Massage therapists from the U.S. have touched down in Beijing, China, for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. The therapists are members of Team USA.
A group of four U.S. massage therapists is sending in reports from Beijing for MASSAGE Magazine, which will be added to this article as they come in.
We are the massage therapists of the United States Olympic Paralympic Committee Sports Medical Team. This team of therapists runs deep with valuable knowledge and skill with 63 combined years of experience.
Adora Race is from Lake Placid, New York, and predominantly works with athletes from the U.S. National bobsled, skeleton and luge teams. This will be her first Olympic Games.
Ronda ( Ronni) Little is from Flower Mound, Texas, and works with athletes from the University of North Texas. This will be her second Olympic Games.
Gretchen Lansing is from Lake Placid, New York, where she owns and operates her own massage business along with working with athletes from bobsled, skeleton, luge and woman’s ice hockey. Gretchen has traveled with bobsled-skeleton internationally on World Cup and World Championship competitions. This will be Gretchen’s third Olympic Games.
Lori-Ann Gallant-Heilborn resides in Jacksonville, North Carolina. She owns her own massage practice, provides continuing education on instrument-assisted soft-tissue manipulation, and has been affiliated with the US National bobsled-skeleton team for the past 15 years. Lori-Ann has also traveled internationally with bobsled-skeleton athletes as well.
This will be Lori-Ann’s fifth Olympic Games.
As we all prepared for these games, we were aware of the risks, challenges and requirements for being on this team.
All of us were required to follow a very strict and rigid protocol of PCR testing, daily health check notifications and quarantine. We had to create a safe and Covid-free “bubble” for entry into China and participation at the Olympic Games—not to mention the mandatory face mask coverings.
We are keeping ourselves and the athletes we treat safe while creating a fun and exciting atmosphere leading into the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympic Games.
Once we arrive in Beijing we will go through another round of testing and quarantine. After our testing at the Beijing airport, we will all depart and head to our village. There are three villages, and there will be a sports medicine team assigned to each one.
First official day on the job!
This morning was a rough start—not going to lie! Jet lag has set in, and we are trying to get as much sleep in as we can but the challenges we face make it difficult.
Once we arrived at the Beijing National Airport, we immediately went through four various customs declarations checkpoints along with an oral pharyngeal and nasal pharyngeal test swab—all the while being 6 feet socially distanced from each other. All Chinese nationals were in hazmat-type garments. It was a sci-fi atmosphere.
Even with all the strict restrictions and protocols (along with the constant technology issues), we are having a blast! For the next two days, the sports medicine team will operate from 8-10:30 p.m. Then we will have split shifts covering the Games from 7-11 p.m. every day
After collecting our luggage and getting everything and everyone into the designated charter busses we were off. Once we arrived t our respective hotels and rooms we were instructed to quarantine there until our test results came back from the airport experience. (Seriously, it felt like they were performing brain surgery through the nose!)
After breakfast but before we departed for the Beijing Olympic Village—you guessed it— another oral pharyngeal test. We are required to test every day and have our temperatures taken at every venture we enter. Hand sanitizer is everywhere; it’s causing our hands to be so dry and cracked. We’re thinking about wearing medical-grade gloves when not in the clinic.
We finally made it to the Olympic Village at about 2:40 pm and took a tour. Then we settled in and got the massage room all set up. It’s pretty bare-bones but it’s got a great view—and really, all we need is the table, our hands- knowledge and skill. We got this!
by Lori-Ann Gallat-Heilborn
The athletes have slowly made their way here from the U.S. and Europe, where some have just finished up training or competition.
The medical staff has had time to settle in, create schedules, operational guidelines, and routines. Routine is good in an atmosphere like this with flexibility as well. I can tell you this: We have a sharp medical team! We work very well together. Communication is paramount and each one of us recognizes what each athlete needs and refers them out.
I had the privilege of working with figure skaters from dance and pairs yesterday, we also had speed skaters along with Freestyle Skiing athletes in the clinic as well.
Everyone is chomping at the bit for the Olympic Games to start!
We all have to continue to get our daily oral pharyngeal COVID-19 swab before we head to the village while masks, gloves, and an ungodly amount of sanitizer on the daily. My hands are taking a beating with all the sterilization throughout the day, every day. No amount of massage lotion or hand lotion is helping to maintain the damage. However, I wouldn’t change a thing for this incredible experience!
