The WHY of Participating in a World Championship in Massage

In my mind, I can feel the moment where I will be on July 2, 2023 (Lord willing). I can almost feel the deafening silence of hundreds of anxious onlookers trying their best to be still and quiet in the creaky wooden stands at the University of Copenhagen Sigurdsgade as the World Championship finals begin. I dare not look toward the judges’ stand, for I might see their critical eyes and some ghostly faces of my long-since-passed teachers expecting perfection in my every move. After all, I’ve been graciously blessed with twenty-three years of practice in massage to represent my school, MassageFIX, my state, and now America in no less than the acclaimed home of Classic “Swedish” Massage.

Yes, after winning the gold medal in Swedish Massage at the first-ever American Massage Championship back in July, I plan on being in Denmark for that moment in less than ten months. I originally wanted to attend the World Championship in 2020, but Covid hit, and all bets were off. That was good because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Now I have a title to take with me from a major nation and some real competition experience. Also, I am now one of fifteen members of the first official American National Massage Team. Three of our members have competed at the World Championship before and are a plethora of knowledge. The competition will be fierce. I’ll face hundreds of the most athletic and classically trained therapists from all over the world with just as much, if not more, experience as me. They come to win – let’s see what this little ole’ grandma from Bowling Green, Kentucky, can get done. 

So folks have asked me why I want to compete. Well, for me, it’s all about keeping pure Classic Swedish Massage techniques and therapeutic intentions alive when so many other flashy massage techniques are taking the limelight. Sometimes watered-down hybrid techniques are taught and used, not in conjunction with our foundational techniques but sometimes in place of them. I’ve seen it repeatedly where a new therapist cannot use foundational techniques and critical thinking skills to understand a client’s issue. Sadly, this also prevents them from formulating a treatment plan that uses logically progressive technical steps in a session. It’s like, “Hey, I learned some trigger points. I’m going to use them every time in every situation ’cause you need to be impressed with how awesome and smart I am.” Where is the care for the client in that? #NoEgossage 

Classic Swedish Massage techniques discovered and developed by Swede Per Henrik Ling in the late 1700 and Dutch physician Johann Mezger nearly a hundred years later allow the therapist to learn the client’s tissue (proprioception). This enables the client’s mind to trust the touch, often entering an “alpha brain wave state” or heightened metabolic healing. This level of massage also elicits a human connection that is a rare mind-body medicine. British orthopedic surgeon James B. Mennell (1880-1957) recognized this concept as he attempted to further heal broken soldiers post-surgically during WW1. He vehemently rejected the barbaric rehabilitation done at that time. He discovered that if he did not hurt his patients, distracted their brains, and removed excess fluids, he could undoubtedly reduce their pain. This gentle approach would propel grateful soldiers to further success in physical healing and restoring function. 

Another pivotal piece of massage history is the theory of intelligently disrupting adhesions (soft tissue lesions or “knots”) with cross fiber friction, developed by British orthopedic James Cyriax in the 1920s. These great men and their collective efforts are the heart and soul of my most popular New York Style Signature Massage. 

This amalgamated form of Swedish Massage and my unique body mechanics style were why I took home the gold last July. My intentionally crafted body mechanics come from several years of classical ballet and studying Tai Chi in New York. I’ll even give some ambidextrous-fine-motor-skill-kudos to my many hated hours of piano practice as a child. I always felt like something was brewing in me, trying to get out; it just wasn’t dance, music, or martial arts. It was all of them in the form of massage therapy. I was even a dental assistant for several years, which taught me fast-paced pro-active organizational steps and ultra germ-phobic hygiene. Then there was waitressing, which honed my time management and listening skills. It is incredible how God set up all the life classes I needed to love-on the people created in His image. I take giving comfort and easing human pain very seriously. It is a high calling with a very high level of dedication. There is never a moment to do less than one’s absolute all – for I do not ultimately work for the client. I work for the Lord.

The World Massage Championship ’23 is just around the corner. I have so much planning to do to get there and make my presentation perfect. Then, I must invent innovations to my existing techniques and practice them until they are second nature to me. When I hit the preliminary floor, I don’t want to think. I can block out the world and flow in perfect harmony with my receiver and the music. I do this every day at MassageFIX. That hour is my comfort zone – always has been. I thank God for giving me such a safe, peaceful, and purposeful place to always come out of the storm.

My head is not entirely in the sand. I have heard the rumblings within the massage world expressing their ignorance of how championships like this will degrade licensed massage therapists’ professionalism. I say poppycock! Nothing could be further from the truth. I brought home several dozen new techniques while at the American Massage Championship back in July that my clients really love. I wish there were a way that I could have learned it all, but perhaps in time, I can. Now I know that many more exciting advancements exist in my industry and where to get trained if I choose. The possibilities seem endless now.

I also met and connected with about 20 new therapists (far better than me) that I regularly get advice from and many American and international school owners and educators. I, myself, have given tons of advice to the newer therapists there regarding techniques, equipment, and even business. This experience has renewed my love for what I do and why I do it. I am laser-focused on continuing to improve and share what I know and do. I hope to enroll in the International Teachers Certification Program and International Judges Training next year, so I can go even further in helping my profession. There are many opportunities to attend and teach master classes at schools and massage camps worldwide. 

If a college swim coach goes and wins a gold medal at the Olympics or a vascular surgeon wins a Nobel Prize in medicine or a Ph.D. Jazz musician wins a Grammy Award; does this make them less professional? No, it makes them ambassadors for their passion, inspiring many others to ingenuity and determination and producing more accessible and duplicatable services and products for our world. 

Yes, the spotlight of recognition for excellent work in our profession is new, and it may sometimes challenge our prejudices and stir our fear of the unknown, but it is far from a negative thing. Championships are a courageous undertaking by organizers and participants to lift the massage profession up. I can speak from experience – It does. As a matter of fact, my husband, Michael, enrolled in massage school less than two months after witnessing super professional male massage therapists at the American Massage Championship. He will be amazing because some of the very best have inspired him!

Thank you for taking the time to read these somewhat personal and passionate words. I typically don’t allow such rawness to hit my keyboard, but human touch matters greatly – I’ve never been so excited about it. Stay tuned to the International Massage Association’s website and Facebook page to watch the incredible therapy happening all over the world.

MassageFIX is making waves everywhere!
Home of the 2022 American Swedish Massage Champion and 2023 Massage Therapy Hall of Fame inductee, Melissa Strautman, LMT. Thanks to our wonderful clients, MassageFIX is also the #1 rated massage business in the state according to Top Rated Local.
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