Ep 222 – Benny Vaughn – Part 1

Sports massage therapist Benny Vaughn in foreground and client receiving a massage in background.

For over four decades, the name Benny Vaughn has been synonymous with orthopedic sports massage. Known as the “father of sports massage,” Benny has participated in five Olympic games with the USA track and field team. In Part 1 of this two-part episode of The ABMP Podcast, Kristin and Darren speak with Benny about his inspiration to become a massage therapist, how discovering massage made him want to learn more about the human body, and how his influence helped massage become incorporated in the US Olympic program.

Author Bio: 

For four decades, Benny Vaughn has set a standard in the United States for massage therapy in sports. Massage Magazine named him one of the most influential massage therapists in the last 100 years for his contributions in both education and clinical applications of soft-tissue therapy and bodywork.

Benny has participated in five Olympic Games with the USA track and field team, including 1996 where he served as a manager for athlete medical services and the medical liaison at Olympic Stadium.

Benny Vaughn’s educational philosophy is, “Education and learning nourish your soul and expand your potential.” He has been a strong proponent of quality massage therapy education for decades and brings more than 40 years of clinical, hands-on experience to his teaching. He believes that experience is the key to a good education.


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Full Transcript: 

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0:00:52.5 Darren Buford: I'm Darren Buford.

0:00:53.4 Kristin Coverly: And I'm Kristin Coverly.

0:00:54.7 DB: And welcome to the ABMP podcast. A podcast where we speak with the massage and body work profession. Our guest today is Benny Vaughn for four decades, Benny Vaughn has set a standard in the United States for massage therapy and in sports. Benny has participated in four Olympic games with the USA track and field team, including 1996, where he served as a manager for athlete medical services and the medical liaison at Olympic stadium. Other Olympic games were Benny has been on the USA track and field sports medicine staff as a licensed massage therapist and certified athletic trainer are the 2004 Athens games in Greece, the 2008 Beijing games in China and the 2012 London games in England. In October, 2014, Benny opened the Benny Vaughn athletic therapy center facility located in the clear fork development in Fort worth, Texas. Benny Vaughn's educational philosophy is education and learning, nourish your soul and expand your potential. He has been a strong proponent of quality massage therapy education for decades and brings more than 40 years of clinical hands on experience to his teaching. He believes that experience is the key to a good education. We're really glad today on the ABMP podcast to welcome a true legend to the massage profession. Hello, Benny and hello, Kristin.

0:02:15.3 Benny Vaughn: Thank you, Darren and hello, Kristin. One thing that I want to add, because this happened after that information got to you, is I added a fifth Olympic games, Tokyo 2020. So that's where I spent part of my summer was in Tokyo, Japan with the US Olympic team providing massage therapy at the high performance center and the high performance center. And we do this for every Olympic games is we create and replicate the Olympic training center services that we have in the United States and we replicate that in whatever country we are attending the Olympics. So the high performance center is a campus that the USOPC leases, and typically it's an existing sports complex so that it has a auditorium for USA swimming. It has a track and field stadium for USA track and field. It has studios for USA judo for USA fencing for all of the disciplines we have training facilities there for them. USA volleyball, USA basketball everyone. So the athletes come over daily from the Olympic village on team buses and train. And I was part of the sports medicine staff that was responsible for providing massage therapy services for any USA Olympian in Tokyo. So we'll just add one more to that and that will be my fifth Olympic games that's Tokyo 2020.

0:04:10.7 KC: That's incredible, wow what a great experience, I can't even imagine how that would feel as a massage therapist to get to participate in an event like that, let alone five. And that happened in 2020. Let's turn the dial back a little bit on your story with an icon like you, and thank you again, I'm gonna echo what Darren said we are so overjoyed to have you with us here on the ABMP podcast, but we've gotta start for all of our listeners, many of them probably already know, but let's hear your massage story, how did massage enter your life? How did your success path grow? Tell us all about it.

0:04:45.8 BV: Here's how my success path in massage therapy began. In 1969 and just for the record, I'm 70 years young at this stage of this interview. So in 1969, I entered the university of Florida as a full scholarship track athlete. And 1969 was a pivotal year in Southeastern conference sports and in many sports and in many universities across America, because up until now, the university of Florida, as well as other universities were restricted to white students only. So in 1964, when the civil rights act was passed by president Lyndon Johnson, desegregation and integration began across the United States. I lived in the deep south, I lived in Columbus, Georgia, and I was bused to the previously all white high school as part of the federal government's integration plan. And so at that high school, I became the first African-American to be on the track team.

