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Canadian Heather Hamilton has been involved with track and field for 15 years, 10 of which she has spent focused on pole vaulting.

Currently training at the World Athletics Center in Phoenix, Arizona, to qualify for the Pan American Games in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in July, and the International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships in Beijing, China, in August, she undergoes intense training that takes a toll on her body.

Massage therapy is one component of Hamilton’s training program. Sports massage helps correct muscle imbalances caused by the one-sided nature of pole vaulting.

First-class sports massage

In 2006, John Godina, four-time World Championship shot-putter, founded the World Athletics Center. As an elite training facility for track and field athletes in the U.S., the center has assembled a team of first-class coaches and trainers who have tutored Olympians, including some medalists; World Championship competitors; and world record holders in track and field events.

The center attracts between 60 and 75 professional, semiprofessional and scholarship athletes from all over the world every year. Michael Boykin, full-time sprints and hurdles coach and events manager, noted, understatedly, that athletes who train at the World Athletics Center have “high aspirations.”

Dan Pfaff, education director and lead jumps coach, and Stuart McMillan, performance director and lead sprints coach, introduced performance therapy, a combination approach that might include chiropractic, physical therapy, acupuncture and sports massage, several years ago. They provide this treatment trackside.

“The therapy is designed to optimize the day’s outcome. It can be given before, during and after a training session,” said Boykin. “When a coach sees movement discrepancies outside the normal bandwidth, he will address it.”

Sports massage enhances performance

At the end of March, the World Athletics Center partnered with Movement Restoration, a Phoenix-area massage practice that focuses on restoring natural movement to the body through individualized treatments. Massage therapists from Movement Restoration, all certified in myofascial release, trigger-point therapy, sports-specific techniques and other methods, provide 15 massage sessions per week on-site at the center.

“We focus on recovery and enhancing performance,” said massage therapist Trisha Haws, co-founder of Movement Restoration. “We complement the work of the talented, skilled trainers at [the center].”


Heather Hamilton is a pole vaulter training at the World Athletics Center in Phoenix, Arizona. | Photo Credit: Ellie Spain and Peter Simmons, Ph.D.

Heather Hamilton is a pole vaulter training at the World Athletics Center in Phoenix, Arizona.    Photo courtesy Ellie Spain and Peter Simmons, Ph.D.


Relaxed muscle tone

According to Hamilton, the coaching philosophy at the World Athletics Center emphasizes the importance of recovery as much as quality training.

“Athletes receive massage for multiple reasons, but mainly to speed up recovery time … or treat a specific injury or imbalance,” Hamilton said. “Personally, I prefer massage on recovery days to … reset my body for the next cycle of training. I find it helps to lower my cortisol [and] relax[es] my muscle tone.”

About the Author

Phyllis Hanlon has written nonfiction articles and book reviews as well as human-interest stories, profiles and award-winning essays. Her specialty areas include health and medicine, religion, education and business. She regularly delights in the joys of massage. She has written many articles for MASSAGE Magazine, including “A Safe Touch for HIV/AIDS Patients.”