University grad heads to Athens

Hayley Odom

Marcia Swanson beat out 400 applicants to go to the Olympics this year – not to compete, but to work with the finest athletes in the world.

Swanson, a University sports massage therapist, will serve on the Athens Health Services Sports Massage Team for the 2004 Summer Olympics.

“It’s just such an honor,” Swanson said.

“I’m not just representing the University, I’m representing the people in this area and that’s a pretty incredible experience,” she said.

Swanson and 99 other sports massage therapists will travel to Athens in August to provide sports massage therapy to the 2004 Olympic athletes.

An international group of five massage therapists chose the therapists with the help of the International Olympic Committee. Swanson will work specifically on international baseball players.

“I got to work with several baseball players at the University,” she said. “I enjoy baseball and I think it will be a fun experience, although I will miss track and field.”

Swanson has two sports massage contracts with the University and splits her time between traveling with the women’s track and field team during the spring and working with other athletes during the rest of the year. She has worked with Gophers athletes for a season and a half.

Swanson also worked for Boynton Health Service as a massage therapist. She now runs her own massage therapy office when she is not working with the Gophers.

“I like working with athletes at the University,” she said. “It gives me variety.”

This is Swanson’s second time working as a massage therapist at the Olympics. She worked with skiers, tobogganers, lugers, speed skaters and coaches at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The 2002 games were the first to assemble the sports massage team.

“I was walking around the (Olympic) village looking at all of the athletes and I was just amazed,” she said. “Here I am at the Olympics.”

She said many of the athletes at the 2002 Olympic Games did not speak English and she communicated with them through their trainers.

“The trainers usually knew enough English to tell you what to do and the athletes would just smile at you,” she said.

Swanson said she enjoyed her experience so much at the winter games she decided to apply for the summer Olympics, even though she does not receive payment for her services.

She will pay for her own hotel, airfare and most meals while volunteering at the games. She said the Olympic officials think being at the games is enough payment, she said.

“I’m just thrilled. I agree with them – being there is enough,” she said.

Being part of the 2002 Winter Olympics helped Swanson secure a spot on this year’s team, she said.

She had to adhere to a Federal Bureau of Investigation background check and send her credentials to the Olympic committee. Swanson also wrote a statement on why she wanted to attend the games and needed a letter of endorsement from an “elite” athlete, she said.

“It’s kind of like applying to college,” she said.

Adam Steele, a University graduate and former track and field athlete, wrote the letter of endorsement for Swanson.

“She worked with me last fall with a lower back injury that I had,” he said. “The skills she used got me back from the injury and I was satisfied with that work.”

Gophers men’s track and field head coach Phil Lundin also endorsed the letter.

“After a hard workout when people are sore, the recovery process is enhanced by massage,” Lundin said. “We believe in it strongly and so do the athletes.”

Swanson said the types of massage she will use will depend on when the athletes will play baseball games.

“If they have a game that day, I can’t do any deep tissue massage because it might hurt the muscle area,” she said. “I’ll have to do a sports massage -more flushing of the muscles and stretching and loosening up the area.”

Swanson said she does not expect her Olympic experience to end in Athens. She plans on applying to the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy and to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.

“Hopefully, I’ll get to work on some of the athletes from the University (at those games),” she said.