0:06:00.0 BV: Fast forward to my senior year in Georgia, I get the most valuable athlete award at the state track and field championship, I lead my team to a two point win over the favored team and I received scholarship offers from every SEC school, and most of those schools, had I chosen that school, I would have been their first African-American athlete. I chose the University of Florida and I was their fifth African-American athlete to enroll at the University of Florida.

0:06:42.7 BV: Now, I wanna take a moment to reflect on that, because when I tell the story to young African-American student athletes now, women and men, and I say, when I began in 1969, there were only five African-American athletes at the entire University of Florida in all sports. Two young men played for Florida football, and three young men were on the track and field team, and I was one of those three. I say all of that, it is because my massage therapy success is reflected in the social challenges that I've had my entire life in sport, so when I began in massage therapy, there were not... The first national massage conference I went to was in Orlando Florida in 1975. And I could count the number of African-American massage therapists on one hand and have fingers left over, and as I looked around, I'm thinking, wow, not many people of color are doing this, let alone men, so I have been a trail blazer from the beginning in my life and I became interested in massage therapy because I read an article in Track and Field News that was written by Bob Beeten, the then Director of the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

0:08:23.0 BV: And in the article, he talked about the importance of massage for athletes to help them recover and this and that, and I remember thinking to myself, Wow, I'm running track here, and they're not massaging us, the athletic trainers aren't massaging us, and we certainly don't have any massage therapists here. And I set out to figure out, How can I learn this? So I went to a local bookstore and there were two books that I found, one was the art of central massage, and the other was the massage book, and I thought, Wow. And it talked about, Hey here's how you build a table, you get two sawhorses and you put a piece of plywood and you put this... Because there were no big message table companies yet, you could buy this non-adjustable high table from Battle Creek, which was kind of a medical supply company, and they had... And that was actually my first table, it's a black vinyl aluminum legs, no adjusting height, and it had a face hole, not a face cradle, a face hole that you learned how to pant out house for the comfort of your clients.

0:09:47.8 KC: Oh boy. [laughter]

0:09:49.2 BV: So that's what I began with.

0:09:52.5 DB: Benny when you started talking to people that you were interested in this. What was the reception like?

0:10:02.7 BV: So the first reception from my teammates were like," You wanna do what? You wanna massage people?" And of course, the next question was, "Are you gonna like massage men? Like, really, you're gonna like touch, men?" And being an African-American male, it was like people's perception. Wait a minute, first of all. "Men don't do that, do they? Well, yeah, they do. And African-American men. Well, yeah, they do." And so I began to say like some of the greatest boxers in the world, that's a pretty sort of alpha dominated sort of activity, and all the folks that are massaging them, Muhammad Ali's massage therapist was a black man, so I'm thinking, Okay, here's like at the time, you know like the baddest man on the planet, and he's got a man massaging him, so there's gotta be something to it, so I began to just explain to people that this is the wave of wellness, and I see it coming, and I see that massage will play a critical role and what really turned it for me was when I read Ashley Montagu's book, Touching The Significance of The Human Skin, and that solidified that, Wow, there is power in massage therapy.

0:11:37.2 DB: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors.

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0:12:19.2 DB: Now, let's get back to the podcast.

0:12:20.5 DB: Now, Benny did you... Were you in school at this point and studying something else for a degree, and then you go pursue massage in addition to while you were in school, or did that become for like what... Can you give us the path at what point you study massage and how that outlines with your education at the University of Florida?

0:12:40.8 BV: Yes, so here's how this went, in the '60s and early '70s when you were a student athlete, the biggest concern was your eligibility to compete and represent, and there was not a whole lot of emphasis on progression towards a college degree, and that's just a reality. All of that has changed by the way. The NCAA has rules now about student athletes that you must be making real progression towards earning a degree.

0:13:15.6 BV: So From '69 to '73, I ran great. I set records and did all sorts of things. And at the end of my four years of eligibility, I had not earned a degree. And at that point I thought to myself, well, I've had the college experience because I have clearly took courses. And what I realized is that, well, these courses have made me a well-rounded individual because I took art courses, I took courses in philosophy, I took religion courses, I took a lot of great courses, which I thought, oh, this is kind of cool. I mean, I learned about Frank Lloyd Wright because I took like an introduction to architecture course. I thought this is kind of cool. I learned about Geodesic domes and Buckminster Fuller and things that I actually use now in my massage and body work. But I did not have a degree. And that's when I began to think about massage and someone said, "Oh, you know there are schools that you can go to where they will teach you this." And I was like, "What?" Like there's a school you can go to? So at the time I was living in Gainesville, Florida, and someone said that Lindsey Hopkins Vocational Technical School in Miami, they have a massage training program.

