U.S. Swimmers in Good Hands

By Valerie Yu, Special to the Independent


Photo by Danielle Robbins

Step up. Take your mark. Beep!

As summer peaks in sunshine and heat, Laguna Beach resident and expert sports massage therapist Kathy Flippin is more than ready for the race of a lifetime, a journey of honor and international prestige.

Flippin was selected from 250,000 volunteer applicants as one of the five-member sports medicine team for the U.S. Olympic Swim Team. She will volunteer her time this summer to enhance the performances of the nation’s top swimmers with massage therapy at the London Olympics, which begin July 27.

She’s a veteran at massaging Olympic limbs, having worked on Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin among many others.

On a recent day in Flippin’s massage clinic Dynamic Touch, the reason behind the selection was clear. The latest subject of Flippin’s sports massage, I lay stretched out on a sea-foam-green bed. Framed swim caps autographed by medalists such as Phelps gleamed proudly from the walls. Wearing an unmistakable air of composure, Flippin flitted expertly around, kneading muscles and stretching out tendon tension. Needless to say, afterwards I was ready to sprint a marathon, having experienced the invigorating power of a massage session fit for Olympians.

For athletes, massage is crucial. “Because it’s a high-intense effort, and the swimmers have days of competition, if we don’t flush out that soreness with the massage, their performance can be impeded the next day,” said Flippin. Four other U.S. teams will also be bringing their own massage therapists, she said.

“The massage does not substitute for the warm-up; it enhances it. Same with the warm-down,” Flippin said. “For the Olympics, the swimmers know how much time they have between events, and in a perfect world, yes, you would want to give them a massage before and after, but they decide what they need and when they need it most.”

In London, she will be using sports massage, a blend of Swedish massage and sound therapeutic work. Coaching from a few Olympic athletes, such as Greek-American swimmer Artemis Daphnis, helped Flippin devise some with swimmer-specific massage techniques.

On the art of massage itself, Flippin shared, “It’s all about the blood. We want the blood to be in the muscle with the oxygen when the swimmers go in for the race. After the race, we want the blood to move, so that it can get filtered and take away those wastes.”

Surprisingly, massage therapist was not always on the list of job possibilities for Flippin. A Cal State Fullerton business major, she became a CPA, but a very unhappy one.

“It just wasn’t for me to sit at a desk for 16 hours a day and crunch numbers. I had a friend who encouraged me to get into massage,” said Flippin, “and I just fell in love with it…” Her gratified clients keep her motivated. “That heartfelt thank you, whether it’s just because someone needed a break or if they really had significant pain, is worth it.”

Flippin graduated in 1997 from Laguna Hills’ WIN Massage Therapy. In 1999, Flippin founded Costa Mesa’s Dynamic Touch. Since then, she has done massage for athletes at all levels, from soccer moms to professionals. Thirteen years of volunteerism in the swim community later, she has secured a place on the Olympic medical team.

“I didn’t choose it really. It kind of chose me,” mused Flippin, describing a serendipitous tale that began with Chad Carvin, an American Olympic freestyle swimmer.

A year before the Sydney Olympics while Carvin was training with Mission Viejo’s Nadadores, his agent hunted for a massage therapist. A referral came to Tim Brown’s IntelliSkin, where Flippin worked as an intern. “I started following the bread crumbs,” she said.

Carvin’s coach, Bill Rose, took her under his wing and to an Olympic trial. There, she met Brian Campbell, a team volunteer involved with the U.S. Olympic Committee, who told her how to get involved.  “Kathy’s really professional, and she’s just so good with people,” said Campbell, also a member of the U.S. swim team’s medical team and anticipating his third Olympics. “Everybody on the team’s very excited that she’s going to be there; they remember her from past trips.”

Flippin’s volunteering included a slew of national and international swim competitions and the Sports Medical Clinic at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, all requirements for selection to the Olympic medical team. “At each step, they’re screening you to make sure you can handle the pressure,” Flippin said. “Each time the Olympics came around, I always hoped I would be picked. There really are a lot of amazing people volunteering.”

Decade-long friend and Indiana athletic trainer Ruth Ann Allen said, “Kathy’s got so much passion for the athletes—anybody you talk to will say that.” Above all, Flippin supports from her heart. “She’s not in it for herself. I haven’t made the jump on the Olympic ladder like she has, but she’s a full supporter of me. She supports everybody she works with.”

Her eyes set on London, Flippin took off July 12.

“I’m looking forward most to watching us win,” she said, her eyes lighting up in excitement. “Go Team U.S.A.!”

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  1. Priscilla leung

    Wow! Amazing and thorough article!

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