Recently I had the pleasure of spending a day with the Toronto Maple Leafs during a workout and massage session. I was thrilled for the opportunity to be around this group of finely tuned young guys. I was especially eager to "learn the ropes" and see what a day in the life of an athletic therapist is like.
I came away VERY envious of these men and the fine job they get to enjoy day in and day out. Marty Dudgeon is the Leafs assistant athletic therapist and he was my mentor for the day.
The morning session I walk into is filled with sweaty athletes fresh from a vigorous workout. My eyes go wide as I gaze upon finely chiseled pecs and abs. These players, although young, will strike fear into many opponents this season. I truly believe that. Marty greets me, and right away we start talking therapy and massage. He notes I'm carrying a bag with me and comments "bring your own tools?" I laugh and tell him I have something special in mind that always gets my better half Jessie in a great mood after a massage.
Marty starts my "training" right away describing different types of sports massages. "Pre-event", "post-event" and "maintenance" are all described. Moreover, the effects of lactic acid buildup are talked about. Terms like "effleurage" and "petrissage" are mentioned. My head is spinning and I just want to get my hands on some guys and get to work. After practicing many techniques over and over on some dummies I'm ready for the real thing. Fortunately for me there is no lack of players to be massaged on this morning. After watching Marty go to work on young center Tyler Bozak, I meekly ask if I can have a turn on the next player. Up steps Mikhail Grabovski in a towel and I immediately get nervous. He lies face down on the table and I look to Marty for reassurance. He grins, nods and says "you can do this, remember what we went through".
I gain some confidence, reach down toward the bag I've had with me all morning and I quickly unzip it. Grabovski turns his head slightly and looks up when he hears the sound. "Don't worry", I say, "you'll enjoy this". I squirt a large amount of K-Y warming body massage on his back and he gasps slightly from the sensation. I've heard that sound before. I grin to myself and get to it. My hands rub deep into his lower back and I can tell I'm doing it right because he's not complaining. I lose my trepidation and I get more confident with each compression. I'm amazed at the feel of this body, the supple, yet firm toughness of the finely tuned muscles. The glutes are perfect, the hamstring is sublime and the gastrocnemius is so solid. A few times Marty has to hold me back a bit as i'm getting too enthusiastic. "Woah, woah there, no need to get THAT intense", he says to me as he laughs. I don't even hear him a few times as I'm SO involved in trying to please Grabovski with the massage. It's as if I'm applying for a job and I throw myself into it full force. Marty finally tells me I'm done, yet I feel like I've only just begun. I ask Grabovski how I did. He looks at me square in the eye and asks "first time?". When I reply that it was he breaks a smile and replies simply "good, good". My heart nearly explodes with a mixture of joy and overconfidence. "I think I'm ready for more!", I tell Marty.
My hands ache after the morning session is over, but they ache in a good way. I look down at my hands and remember how much I've learned today, all the techniques and discipline that go into a career such as this. I gained a new admiration and respect for the men that do this job, the hundreds of athletes they get to work on over the course of their careers. It suddenly dawns on me that they are the unsung heroes of sport. They keep the finely tuned young bodies working in perfect order day in and day out. I glance one last time behind me as I leave and I feel melancholy that I won't be doing this everyday.