0:14:39.6 BV: So I began to prepare to relocate to Miami. And I did not have a job either at that time. So I was always looking in the newspaper help wanted, jobs, da, da, da. And so I had found a job working at a preschool teaching what we affectionately refered to as kitty PE, but the technical term is movement exploration. So helping young developing kids, developing eye-hand coordination, eye-foot coordination, balance movement, spatial awareness. Things that we do in massage, those things are important. So looking under schools and instructions on that particular day, looking for perhaps a better job, I was only paid $50 a week for that job, and there was this massage therapy school opening in Gainesville, Florida. And I was like, "Wow, I don't have to move to Miami." And that school is what we now know as the Florida School of Massage. So I was in its first graduating class.

0:15:46.0 BV: So I went to massage school for 10 months and then worked in massage successfully for 10 years and reached a point where I felt I need more knowledge primarily at that time in orthopedic assessment. My massage business is doing great. It's 10 years. And I began to look at programs again. So I looked at physical therapy. I looked at nursing and then I looked at athletic training. And when I read the description and in the curriculum athletic training, I said, this is the piece that will enhance my massage therapy. And I'll get a degree in Health Science Education along with that certification. So now I'm attending college again, but with a purpose. So at that point in time, I had been a licensed massage therapist for 10 years, which enhanced my ability to get... This is sort of like the amazing part of my journey. So I went to school initially on an athletic scholarship. I returned to school and began to work as a student trainer and I got a second scholarship as a student athletic trainer. And here's why I believe that happened, because when I came in with the other student trainers who are considerably younger than I, I had a skill called massage therapy and the head athletic trainer recognized that.

0:17:26.3 BV: And that's when we began to include massage therapy in the Sports Medicine Department at the University of Florida Athletic Association. And that generated a second scholarship for me. So I don't tell that story to many people, but I actually end up getting two scholarships from the University of Florida, one as an athlete, and then later one as a provider for athletes, but it was the massage therapy license training and knowledge that I brought to the athletic training room that leveraged the interest of the head trainer to present me with a scholarship, which covered tuition and books for me.

0:18:16.0 KC: That's fantastic.

0:18:16.5 DB: That was pretty cool.

0:18:16.6 KC: Yeah. Very cool. And Benny, I wanna... As a practicing massage therapist myself and on behalf of... I'm sure everyone listening, I wanna thank you. You mentioned you are a trailblazer and you've had to do that many times. I wanna say thank you for being a trailblazer and doing that many times, because everything you have done for the profession, specifically sports massage and orthopedic massage is incredible and we're grateful. So thank you.

0:18:41.0 BV: Well, it's my pleasure and I'm thrilled for those opportunities. And now we see the results of not only my efforts, but there were many incredible massage therapists in Tokyo working with US athletes. And we logged over 8000 massage encounters because we have to keep records of... And this is everybody with all the different teams and the massage therapists. So we have some pretty amazing massage therapists in our community who are representing our profession magnificently, professionally, and in a committed manner. I do believe in the early days when I was around, I had to seek the opportunities and I had to always have the mindset that this is a glass half-full rather than half-empty.

0:19:43.7 BV: And when I left the University Athletic Association, I had a meeting with the director of sports medicine and the head team physician, Dr. Shera. I brought in an article from the college newspaper that had appeared nine years prior, and it was an interview that I had done about the benefits of massage in sport. Now, I was not at the university at that time, I was out... I had a sports massage clinic in town, and I went to work every day and did message. So the university newspaper reporter came out, interviewed me, and then they went and interviewed the Director of Sports Medicine and the head team physician for University of Florida Athletics, and in that article, they said, "Massage was not necessary. It's nothing but pampering. We don't do that for our athletes." And they said, " And we'll never provide this here." I kept that article, and on the day that I was departing to take the new position with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, I met with the director and the head team physician and I showed them that article and I said, "Do you gentlemen remember this article and what you said?" And I quoted to them, and we all just had a great laugh.


0:21:16.1 DB: Oh my gosh.

0:21:17.5 BV: Because it was like, "Wow, that's how we were thinking then." But I worked to change the meaning that they were placing on their perception of massage therapy and now every SEC school and other conferences too have massage therapists on staff now, that's like a normal thing now, whereas before it was like, "Oh no." I can remember going to athletic training rooms at another university, and the athletic trainer actually had posted on the door a placard that said, "No, rubbing and no loving going on in here. Don't ask for a massage." I was like, "Wow, that's really supporting your athletes, huh?" And now all of that has changed because of my efforts and the efforts of other massage therapists who present it in a professional, non-threatening way, here is how massage can amplify the results of Sports Medicine.

