Behind some of the greatest athletes in the world is a team of health-care practitioners ensuring these contenders compete at their greatest physical condition.
By Mari-Len De
Behind some of the greatest athletes in the world is a team of health-care practitioners ensuring these contenders compete at their greatest physical condition. Often, these practitioners operate on the sidelines, waiting behind closed curtains, ready to deliver their care to an athlete in need at a moment’s notice.
|Aurel Hamran’s career as a sport massage therapist spans 30 years. He was instrumental in instituting changes within the Canadian Olympic Committee that would raise the profile of massage therapy among the sport community.|
As vital as their role in the team is, these health-care practitioners seldom share the spotlight with the athletes they care for. They don’t typically seek such accolades, anyway. For many of them, seeing their team excel and perform to the best of their abilities is testament enough of their hard work.
This is why Aurel Hamran, a sport massage therapist based in Edmonton, was surprised to receive a call last year from Marcel Aubut, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), telling him of the good news: he was to receive the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his “invaluable contribution to the Canadian sport community.”
Hamran was one of 41 members of the Canadian sport community to receive the prestigious award in 2013. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal was created in 2012 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne.
Throughout his 30-year career, Hamran has participated in five Olympic games, four Commonwealth Games, three Pan Am Games and several other national and international competitions. He is the team therapist for the Edmonton Keyano Swim Club and runs his own massage therapy clinic at the Kinsmen Sports Centre in Edmonton.
Hamran’s work is not limited to the massage table, however. He is also an active member of his professional community: he has served as president of the Canadian Sport Massage Therapists Association (CSMTA), an active member of the Massage Therapist Association of Alberta, and has previously been a member of the City of Edmonton’s licensing committee for massage services. He currently teaches sport massage at McEwan University.
Being awarded with the Queen’s medal may have come as a surprise for Hamran, but not to those who knew him well.
“I had an opportunity to expand my knowledge about sports injuries and had a chance to meet this ‘famous’ Olympic massage therapist,” recalls Anita Grof, who took Hamran’s sport massage class in 2010 and now works alongside him as massage therapist for the University of Alberta’s swim team.
“He not only changed my way of thinking about the body but he sparked a passion about massage and the benefits of massage and how it can assist athletes,” Grof says, describing her mentor as “a true master of his craft.”
Of all his accomplishments, Hamran finds teaching one of the most fulfilling.
“My greatest achievement? It has more than one component, and one of them is that I am able to pass on my knowledge and sport massage techniques to students for the last 20 years,” Hamran says.
Learning, he tells his students, must be a continuing experience that does not stop when one graduates. In fact, it is only the beginning.
Expanding one’s knowledge outside massage therapy is key, he says.
“For me, learning massage was not enough. That’s why I went to Sheridan College in Oakville (Ontario) to learn sport injury management, so I could work with and help athletes more,” Hamran recalls.
From music to massage
From the moment he decided to become a massage therapist, Hamran knew he would spend most of his career in sport massage. Growing up in Hungary, he was always involved in sports: first in boxing, then later on, in wrestling.
It was during his wrestling years that he was introduced to athletic massage. A supporter taught him and other wrestlers on his team how to do massages, so they “can help each other” when they compete out of town.
Sport was not the only thing Hamran pursued when he was in Hungary; he was also part of a musical trio, with him as the drummer. His musical performances would take him to Canada at age 32.
“We played in different places from Vancouver to Toronto (until) our bass player decided he wanted to settle in Edmonton. He went to university and became a teacher. Our piano player went to the U.S. and played at different hotels,” Hamran recalls.
With his musical team disbanded, he settled in Edmonton and worked at the printing plant of a publishing company.
That didn’t last long for Hamran wanted more than just an eight-hour job. He wanted to pursue his athletic interest and his resolve solidified in 1983 through an encounter with a friend, a gymnast who had sprained both his ankles at the time.
“Two days later, I saw him jogging and asked, ‘How come?’” Hamran recalls, surprised that his friend could run so soon after his injuries. “He said they massaged the edema. I said I want to learn this and I also wanted to work with athletes.”
Shortly after, he enrolled in the massage therapy program at McEwan University. After finishing the program, Hamran took a course on emergency first aid for athletes, where he met an instructor from Toronto who was a certified athletic therapist.
His interest in continuing to advance his knowledge in athletic massage led him to Sheridan College to study sport injury management. His time at the Oakville, Ont., school took him to various sporting events, as part of his curriculum, exposing him to various aspects of sport massage.
“Whatever you learned, you used it,” Hamran says. “At that time they organized international meets in downtown Etobicoke. So I went down there and volunteered to do massages and got to know the national swim coach.”
Little did he know that volunteer work was going to bring him just a little closer to the Olympics.
“I told the swim coach I was interested to work with the national team and he said yes. He took me to the Olympic training camp in Los Angeles – before the ’88 Olympics. He said if the swimmers liked me then I could work with the national team.”
