Melanie Roach

From left: Coach Michael Street, weightlifter Melanie Roach and bodywork practitioner Daniel Christofferson, L.M.P., C.H.P., work together several times a week as Roach trains for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games trials in May. | Photo courtesy of Daniel Christofferson

Massage therapy has helped athlete Melanie Roach succeed as a world-class athlete.

At 5-feet, one-and-half inches tall, the petite brunette is a mother of five—and an international weightlifting champ who has always counted on massage as an athlete. On an excellent lift day, this Olympic hopeful can push nearly twice her body weight above her head.

“When you’re training really hard, everything gets really tight,” she explained. “Massage has always been a part of my training.”

A former gymnast, Roach, of Bonney Lake, Washington, is now a weightlifter hoping to qualify for this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Roach is no stranger to the Olympic spotlight. Just before the 2000 Olympic trials, a herniated disc kept her from competing. After surgery, she came back to compete in the 2007 World Championships and the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, where she placed sixth in the 117-pound weight class.

She’s ready to do it again.

“At this point, just making the Olympic team would be amazing,” she said.


Beyond Sports Massage

In the beginning, sports massage was her go-to therapy. Now, she relies on Hellerwork for relief and correction in a sport where form is critical.

Hellerwork is a massage modality that was developed by Joseph Heller, who had trained with Ida Rolf, the developer of Rolfing® Structural Integration. Hellerwork centers on fascia release and client education. It guides clients into awareness of how to hold their bodies and mindsets in a way that provides optimal support.

Hellerwork also incorporates a mind-body-spirit approach, which Roach believes makes her more mindful of her body’s limits as an older Olympian.

“I’m much more fragile [now],” she said. “I’m more calculated … my chance for an injury is really a higher risk. That’s why bodywork and massage work is so important for what I’m trying to do.”


Olympic Training

Soon after Roach’s gymnastics career ended, she discovered weightlifting, but she kept the stance of a gymnast as she lifted, often causing pain. Additionally, an iliotibial band injury kept her in discomfort for years.

Then she met Daniel Christofferson, L.M.P., C.H.P., founder and CEO of holistic High Performance in Seattle.

“Training is one way we can get our body stuck,” said Christofferson. “She used to just power through everything; [she] didn’t work on form, the technique. She had multiple injuries because of that.”

Daily stressors store in the body, which leads to tightening and twisting of muscles, ultimately throwing posture off, Christofferson said. Most of Christofferson’s clients are athletes who have developed bad patterns, creating “snags” in their fascia, he said.

After just a few Hellerwork sessions, the changes in Roach’s body were evident, starting with her iliotibial band. The release of stuck fascia eased her pain. In Hellerwork, working fascia also increases energy and flexibility.


Melanie Roach, Olympic hopeful

Weightlifter Melanie Roach performs two weightlifting movements—the clean and jerk—of 220 pounds in the 117-pound weight class at the Industrious Fall Open in 2015. | Photo by Daniel Christofferson

Lasting Changes

Roach sees Christofferson once a week, and she sends him videos of her training so he can assist in form errors during their 90-minute sessions.

“It’s helped my flexibility and recovery, and my ability to get into positions,” said Roach. “And for 41 years old, I am just as flexible or even more flexible than I was in my 20s.”

Each session, Christofferson takes a visual assessment, performs myofascial-length and range-of-motion tests, and palpates Roach’s soft tissues. Together, they discuss how to recalibrate her body.

Hellerwork has changed Roach’s athletic and personal life, she said. Her squats are deeper than they’ve ever been—and that’s with holding 222 pounds above her head in a clean and jerk, not an easy feat even for the strongest of athletes.

“I think my muscles are longer and leaner,” said Roach. “I think I’m a lot straighter.”

With improved form, Christofferson now uses Roach’s sessions to prepare her for the Olympics.

“We don’t have the chronic things that we had before. We are focused more on what’s going on during training,” he said. “We are constantly balancing strength, stability and range of motion. Those are important and they all work together.”


Getting Ready

This time around, the road to the Olympics is totally different for Roach than it was before, she said. She credits Hellerwork for improving her physically and mentally.

“It’s pretty amazing that at my age I can do this without getting an injury,” she said. “I think that in large part is why I’m excited, because I’m moving better now than I did in my 20s. I still have to get stronger, but [Christofferson] keeps it so I can train hard. I couldn’t ask for more.”


About the Author

Seraine Page is an award-winning freelance journalist who specializes in lifestyle, wellness and feature stories. She has written for the Kitsap Sun, Bremerton Patriot, Coastal Courier and other publications. She’s the former editor of Liberty Life Magazine. She loves a good massage and sharing her knowledge of well-being with others. Page wrote “U.S. Veterans’ PTSD Helped with Massage” for MASSAGE Magazine.