0:22:25.8 DB: Benny was there a similar hurdle to get massage introduced into the Olympics, or was that an easier path?

0:22:35.1 BV: No, it was not an easier path. [chuckle]

0:22:36.5 KC: No. Shoot.


0:22:41.2 BV: Yeah, I don't know if I've seen an easy path anywhere yet, but what I have seen is I've seen many paths of opportunity. [chuckle] So here's how the Olympic deal worked. So there was this attitude by many other professionals, athletic trainers, physical therapists, chiropractors, that massage was so simple and that the requirements to do it, were not at the level of what they believed, the standards of what they do were. Because a parent can massage their child, but a parent can't do a chiropractic adjustment, and so there was this attitude that massage therapists really weren't very educated or very knowledgeable, and so I would get push back from other professions that massage therapy was not worthy, and I've actually heard physical therapists actually say disparagingly, "Well, you know I don't do that massage. I'll let the tech do that." "Wow, okay, well good for you."

0:23:54.1 BV: And so my approach and attitude to that is that I don't let their perception influence my progress, because what they're saying is that I really don't understand what you do. And that's how I began to recognize it. So let me help you understand what I do. And the way I help you understand what I do as a massage therapist is let the results speak. I'm not even gonna describe it. I'm not gonna try to write about it, just let the results speak. And if it is our intention and commitment to the client, to the guest, to the patient is to help them, what does it matter how we help them, as long as we do no harm.

0:24:44.9 BV: Hippocratic Oath, as long as we do know harm what does it matter? That massage relaxes you. What's wrong with being relaxed? Because that was the argument that I got early on in my career, "Well, Benny, you know it, all massage does, it just relaxes you." Wow. Imagine being a competitive athlete or a competitive executive in a business and going into negotiations or going into a competition, relaxed. Imagine how well you will do. And so this concept of relaxation has been placed outside of medical, and now we see it's critical for wellness because we can connect it to the nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system, fight or flight, parasympathetic nervous system, rest recovery, digestion. And guess what? Massage impacts that, and then if you couple it with breathing, "Hey, this person is feeling better, their pain is less, much better than being Opioids don't we think?" So touch is powerful, touch is powerful. So at the Olympic level, once the athletes began requesting it, and the two most requested services at the Olympic games at the high performance training center for the US team, the two most requested services are massage and chiropractic and in no order, that's the two things that US athletes request: Do you have a chiropractor? Do you have a massage therapist? Or someone who can do massage therapy or someone who can do adjustments; the two most requested services. And that alone moved massage therapy ahead.

0:26:38.0 BV: So in 1996, at the Atlanta Centennial Olympic Games, I was the program manager for athlete medical services, and in my role as a staff member, I was committed to ensuring that massage therapists would be afforded the exact same credentialing and the exact same privileges of service as chiropractors, physical therapists, medical doctors, all other medical personnel. So that was the first Olympic Games where massage therapists received the exact same privileges and credentialing as every other medical provider. And in the past, what had to happen is massage therapists kind of had to like sneak in or get a coaching credential or some other way, and just weren't treated with equal respect as we require and deserve. But that's all changed now.

0:27:45.9 BV: So after Atlanta, massage therapists were in Sydney, and then 2004 in Athens, we had an American massage therapist, body worker, head up the massage therapy services in Athens. And he got to do it because he's Greek, and you had to have Greek citizenship connection. So his family is Greek. And that was George Kousaleos. So George Kousaleos, who is a well-known core body worker, headed up, along with other members of his team, the massage therapy services in the Olympic Village in Athens, Greece. And all of those massage therapists were duly credentialed and that's pretty cool. And so I went over to visit with all the massage therapists who had come in from literally all over the world, a large part from the United States, and talked to them, and I gave them all USA Track & Field Olympic pins. [chuckle] So yeah. So we're in now, because what we do is important, it is respected, and it is requested.

0:29:01.2 DB: I wanna thank our guest today, Benny Vaughn. For more information about Benny, go to bennyvaughnlifecoach.com. Thanks Benny and thanks Kristin.

0:29:09.3 KC: Benny, thank you so much. And listeners, don't worry. I know this is just the tip of the Benny Vaughn iceberg. This was part one of a two-part podcast. So be sure to join us next week for more great conversation with Benny Vaughn.


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