Silverton, OR -
Four years ago Holley DeShaw, a licensed massage therapist, got out a piece of paper and wrote down her dream of being selected for the U.S. Medical Support Team for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.
The Silverton High Class of '95 grad didn't stop there, however. She proceeded to write down all the steps she needed to take to even be considered for that prestigious honor.
The lengthy list included things like doing a rotation of several weeks at an Olympic training center, and being selected to work with a national sports team at an international competition.
Over the past four years, DeShaw has painstakingly followed her plan, even when it meant giving up most of her work with sports other than track and field. She realized that making the cut for the Olympics would require great focus and specialization.
Earlier this year, DeShaw received word that it had all paid off. She would be going to London this month as part of the U.S. Olympic Team's medical support staff. At the Olympics her primary focus will be on treating track and field athletes, who constitute the largest group of Olympic athletes.
"I wrote down these steps, and I still have that piece of paper," DeShaw said. "You can have a dream, but you've got to back it up and live it. For me this has meant a huge amount of volunteer work, time away, travel . . . and being the first one there (at competitions) and the last one to leave.
"I always give credit to God for letting these steps happen and for my dream to become a reality."
Silverton native and former Mt. Angel resident DeShaw now lives in West Linn with her husband, Levi, and seven-year-old son, Jackson. She has her own massage practice - Oregon Sports Massage, Inc. - and also works part-time with the Nike Oregon Project, a training group of elite distance runners who are coached by Alberto Salazar, the former American record-holder in the marathon.
While quite a few Oregon natives and Oregon-based athletes will be going to compete at the Olympics, especially in track and field, DeShaw is the only Oregon resident selected to be on the Olympic Medical Support Team.
DeShaw, who has worked as a licensed massage therapist (LMT) for nearly ten years, got her start at the Northwood Health Clinic in Woodburn, where she worked for her father-in-law, Steve DeShaw. At the clinic she worked with a wide variety of patients suffering from acute or chronic injuries.
"Working at Northwood gave me a really good working knowledge and it was great being part of a team using different modalities to get the best results," DeShaw said.
After two years, DeShaw moved on to Back in Motion Sports Injury Clinic in Beaverton, where her skills were honed more specifically to the needs of athletes. She was attracted to working with people committed to fitness and competition, and began volunteering for sports events like LPGA tournaments, the Dew Tour and the Prefontaine Classic Track & Field Meet.
Deshaw felt a particularly strong bond with the track and field athletes she worked with, and she loved working with athletes in such different events like shot put, distance running, sprinting and pole vault.
"I love the diversity of track and field," DeShaw said. "It keeps you on your toes as far as knowing the athlete's major muscle groups and what they need to get the most power out of their body.
"I'm constantly inspired and motivated and driven by the athletes. There's story after story of amazing grace and dedication."
One of the athletes DeShaw finds most inspiring is Oscar Pistorius, a South African athlete who is a double amputee. Known as the "Blade Runner" for his artificial lower legs, Pistorius was a gold medalist at the ParaOlympics and, this year, has also qualified for the Olympic Games in the 400 meters. Pistorius credits DeShaw for helping restore him to health recently.
"I was referred to Holley by Nike HQ when I was in the States and needed some urgent attention on my hip," Pistorius wrote in a recent email. "From my first encounter with her, I felt at ease and felt a massive improvement after our first session. Over the week she not only helped me prepare and get over my injury but helped me gain confidence and approach my following competitions with a clear mind."
One of the top U.S. athletes DeShaw has worked extensively with is Galen Rupp, the former UO star who won both the 5000 and 10,000 meters at the recent Olympic Trials. Rupp is convinced DeShaw had an impact on his performance at the Trials.
"At the Olympic Trials this year, I had to do a long cool down after one of my races and then go through drug testing, which took well over 2 hours," Rupp said. "Holley was able to meet me after all of that, at around 10 o'clock at night after everyone had left the stadium, to give me a massage and make sure that I was as ready to go for my next final. She is extremely dedicated . . . As an athlete, you could not ask for a better therapist to work with."
Rupp also appreciates the positive attitude DeShaw constantly exudes.
"Holley is always really upbeat. As an athlete, you are constantly battling nagging pains and injuries, and it really helps to have someone who has such a positive attitude. Her personality is contagious and when you might be feeling down or worry about a problem you might have, she is always there to bring you back up."
Aries Merritt is the U.S. champion in the 110 meter high hurdles and, with the leading time in the world this year, is a medal contender in London.
"Holley has had a major impact on my performance as a professional athlete. Every time she has worked on my body via massage I have always performed my best," Merritt said. "Her ability to determine which muscles need the best care through feel alone is nothing short of amazing."
Merritt said DeShaw has a lively personality and is always a joy to be around. He said DeShaw has helped him make three USA teams, one being the 2012 Olympic team.
"I am very pleased and honored to be able to work with Holley DeShaw," Merritt said. "Her skills as a massage therapist are top notch, because if she feels the slightest muscle isn't to her liking, she makes sure that muscle is cleaned and smooth so that your performance benefits greatly."
While being a part of the Olympic staff has provided a lot of recognition, DeShaw says she finds that "nerve-wracking," and doesn't enjoy the spotlight.
"The thrill for me is a 'thank you' from an athlete. I really like being behind the scenes. The real reward for all of this is seeing people I've worked with day in and day out shine in their events."
During the Olympics, DeShaw will be at the warmup track to assist athletes who need treatment before or after their events. At last year's World Championships in South Korea, she also worked in a treatment area at the stadium during the two-day decathlon.
She believes there is a common misconception about what LMT's do for athletes.
"When people think of massage therapy, you think of oil, relaxation and so forth. If you talk to any athlete, they will tell you this is a totally different ballgame . . . You've got to know exactly what your hands are doing (to a muscle) and how the athlete is going to respond to that. Your application has to be right on to what is going on for that athlete."
DeShaw gives the example of a thrower competing in shot put or discus who needs a certain amount of muscular tension to perform well. Overstretch or relax the muscle too much and they lose their edge.
The five weeks away from her home, family and work will be a sacrifice, DeShaw concedes, but one that she is happy to make.
"It's a good thing that I love my work. Still to this day, it's hard for me to call it "work." I literally love what I get to do.
"It's a gift," she said. "When I'm using the gift I've been given, I feel like I'm making a contribution."
A contribution that the U.S. Olympic athletes know can make a difference in their performance.