Shaun Phillips works as the massage therapist for the South Carolina track & field team.
June 25, 2009
Shaun Phillips has spent the last two years working as the massage therapist for the Gamecock track and field team. As the Gamecocks prepare for USA Nationals this weekend, GamecocksOnline.com caught up with Phillips to ask about working with the team.
How did you get into massage therapy?
When I graduated from Charleston Southern I wasn’t really doing anything with my degree. I had a BS in Kinesiology. I still worked as a manger at the Polo movie theater in Columbia. A friend of mine from high school went to massage therapy school right out of high school, and she started telling me about it. It was something I wanted to try but because I played football was never really able to do anything. So when I got out and didn’t really have a job, I thought to go to the school (Southeastern School of Neuromuscular Massage Therapy). I did research and it seemed like something to do.
When you went to massage school, how long?
I went full time for six months. It was a 500 credit hour course to get your diploma, and then you take your certification test.
Why did you major in Kinesiology?
I wanted to coach football. I wanted to be a P.E. teacher, but I worked at the theater so long dealing with everyone’s bad kids that I didn’t want to do it anymore. I coached one year of football at Ridge View and worked as the strength coach for wrestling. I went to massage school and enjoyed it part time for about a year. Then I met up with Aaron Aviani and started working for him. He was gradually working me in with track and field so he had an assistant so that he didn’t have to take over the whole workload.
The trainer at the time, Kerry Gordon, went to Coach Frye and pushed me to get here so here I am.
When Aaron was in the training room I’d go with him and observe the type of work he did. I was exposed to a little bit of sports massage when I was in school. One of the instructors was the massage therapist for the Clemson swim team. I worked with her on the side to get exposed to it. I always had the sports background and knew I wanted to do something with sports.
Initially I was working at spas, which was horrible for me because it’s a routine. It’s the same thing over and over and over. Sports massage, deep tissue work, everything is different. You might have a routine you do for fleshes and such, but when it comes to injury or different hamstrings, you’ll feel something different so you’ll do different work each time.
Did you work with any other sports at USC?
Before I started with track I did start with football. I came in halfway through the season because Aaron just started with football that year. He gave Bill Martin my number, Bill called me and asked to fill in, and when everything happened with Aaron I stayed in. I worked with football then track. I worked a little with men’s basketball towards the end of the season.
Did Coach Frye call you after Aaron’s passing?
We set up a meeting. I went in to his office and he asked me a few questions. We went from there. He wanted somebody and he knew I worked with Aaron so he didn’t really question my work.
What was that first year like when you were the guy for T&F?
It was a little nerve-wracking to be honest, just because before I met any of the athletes we were going to Orlando for the weeklong training. I didn’t know anybody. I showed up at 6 a.m. that morning with my bags and got on the bus not knowing anyone. The Orlando trip was when I really got to know people. Starting off, people didn’t know me so they didn’t know my type of work. All they knew was Aaron and Danny Holland. Once I got to know everyone, the first two kids I came close to were Brandi Cross and Jason Richardson. I looked out for them and they looked out for me, helping me learn the sport.
Outdoors you worked with JR who got three titles, including the NCAA title. What was it like working on an athlete and then seeing their performance on the track?
It makes you feel good. Initially he was telling me about how when he was working with Aaron that he could never run good for Aaron. After Aaron passed he kind of dedicated the season to Aaron. Me being able to help him out with keeping him healthy and able to perform at his top notch made me feel good. I joke around with him all the time and tell them “you’re welcome” for getting we’re they’re at, but it’s all them. I do my part to keep them ready, but they’re the athletes.
Not long after you come back for a second year and Lakya Brookins wins a national title. Is that something where you see Jason then Kya, does that make you feel better knowing you can see results?
Oh yeah, it definitely makes you feel better because it makes you feel like you’re doing your part. Kya kind of lives by massage therapy. She comes to me a lot and knowing that I could help her get to where she is and win the 60m definitely makes you feel good. To be able to have that under your belt is kind of a resume builder so to speak. It’s like, this is my second national champion that I’ve had in two years. It makes you feel good because then the younger kids come in and listen to the older ones. They’ll start coming to me and ask for help. Then they see the results and start believing in your work. Booker and Johnny both have amazing natural talent, but they’re now taking the precautions to get to where they need to be.
What is it like hanging out with the athletes when you travel with them every week for six months?
It’s fun. It makes me feel like I did when I was coaching. Just being around all the different personalities and keeping your distance while relating with them. Letting them know you are a friend.
What about with coaches?
It’s interesting. There are so many different personalities. You learn when to stay out of the way and just sit back and do your job, and you learn when you can step in to give your opinion given whatever knowledge I might have. They’ve helped me out too. They’ve been in the sport a long time, and to be able to go to them to ask questions about how to help the athletes as well as my career is good to have someone like Coach Frye and Coach D who have been here a while. Then you have a newcomer like Coach Jackie help out with her having been in massage therapy, we talk and touch bases with each other.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
Initially it was traveling, but not anymore! Really it’s seeing the success from the athletes and knowing I have a part in that. I just love helping them out when I can.
I know you’re engaged. Does traveling make it difficult?
It has made it difficult just because right now she’s doing a lot of the planning on her own. She’s been to Charleston and found the church and the place for the reception.
What is your long-term goal?
I definitely plan on making a career out of it. I want to expand. I contemplated opening up a clinic that has sports specific training in it. I’m working on getting my CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) so we have more to the clinic. It’s kind of like Mr. Benny Vaughn who is top notch when it comes to massage therapy in the U.S. He’s on the Olympic committee board for massage therapy and has a clinic in Texas where he can have an athlete go through their form and it takes pictures of each part of the form to see what’s off or on. Being able to possibly do that and take athletes through the training and conditioning part is probably my ultimate goal. That way we can have everything in house.