It’s been called one of the most thrilling moments of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
The U.S. and Canadian women’s ice hockey teams had skated through regulation game time, sliced through 20 minutes of overtime, tied the game with a penalty shootout and taken the game to its long-awaited conclusion, a sudden-death shootout to determine the victor.
When U.S. goaltender Maddie Rooney stopped the goal attempt by Canada’s Meghan Agosta, the U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team found them in an unfamiliar position: gold medalists, when for the past 20 years U.S. team members had stood on the silver medalists’ podium while the Canadian players wore gold.
U.S. team massage therapist Jennifer Chee, CNMT, CCT, CKTP, CFT, SET, LMT, was rink-side when Rooney blocked the game-deciding puck.
As a member of the team’s five-member medical team, Chee—along with a team physician, trainer, physical therapist and dietician—helped the team take the highest podium in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“We came home with the gold, which was awesome,” Chee told MASSAGE Magazine. “It was a nail-biting game against Canada, whenever we play them there’s always a shootout or overtime.”
The story of Chee’s path from school administrator to a therapist providing massage at the Olympics is paved with the qualities that make any competitor a success: tenacity, determination, curiosity, dedication and proficiency in one’s chosen field.
Born and raised in Singapore, Chee came to the U.S. at age 25 after marrying her husband, Raymund Teo. They have three now-grown children, Kimberly, Nicholas and Sabrina, who played various sports while young.
“I was introduced to sports massage by my children, believe it or not,” Chee recalled. “My older daughter was a competitive figure skater and my two youngest ones were competitive tennis players.”
Chee wanted to find a profession that offered her flexibility and challenge, yet would allow her to have time for her children. After witnessing the benefits of massage therapy on her own children, massage became an obvious choice, she said.
Chee graduated from the massage program at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas, in 2005, and after relocating to Colorado Springs, Colorado, she completed the massage program at the Colorado Institute of Massage Therapy in Colorado Springs in 2009.
According to her bio on the TeamUSA website, she started her private practice in 2010 for Carmichael Training Systems, the founder of which, Chris Carmichael, had been named, in 1999, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Coach of the Year. Chee began working in recovery at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
In 2011, Chee opened an email asking if she would be interested in traveling with the women’s ice hockey team.
“I said yes without hesitation,” she said. “This was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I said yes and worried about other things later.” At the time she had one child each in elementary school, middle school and high school.
She’s been traveling with the team to games ever since.
The team does not train in Colorado Springs, so Chee doesn’t work on them when she is there; instead, at the recovery center she works on figure skaters, pentathletes, gymnasts and members of teams that train at Colorado Springs, including the swimming and track-and-field team.
Pyeongchang was her second trip taken with the U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team to the Winter Olympics, the first being to Sochi, Russia.
Massage at the Olympics
The types of injuries the hockey players commonly present with include bruises, contusions and chronic overuse injuries of the upper body; tension in the traps and neck, hamstrings and groin area; and acute, traumatic injuries like strains or sprains suffered during a game, Chee said.
To provide the best treatment plan for the players when it comes to chronic overuse or acute injuries, communication among the medical staff and with the players, is essential to make sure an injury isn’t over-treated or the soft tissue irritated, she explained.
If post-game a player says, “I think I strained my hamstring,” for example, Chee will ask the player how she feels and how the injury happened, and then she’ll send the player to be evaluated by the team physical therapist.
If the physical therapist says it’s a soft tissue issue, they will pass the player back to Chee’s table to address problem.
If it’s an acute strain or sprain, the team’s trainer will create a rehab and treatment protocol for the athlete.
U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team physical therapist and athletic trainer Sheri Walters, PT, ATC, praised Chee’s work for the team.
“Jennifer is a very skilled practitioner and an integral part of the USA Women’s Hockey medical staff,” Walters told MASSAGE Magazine. “She communicates directly with me … regarding athletes’ current injury status and appropriate treatments, bidirectionally.
