There are world championships in soccer, tennis, skiing — and also massage.
And Issaquah’s own Elise Volkmann recently earned herself a bronze medal competing against 81 other massage therapists from around the world at the 2017 World Massage Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Volkmann, who owns Wandering Hummingbird Massage on East Sunset Way, was one of four American massage therapists to participate in the international event, and was the only American to earn a medal.
For Volkmann, however, the most thrilling part of the competition was not winning a prize, but meeting and working with all of the renowned massage therapists who came together to share their craft. To demonstrate their skills to the judges, the massage therapists performed on one another.
“To connect with them and share with them and see what they were doing was pretty … amazing,” she said.
The secret to Volkmann’s success, she believes, is that she doesn’t have a “one-size-fits-all” massage routine.
“I’m intuitive — I don’t have a prescribed routine,” she said. “I play with it, keep playing until the muscle relaxes and relief sets in.”
A lifelong dancer, Volkmann added that dance influences her style of massage very much.
The massage industry was a calling for Volkmann early in life. As a child, whenever she was in trouble, she would give her mother massages to quickly get out of the doghouse. A businesswoman at age 5, she even began charging her parents for massages.
When she was 12, Volkmann told her mom and dad that she wanted to be a massage therapist professionally, but they were not fans of this career choice. As a result, Volkmann turned down opportunities to go to massage school and intern at a massage clinic, and instead went into other fields, such as nursing and sales.
The tug to help others through massage never left Volkmann though, and after a car accident in her early 20s left her in need of daily massage therapy, she realized that a career change was in order. She switched jobs, began attending massage school in the evenings — and the rest is history.
Volkmann believes that in the U.S. in particular, there is a stigma that massages are extravagant and only for the wealthy. In actuality, though, getting a massage is “a basic human right, a basic health care right.” In other nations, she noted, such as Canada and European countries, massages are provided in basic health insurance coverage for all full-time workers.
“I wish we would get rid of the thought process that massage is a luxury … All of us need to put ourselves first and start thinking of ourselves,” Volkmann said.
Massage can help a variety of problems such as “overwork, pain in everyday life, [irregular] sleep patterns, domestic violence, any kind of trauma.” In addition to the widespread physical benefits, it also contributes to a healthy state of mind, giving people “someone to talk to, something to look forward to … it helps with depression and anxiety.”
Volkmann also pointed out the reputation massage has as being sexual or somehow inappropriate when it is really about loving, caring touch. In Hawaiian tradition, she said, grandfathers will massage their grandchildren and there is nothing in the least indecent about it.
“Touch doesn’t have to be sexual,” she stressed.
Traveling to Europe and witnessing massage therapists from around the world reinforced the idea that human beings naturally relate to one another through touch.