turn, I will be the first single arm therapist in the U.S. and maybe the world. It didn’t come easy. I had to adapt my body in every way to be able meet the needs of clients.
I will continue to do this for years to come. At the same time I will work to inspire others by sharing my story.
Hopefully from this article will encourage you and others that you know that no matter what dream or goal, you can achieve it and overcome any obstacles you face.
Nowadays I can complete four 50-minute massages in one setting while using 10 to 15 techniques with just one hand.
I owe much of my success to the amazing teachers, students and office workers at the school that I made the wrong turn to get to, before knocking on the door. The staff at Cortiva believed in me from day one. They never took it easy on me, but instead treated me like anyone else who had a dream.
Thank you for taking a minute to read about my journey in massage therapy.
Aaron Soertaert is scheduled to graduate from Cortiva Institute in June 2017. He is a former Air Force serviceman and lives in Tucson, Arizona. He also offers inspirational speaking engagements. For more information, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.