Rounding the 2.238-mile racetrack, the Superbike World Championship competitors leaned their 350-pound, 220-horsepower motorcycles, and bodies, into each curve of the seven laps. With full attention focused on every inch of track passing under their bikes’ tires at speeds up to 150 mph, they did not have an instant to consider anything other than maneuvering Laguna Seca’s Mazda Raceway in front of more than 49,000 cheering fans.
The riders relied on expert mechanics to keep their bikes in top shape, and on expert massage- and physio- therapists to keep their bodies astride those bikes.
Sports massage therapist Richard Lomeli, C.M.T., was one of the professionals working on Superbike World Championship competitors—Voltcom Crescent Suzuki team athletes Eugene Laverty and Alex Lowes—at the event July 11–13 at the raceway in Salinas, California.
“These athletes push themselves really hard,” Lomeli, 33, told MASSAGE Magazine. “They get on their bikes looking cool as ice, and before a race they’ll rip out 70 laps in a weekend, just to get the bike set up and test the suspension … then they’ll take their helmets off and they are sweating bullets, breathing heavy.”
For all those training and race laps, the riders grip the bikes’ handlebars and squeeze the throttle and brake lever, which can result in compartment syndrome, or fascial restrictions that cause the forearm to become taut, Lomeli said. “Keeping fascia loose in the extensors and flexors of the arms is a huge priority when the riders come in between [laps],” he said. Riders also experience neck restrictions and low-back problems due to being in hip flexion so often, said Lomeli, who addresses riders’ complaints primarily with neuromuscular and trigger-point therapy, augmented by kinesio taping.
“Even if your body is 100-percent perfect to begin with, [the sport] is going to take a physical toll,” said Lomeli. “There’s travel and bike setup, there can be past injuries that have culminated over the years, there can be plates in the body, scar tissue—and a lot of those things will cause symmetrical imbalances, decreased range of motion, repetitive stress injury and fatigue.”
Lomeli was involved in sports long before he became a sports massage therapist. Growing up in California’s San Fernando Valley, just outside Los Angeles, he played golf, baseball and football, and was “passionate” when it came to watching competitive sports with his family.
That passion led to what Lomeli described as his “insane amount of fascination” with how the human body works, and his interest in sports massage.
“I knew I really wanted to work with professional athletes,” he said. Then, at a Los Angeles Kings opening-day game, Lomeli heard the announcer introduce all the team’s support staff—including massage therapist Eric Ford, C.M.T. “I thought, ‘Look at that—the Kings have a massage therapist on staff,’” Lomeli recalled. A few days later, he left a message for Ford at the Kings’ training facility, and Ford called him back. “I was absolutely honored,” said Lomeli. “I had a phonebook-sized list of questions.
“There was not a doubt about [it] after that,” he added. “I enrolled in massage school, and during my time there, Eric would shoot me texts to ask how school was going, and that was huge for me.” Now the two men are colleagues and friends.
Lomeli opened his practice in 2011, in the San Fernando Valley, where he is engaged to his high school sweetheart. He massages nonathletes; weekend warriors; and elite athletes, including New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen and professional triathlete Kathy Rakel, who is three-time U.S. National Military Triathlon Champion and 2013 U.S. Duathlon National Champion. He also massages athletes at Horse Power Crossfit center in Studio City. In 2013, Lomeli received the American Massage Therapy Association’s National Sports Massage Achiever Award.
Lomeli advises massage therapists interested in working with elite athletes to research body mechanics related to the types of sports they are interested in working in, and pay dues by volunteering for high school and college teams. Most importantly, he said, notice and seize opportunities.
He described the moment of opportunity that led to his work with Superbike World Championship competitors:
“I would go up to Laguna Seca as a fan, and I was able to get a tour of the medical center in 2012,” Lomeli said. “I saw someone working to get a neck turned—and I knew that’s something I can do in seconds, or a couple of minutes, with advanced neuromuscular therapy. I gave a demonstration, and [the racer’s] head just fell to the left. So then I got an email saying, ‘Would you help us in 2013?’
“When that door of opportunity opens, you have to plow through it with a Mack truck,” said Lomeli. “You can’t be timid or intimidated, but instead know what you can do, and believe in yourself and your training.”
Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief.
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