“She is an amazing asset for injury prevention, injury treatment and performance enhancement, not only because of her massage therapy skills, but because of her personality and overall care and concern for the individuals on this team,” Walters added.
For pre-practice or pre-game massage, Chee will do quick friction, effleurage, petrissage, pin-and-stretch technique, muscle energy technique and PNF. She doesn’t work deeply pre-game, “but enough to release muscle tension, to enhance circulation and reduce muscular and mental stress,” she said.
For post-practice and post-game massage, Chee’s work is geared toward reducing muscle spasm and metabolic build up. She does pin-and-stretch technique, positional release, myofascial release, muscle energy technique and PNF.
“The pressure is not as deep as pre-game or pre-practice,” she said. “I also use cupping therapy, if the tissues are too tender for compression work.”
On rest days when the players don’t have practice or a game, she’ll use deeper massage and in addition to the techniques she uses pre- and post-game, she’ll add in active or passive eccentric contraction, muscle stripping or concentric/contraction muscle-broadening techniques.
“I also use trigger point therapy and an IASTM tool, which is the latest tech I really enjoy working with, in conjunction with cupping.” (IASTM refers to an instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization tool.)
“IASTM strips the muscle; cupping is more of an inverse massage so that it’s not compressing. It pulls the soft tissue upward, and then I use the IASTM tool to strip the muscles, so together they are effective in addressing soft tissue tension,” Chee said.
Physician Allyson Howe, MD, who heads up the medical team, said massage therapy is beyond beneficial for the hockey team members’ health.
“It really teaches athletes about their bodies,” Howe said. “For them to have a massage therapist identify tender points they weren’t aware of and talk them through the releasing of points—it’s priceless.”
Of Chee, Howe shared, “Jennifer’s been the rock of the medical team in working with the national team. She’s the kind of person when she’s at the event you know you have a solid teammate [and] the players feel well cared for.”
There are 23 players on the team, and Chee has just 30 minutes for any massage session. She also performs quick muscle flushing in the locker room on an as-needed basis.
“Whether it’s before or after hard practices and games, Jennifer helps keep me feeling fresh and ready for the next day,” U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team gold medalist Emily Pfalzer told MASSAGE Magazine. “This is so important, especially during long tournaments, because we want to feel and perform our best throughout the event.”
Pfalzer said Chee makes time for everyone on the team and goes “above and beyond” for the players.
“‘J-Chee’ is a great massage therapist, and she is also an amazing person, with the ability to put a smile on anyone’s face,” said Pfalzer. “Jennifer means so much to our team.”
A Competitive Edge
Chee owns My Massage Fitness, a private practice in Colorado Springs, where she employs three massage therapists as independent contractors. Eighty-five percent of the practice’s clients are athletes.
“I feel very rewarded when a client walks into my office and they walk out smiling and feeling better,” Chee said. “You feel that you can change somebody’s life and make them feel better and put a smile on their face. You’re doing something good.”
To anyone wanting to succeed as a sports massage therapist, or even one day provide massage at the Olympics, she says first be patient and then keep yourself on track to your goal.
“Get certified in sports massage and orthopedic massage, advertise yourself in a gym, contact a running club or swimmers’ club,” she said. “It can take a year or two to see the results you want. If you can have a mentor, that is really good.”
She said she’s always looking for new skills to master, and that continuing education is key to her success. “For me, I’m a true believer in keeping learning,” she said. “There’s so much out there. I need to have more tools in my toolbox.”
Those tools, practiced expertise and a competitive attitude have earned Chee her spot working on the gold-medal-winning U.S. Women’s Ice Hockey Team.
“For me to stand out from the rest of my peers,” she said, “I need to be better.”
About the Author
Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief. Her recent articles for massagemag.com include “Texas Massage Therapists Reach Out After Hurricane Harvey,” and “[Analysis]: Massage Therapy Has Grown in National Cancer Institute-Designated health Systems.”
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