Body of Work Yields Olympic Bid for Kansas Massage Therapist
OMAHA – Some of the best in their field have gathered at the US Olympic Trials inside CenturyLink Center looking for peak performances in hopes of making it to Rio, but it’s not all happening in the pool. Among those who have punched their ticket as USA Swimming’s biggest event closed day three is Kansas swimming and diving’s certified massage therapist Beth Morford.
Morford was wearing a burnt orange Texas Longhorns t-shirt Tuesday – for the fourth year they’ve hired her to work national level meets, which now has included a pair of Olympic Trials – and was busy late into the evening as the Longhorns saw four entries in the men’s 200-meter freestyle, among others. Throughout the year Morford works with several Kansas teams and student-athletes, including swimming and diving and its Olympic Trials participants Chelsie Miller and Libby Walker.
The Lawrence native and Baldwin High School graduate who attended both Baker and KU before massage school, runs her own business in town but has become such a hot commodity that contracts with teams and global travel are becoming her main focus. That includes working on a team of four as a recovery therapist with the United State Olympic Committee (USOC) in Team USA’s Athlete Village for the upcoming Olympic Games, as announced in January.
“She’s very well respected in body work circles for elite athletes,” Kansas head swimming and diving coach Clark Campbell said. “That’s a tribute to how hard she works. She’s invested a lot of time and energy in learning how to do massage and body work at this level. She’s travelled the world working with USA Swimming and USOC.
“Because she’s been tireless in making her skills better and becoming one of the best at it, she’s renowned in swimming circles and she’s going to be more so when she works with other federations and teams when she gets to go to Rio.”
Morford’s first job after earning massage therapist certification from Professional Fitness Institute was in athletics and she hasn’t looked back. While her husband Casey, a Lawrence native who swam for Campbell at Evansville, studied computer engineering in grad school, she approached the athletics department at Virginia Tech. She did so well in the interview they put her right to work with then-football head coach Frank Beamer. When Casey finished school, the pair moved back to Kansas, where Campbell was looking to fill a recently vacated massage therapy void for his team.
“I just called him up and asked if he needed a massage therapist,” Morford said. “He said they were actually interviewing that week, so that went really well. I interviewed with the director of sports medicine too. They hired me; that was 2007 and I’ve been there ever since.”
Serendipitous timing and her commitment to excellent work has largely done the rest.
“Being in the Big 12 (Conference), we work alongside all the other Big 12 body workers and that’s how I got affiliated with the Texas team,” Morford said. “They asked, ‘Whenever you’re available and not working with Kansas, can you go with us?’ So I’ve been helping them out when I’m free. University of Virginia was networking too.
“USA Swimming was another thing. I met the Georgia massage therapist, Wade Alberts, who’s been my mentor ever since. He said, ‘Look, if you want to be involved with USA Swimming you’ve got to jump through this hoop and this hoop and this hoop. If you’re willing to put in the work, it’s worth it.’ So I bought in and applied and have been fortunate to be on a lot of really awesome trips.”
Atlanta. Istanbul. Australia. Croatia. Russia. And now Omaha, where she’s working among nearly 60 massage therapists offering pre- and post-race services in the athlete area adjacent to the warm-up pool. Before the race that includes shake-outs – literal chopping, jostling and shaking to help loosen up athletes. Afterwards, the massage therapists help “flush” out metabolic waste, pushing it back towards the athletes’ core where it can be eliminated from the bloodstream and aid in reducing soreness for subsequent days of activity.
She does the same for Kansas student-athletes, working with swimming two nights a week at the pool while doing an agreed upon number of 30-minute massages throughout the year. She also travels with Kansas to the league meet where strategic massages help the athletes who may move on to NCAA competition. She’s also travelled with the Jayhawks during their annual winter training trip, assisting the team in its grueling preparation for the final stretch of the season.
Morford has bumped into most of the five swimmers with Kansas ties at the Trials, including Miller, Walker and former Kansas swimmer Danielle Herrmann. It’s not the first time she’s worked among KU athletes at national meets and the encounters offer a reminder of home. Last summer, Morford worked the 2015 FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia, with KU’s Yulduz Kuchkarova competing in the field.
“I didn’t just see Yulya in Russia, I saw a Svetlana (Golovchun) and a couple of other alumni as well,” Morford said. “We’re on the other side of the world and we’re hanging out. It’s good to have a network. It’s just one giant family. For swimmers, this is like a reunion. They see all their club teammates and coaches and it’s like home.”
By the end of the night Tuesday at US Olympic Trials, 13 athletes had earned a trip to Rio as members of Team USA. Supporting them all the way, is a full staff of hard working, elite professionals like Morford, who have earned the right to be there.
“It exactly parallels what the athletes do, absolutely,” Morford said. “We go through every quadrennial with these kids, right alongside them, as they are training and competing. The exciting part is being selected to go to Rio, but the most exciting part for us is to getting to see them from the start all the way to their finish and get to see them do it in person. We’ll be alongside them, supporting them through that whole thing.
“Everyone back here has a goal of going to the Olympics. For everyone in the sports massage world, it’s an end all, be all, just like it is for the athletes. So it’s very exciting. It’ll be my first Olympics.”
Kansas’ competition at the Trials continues Wednesday with Miller and Walker, both concluding their scheduled activity with swims in the 200-meter butterfly. Prelims are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. and can be viewed live at NBCSports.com/live.
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