It’s interesting to see some similarities from the 2008 Olympic Games to this experience. The only glaring issue is the COVID-19 safety measures and, unfortunately, no spectators at events or family and friends joining the festivities. However, the athletes are staying focused and ready to start competing.
Because of the strict transportation logistics, there are only three shuttles a day, so I’ve chosen to come to the village in the morning and leave on the last shuttle at night. It makes for a very long day; however, there are opportunities to create a realistic treatment schedule for the athletes than a restricted one that doesn’t meet their needs. Remember, we are here to support them in any way we can – which means being flexible.
When I haven’t been treating athletes, I take the time to hydrate, which is extremely important because for one it’s extremely cold and dry. W are all feeling the effects of dehydration and I spend a little time stretching or walking the path throughout the Village, which has served as part of my exercise regimen while I’ve been here.
The other thing I’ve been doing is interacting with my fellow sports medicine colleagues and showing them various techniques I provide to the athletes. I’m excited about this because it’s given me a chance to educate the physical therapists and athletic trainers we work with, and they have been extremely open to it.
It’s amazing when the team coaches come in and inform you that their athletes can’t stop talking about their sports massage treatment. I call that winning!
By Lori-Ann Gallat-Heilborn
Here we are heading into the sixth day of competition here in Beijing, China! There has been so much excitement between the three villages where all of the massage therapists are spread out.
In a group of 60-plus dedicated medical providers, seven being massage therapists here in China supporting Team USA, I’d say we’re making a mark, setting an example and elevating the professional standard for our profession.
From Beijing Village to the Yanqing Village, it’s a three-hour drive. From the Yanqing Village to the Zhangjiakou Village is another three-plus hour drive. We are all in what is called the closed-loop “bubble”; however, we cannot travel from one village to another, we must remain where we are assigned. The Beijing Village is the largest and busiest.
Each village is responsible for providing medical services to various athletic disciplines. Beijing Village is responsible for the athletes of: Figure Skating, Freestyle Skiing, Curling, Speed Skating and Hockey. An amazing group of athletes!
Types of Treatments
Overall, we are providing 30-minute sessions to athletes that come to Sports Medicine for treatment, and work in the area the athletes deem their most important issue. We’re providing short, focused and results-based treatments. There have been a few gnarly injuries here at the games. Thank goodness those injuries are out of our scope of practice and other medical providers take over.
The soft tissue manipulation, muscular therapy and IASTM treatments we have been providing the athletes are addressing training and repetitive strain issues. We have had approximately a week to work with them prior to the start of competition.
I love being able to provide a progression of two to three smaller treatments focusing on specific muscular needs while building upon the larger picture of healthy muscle tissue and improved performance and muscular strength.
Each group of athletes presents with various repetitive muscle-grouping macro trauma, strains and joint issues. Obviously, we are not dealing with skeletal or joint issues, but we’re able to identify and refer immediately out within our sports medicine team.
We’re starting to see the patterns of each discipline: figure skating has issues with the landing leg and or hip along with ankles. Upper body/thorax, muscle and fascial adhesions are problematic for them as well. Speed skaters have a left-sided compensation pattern where the tensor fascia latae and iliotibial band, quads, lateral rotators and glutes are all significantly tight. Their sternocleidomastoid and scalenes are significantly tight as well. The hockey athletes are reporting mostly hamstring and low-back muscle tension and soreness. Big-air freestyle skiing athletes are muscularly tight throughout their bodies with the issue of crashes that compress their vertebra along with fascia and connective tissue hardening. These athletes were in the clinic for daily sports massage flushes. (Now, they are on their way to another village for continued competition.) The Beijing Village will gain Big Air Snowboarding athletes as of tomorrow.
The Village of Yanqing is responsible for the Bobsled, Skeleton, Luge and Alpine athletes. Massage therapists Gretchen Lancing and Adora Race report from that village report that the common muscular injuries and treatments deal with back and legs for the sprinting sports, whereas it would be neck and backs for Luge.
Massage therapist Tim Chen is very busy in the village of Zhangjiakou and is responsible for the athletes of: Downhill and Alpine Skiing, Moguls and Ski Jumping, Cross Country and Biathlon along with Snowboarding and Snow-Cross. Massage therapist Meg Parker is also with Cross Country.
It’s very rewarding to work within a multidisciplinary group of sports medical providers on the world stage! The Olympics is the pinnacle of athletic events.