Unfortunately, that coach was let go three months before the 1988 Olympics, halting any hope of Hamran’s involvement in that game. However, it did teach Hamran one important lesson: Great opportunities may come from volunteering.
For starters, volunteering allows one to practice what has been learned in theory, Hamran explains.
“Not everything is about money,” he notes. “It’s your passion that takes you further in your career. Volunteering is good to get experience and meet other people too.”
It’s this belief in the power of volunteerism that would open doors for him in professional sports. In 1986, he began volunteering as team therapist for the Edmonton Keyano Swim Club. He worked without pay, but it eventually paid off.
“After the first year, the injury rates went down 90 per cent,” says Hamran. The coach realized the value of what his volunteer massage therapist brings to the table, so he took him on as the official team therapist – this time, with proper remuneration.
Hamran travelled with his swim team to various national and regional competitions and this started a series of fortunate events that took him to five Olympic Games and several other major national and international competitions.
Advancing the profession
Hamran always tells his student that sport massage is the best promotion for massage therapy, because it is normally performed in an open area for all to see. During competitions, massage tables are set up as part of the backdrop, accessible to team members.
As an instructor, Hamran seizes every opportunity to expose his students to competitions and see massage therapists at work.
“I just want to teach whatever I know,” he says, adding he is always finding ways to make the learning more interesting for the students.
“It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, because sport massage is demanding, physically, you have to have endurance, stamina… You have to have a goal and keep yourself updated and take courses.”
In all his work, Hamran is always thinking of and trying to implement ways to raise the profile of massage therapy within the professional sport community. He was instrumental in establishing the CSMTA national sport massage curriculum and certification program.
Hamran also developed and introduced the sport massage curriculum for McEwan University (Grant McEwan College then), which he teaches today.
“My basic instinct is that I know something which I would like others to know too so they could serve the athletes. That was the whole intention,” he says.
Looking out for the interest of the athletes has always been a priority for Hamran. He recalls an incident during the 1992 Olympics that may have led to the realization within the Olympic community how vital massage therapy is for the athletes, not just for treatment of injuries but also for overall physical health.
During the ‘92 Olympics, Hamran worked as the team therapist for the Canadian swim team. He narrates: “In ‘92, I worked alongside health-care providers like physios, sport physicians and sport medicine personnel at the Canadian team clinic. So everybody came for massages from the Canadian swim team… I overheard field athletes saying, ‘We came for treatment because we have tight muscles and it’s really difficult to use those muscles.’”
The field athletes were sent away and were told the clinic was only treating injured athletes. Two days later, those same athletes came back to the clinic with injuries.
“I wrote a letter to the Canadian Olympic Association (name of the Canadian Olympic Committee at the time)… saying that basically we are doing disservice to the athletes not getting massage therapy which could loosen up their muscles so they could train and compete better,” Hamran says.
He also urged the president then to include massage therapy in the medical team. The president sent Hamran’s letter to one of his directors for consideration.
Before his letter, Hamran explains, massage therapy was not part of the Olympic medical expert group – comprising sport physicians, physiotherapists, athletic therapists and chiropractors – which selects members of the medical team from a list of nominated, qualified candidates.
The review on the process of selecting medical teams – instigated by Hamran’s letter – led to a series of events that set the process in motion for massage therapy to be eventually part of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s medical expert group. One of those processes was the development of the CSMTA curriculum for certification. This certification allows certified CSMTA members to be considered in the selection process for members of the Olympic medical team, Hamran explains.
His life’s work
Hamran says helping establish the national curriculum and certification exam for sport massage therapists, recognized by the Canadian Olympic Committee, has been one of his greatest achievements.
His contributions to the Canadian sport massage profession and the sport community spans 30 years, but his work is not done, according to him. He wants to continue to impart whatever knowledge he has gained through the years to all who are willing to learn. He believes through the work massage therapists do, they are able to help all levels of athletes reach their full potential and achieve their dreams.
For aspiring massage therapists interested in sport, he says sport massage is more than just knowing various massage techniques.
“Sport massage is part of sport medicine. You have to get familiar and understand sport physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology, sport psychology, sport injuries, their treatment and prevention.”
To succeed in this profession, he adds, requires stamina, dedication and passion.
Passion is exactly what Hamran has for his work with athletes. Along with being the team therapist for the Edmonton Keyano Swim Club and the National Swim Team, he also worked with the Edmonton Eskimos Professional Football Club from 1987 to 1989.
Officials at the COC, who nominated Hamran and others worthy of recognition, believe the men and women who work in the background to support Canadian athletes deserve their time in the spotlight.
“We owe so much to those who work tirelessly behind the scenes to advance sport excellence in Canada,” says COC president Aubut in a statement. “It is a true privilege to be able to shine a spotlight on these 41 heroes who have given so much to Canadian sport and asked so little in return.”
Mari-Len De Guzman is the editor of Massage Therapy Canada and Canadian Chiropractor magazines. Contact her at email@example.com.