Kneading people at home and in Greece

Massage therapist plans to volunteer at the Summer Paralympics in Athens.
Tuesday, August 31, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:27 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Columbia massage therapist is on her way to Athens, Greece, to work with athletes at the 2004 Summer Paralympics.

Elisabeth Norton has been selected to be one of 60 international massage therapists who will travel to Greece next week. The Paralympics are similar to the Olympics, except that athletes have a physical disability.

“It’s not about the disability — it’s about the ability and the fact that these people are elite athletes,” Norton said, citing the sport of wheelchair rugby as an example.

Norton, who has been a massage therapist for eight years and specializes in sports massage and clinical bodywork, said she is excited to work with athletes who have so much upper-body strength.

“It’s like if you put Lance Armstrong in a wheelchair,” said Norton, who also teaches anatomy and physiology at the Massage Therapy Institute of Missouri.

Cycling, sailing, wheelchair fencing and equestrian are a few of the 19 Paralympic summer sports.

“It is a great opportunity to educate people about the ability part and being conscientious of reminding people these are elite athletes,” she said. “The second thing is it brings awareness to the quality of the professional here in Columbia. That we are legitimate massage therapists.”

The opportunity arose when Norton heard from the American Massage Therapy Association that the Olympics were looking for therapists to volunteer their services. She went to the Web site and applied. The extensive application contained detailed questions regarding experience and education level. Norton met all of the qualifications and was notified two weeks ago that she would be on her way to Athens.

One meal a day is covered. Norton is trying to raise $4,000 for housing, airfare and other costs.

When she is not working, Norton said, she hopes to take in some of the sights as well as watch some of the competition.

The first Paralympics took place in Rome in 1960. Only 400 people from 23 countries were involved. Four years ago in Sydney, Australia, 3,800 athletes participated from 122 countries.

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