Sunday, August 20, 2000

Therapist treats Olympians

Local massage experts heads off to Australia to work out the athletes' kinks

        Carol Siciliano's hands don't look like much: Small, short fingers, soft skin. Not strong at all.

        So what are they doing digging in to some of the most celebrated flesh in the world?

[photo] Dr. Carol Siciliano
(Enquirer photo)
| ZOOM |
        Easing aches.

        Dr. Siciliano, massage therapist and retired professor of health and sport science at the University of Dayton, leaves next week to spend five weeks in Sydney, Australia, massaging Olympic muscles grown tight in competition.

        She is one of 120 volunteer massage therapists, selected from more than 2,000 applicants. It's a trip she'll pay for herself — about $5,000 — because “the privilege of working with these young kids far outweighs any cost to you.”

        She ought to know. She did the same thing in Atlanta in '96, where she was stationed in the volleyball venue.

        This year, she's in the Athlete's Village, the main venue for athletes' health, sharing space with the Olympic surgeons, dentists, physical therapists and trainers.

        Come Sept. 1, this therapist who says she “has been in this world a while” but won't say exactly how long, will start her days by donning beige slacks and a white polo shirt with five Olympic rings. One of the rings will be bright red and larger than the rest, indicating her position on the medical support team.

        She'll do it five days a week before, during and after the Olympics, all eight-hour shifts “that go way over eight. Don't you believe for a minute anyone's ever finished finished in eight.”

        Pretty busy hands for a woman who admits hers aren't strong enough to “open a pickle jar without one of those pincher things.

        “But I don't rely on strength. I go for a softer touch and a more holistic approach, where I use my background as a counselor (her first job at UD 36 years ago) and try to address the whole athlete.”

        That's one reason she got the job. Another is her knowledge of what she calls sports-specific aches and pains.

        She knows, for example, that a volleyball comes crashing in to a player's hand at tremendous speed. “Can you imagine the impact on the shoulder and upper arm? I already know now that when a volleyball player comes in, that's what I'll work on.

        “Soccer players? The waist down needs attention because of all the running. Swimmers and basketball players get it in the back and neck. Golfers in the hands, wrists and shoulders. I won't even talk about football players. And wrestlers, yikes.”

        This is the stuff she learned at UD, where she has been the athletic department's massage therapist for most of the '90s. It's stuff she has learned so thoroughly that she knows what an athlete needs without asking.

        “Besides the sports specific areas, there's also observation. You read their gait and body language — how someone walks in, how he sits, climbs on the table. Is he bouncing in gingerly, or stepping lightly to avoid pain?

        “It's a combination of knowledge, training and intuition.”

        It's also a matter of knowing how to deal with Olympic athletes. “You have to be positive at all times. Tell them there's nothing to worry about, we'll get rid of that kink and you'll serve 110 mph.

        “The ones you have to worry about at something like the Olympics are the people finishing down the line. You have to work not to depress them, but they're depressed no matter what you do. They're on the world stage, the peak, and they finished 10th. You have to understand, for this one day, this one moment, that event is their entire life.

        “Because of that stress, things happen behind the scenes. Things that never get reported. Tempers fly, fists fly. In Atlanta, we were right next to the drug testing site — we called them the pee doctors. Now that's an experience.

        “But overall, the athletes are marvelous people and so very grateful for what we do. Especially athletes from less developed countries.”

        Most of the athletes Dr. Siciliano will see in the two weeks before the Olympics will be Americans. “A massage can really throw a performance off, so the foreign athletes are wary. Distrustful at first. They grow to trust as the games go on. Once their event is over, then we see them.

        “In Atlanta, coaches and trainers would observe us before they let their athletes come in. If they liked what they saw, all of a sudden you'd have a room full of five or six waiting. I never had an eight-hour day because there was always one waiting.

        “Except Italians. Because of my name, being derived from Sicily, they never came. The have a certain sense of superiority.”

        Athletes who did pop by found a major fan in their massage therapist: “I can't help but respect them. I've been involved with athletes all my professional life, so I have a certain rapport. You have to respect their discipline and that incredible focus.

        “Even here at UD with student athletes, sometimes I come in at 6:30 in the morning and the kids are here, some already an hour in to their practice. It's not a glorious life. There's glory in it, but it's not glorious.”

        So come Oct. 1, when she flies home, she'll be as whipped as the athletes, right?

        Wrong. She'll have writer's cramp.

        “For every person I touch, there's a form to fill out. Long forms. Talk about a paper chase. And it's not just the athletes. In Atlanta I got announcers, referees, family members of athletes, and every last one of them required a form.

        “My colleagues helped, but I still came home with writer's cramp.”


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