Achieving Peak Performance

Massage Helps Women’s U.S. Soccer Team Score Big

By Chaz Hudd

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, February/March 2002.

When Brandi Chastain ripped a penalty kick past China’s goalkeeper to win the World Cup for the United States, more than 90,000 spectators in the Rose Bowl exploded in joy. Another 40 million watching on television celebrated. It was perhaps the greatest moment in the history of women’s sports in America. It was the type of moment where years from now, people will remember where they were when the 1–0 championship game was finally decided in a shootout. Many more than the 90,000 or so on hand will claim to have been witnesses to history. Massage therapist Clinton Wynn can do them all one better. He was not only on hand, but lent his hands to help the triumphant moment come about.

Wynn, a 27-year-old practitioner who resides in Gainesville, Fla., served as the national team’s massage therapist since January 1999. Traveling with the team throughout the year, he worked on every single member of the Cup-winning squad. His help in allowing the players to operate at a peak level of performance was vital in the U.S. women attaining their ultimate goal.

“Clinton and Jim Faylo, who worked with him during the World Cup, were invaluable in the treatment they provided for us,” testified Tracy Ducar, a goalkeeper on the team. “We could not have been at our best without their help every day.”

Ducar, a star at the University of North Carolina, which won three NCAA championships in her time there from 1991–1995, was especially appreciative of Wynn’s efforts. Suffering from back pain while in high school, Ducar discovered she had two cracks in her transverse processes. Spinal fusion was performed to correct the problem. Her back still acts up regularly, and she was one of Wynn’s frequent visitors.

“Clinton knows each player’s individual needs, like me with my back,” Ducar explained. “With him constantly traveling with us, I don’t have to start from scratch with someone new every time we are in a different part of the country. Clint was always there real early to stretch me out when my back wouldn’t cooperate first thing in the morning. I felt much more limber out on the field. His treatment was a necessary part of my training. Without him, I couldn’t have made it through the six months of residency leading up to the World Cup. I require more time than most of the girls because of my back, and Clinton was always there to help me.”

As is the case with many massage therapists, Wynn first became interested in the field after requiring treatment himself. In 1992 he was involved in an automobile wreck and suffered injuries.

“I was in a pretty bad car accident,” Wynn recounted. “We were on 275 Northbound and almost went over the overpass in Tampa. We struck the guardrail going almost 70 mph. I had a seatbelt on, but the other person in the car didn’t. He struck me and threw me into the side of the car. My head smashed into the window and I sustained a bad lateral whiplash.

“I went to a neurologist for treatment, and he told me the problem was psychological, not physical. I was very frustrated and decided to see a chiropractor back home, an old hunting buddy. Later, when I went to Gainesville, I was referred to Dr. Thomas Kleinman as a client. He knew of my work in massage at the University of Florida, and asked me to stay on when his therapist left. I’m still here almost five years later.”

After high school, Wynn had attended a community college in Hudson, Fla. He achieved mixed results, mainly due to a lack of interest in the subject matter. He knew of a massage school in Pinellas Park known as the Humanities Center and, at the urging of his parents, decided to go for a pre-interview.

“I fell in love with it,” Wynn recalled. “The professionalism of it, the idea of doing massage while going through the clinical studies. The people there were nurses and experienced therapists who’d been doing it for years. After completing the massage school I went back to community college to take some anatomy and physiology courses and aced them. Then I decided to go to Gainesville to attend the University of Florida to study exercise and sports science with a specialization in athletic training. The specialization required 1,500 hours on top of bookwork and core classes. In that 1,500 hours, I worked with high schools in the area on all different sports. I was a practicing massage therapist, so the athletes were getting work normally not available to them.”

Wynn had always been involved in athletics, his activities ranging from weight training to soccer. Thus, sports massage was a natural vehicle for combining his two passions. While at the university, he did some work with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, where he met Roy Heintz, then the chaplain for the Orlando Magic of the NBA. Heintz knew Steve Slain, the massage therapist for the Magic, who was involved with the U.S. women’s soccer team. Heintz passed on Wynn’s name and credentials to Slain, who later opened a sports-specific training group facility with Dave Oliver in Orlando. Wynn visited the facility and worked with the Brazilian basketball team. Slain and his partners told Wynn they’d like to help him out in the future and to keep in touch.

“Sure enough, in December of ’98, before I graduated, Steve called and asked what I’d be doing in January,” Wynn explained. “I said I wasn’t sure what I’d be doing, and he told me about an opening on the soccer team. A few days later, he asked me to come down to meet with the team. On January 6 I went to the training facility in Samford and met with the coach, Tony DiCicco, and his assistants. I also met the players, Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Michelle Akers, among others, and did massages on a lot of the team members that afternoon. They asked me to come back in the morning, so I stayed at Steve’s house and came back the next day. I did massages on more specific things the players needed. It was kind of like a tryout to see if the players liked my work. I guess they approved, because they asked me to stay on.”

Wynn traveled with the squad from early January, when the team was going through its residency, through the end of the World Cup on July 17. He stayed on after the Cup for the team’s indoor tour. He would be available bright and early to help the girls stretch before breakfast, especially important to players like Ducar who had special needs. Some would seek treatment after breakfast, others after a second team meal which usually took place around 11 a.m. Among the modalities Wynn utilized were heat and cold, as well as deep tissue work.

“Basically, I’d just listen to the needs of the player,” Wynn explained. “I like to look at the muscle for what it is, and let the athlete tell me exactly what they are feeling. The girls were very comfortable with me. They and their husbands or boyfriends knew they could trust me, which was very important. I’d do a lot of work on the joints, the knees, neck, lumbar area and the gluts. The gluts tend to be overlooked, and take so much abuse from us. The girls would feel that their muscles were congested or sluggish. I’d try to make their muscles feel alive again,” he said.

“Depending on the playing surface, there could be a lot of very sore calves. Sometimes they just needed back and neck massage to loosen up a bit and relax. I concentrated on pre- and post-treatments, whether after a practice or a match.”

The team obviously thrived under Wynn’s treatment. Soccer is a tremendously demanding sport physically, and its participants are prime candidates for the benefits of massage. One need only watch a world class match to understand the strain the game puts on its players. The U.S. women certainly appreciated Wynn’s work.

“Without Clinton I think that it would have been a much different story,” said goalie Saskia Webber. “I think that he kept us healthy and kept us together during the World Cup.”

The squad will again enlist his aid in their quest for a gold medal in the 2000 Summer Olympics. Wynn was asked to meet the team in Australia Jan. 2 for a tournament, and travel with the squad through the Summer Games. Needless to say, Wynn didn’t have to be asked twice.

“I’m very proud to be able to work on these women,” Wynn summarized. “They are some of the finest athletes in the world. They persevered and accomplished what they did as a true team. I’ve been truly blessed to have been a part of it. Having 92,000 people around you on the field while you work is an experience I’ll never forget.”

First a World Cup championship, next maybe an Olympic Gold Medal. Women’s sports and the field of massage therapy have come a long way.