Alumni Spotlight Nicole Ouellette and Darby Maglione

graduate spotlight - Nicole Ouellette and Darby Maglione

Massage therapy can be an incredible career. Registered massage therapists enjoy flexible hours and financial independence, and have the satisfaction of knowing that they’re making a difference every day.

But being a massage therapist isn’t easy, and neither is being a massage therapy student. It’s a physically and intellectually demanding job, and not everybody’s cut out for it.

So if you’re a successful RMT who also spent nearly a decade teaching massage therapy, what do you do when your daughter tells you that she wants to follow in your footsteps?

If you’re Nicole Ouellette, you celebrate her decision, offer your support—and make sure that she goes to the best school available!

Nicole Ouellette graduated from MH Vicars School of Massage Therapy in 2005, and returned as an instructor in 2010. Nicole retired from teaching in June 2018; Darby started her massage education that September and graduated in 2020.

Today, both mother and daughter have successful massage practices. They recently joined Vicars communications director Robin Collum talk about their experiences, and it turned into a fascinating and hilarious reunion. Check out the video, or scroll down to read the transcript of our conversation.




Darby, why don’t I start by asking you why you chose to follow in your mother’s footsteps into massage therapy?



I think I got the opportunity to watch her and be a body for her and watch her be able to juggle a full-time job, parenting me, doing it alone, and going to school. And I don’t think back then I really realized what a big deal it was. I was like, “Mom needs to learn more muscles on my arms today,” when I’d rather just be playing with my Barbies. But looking back, that’s such a feat.

And knowing that the school offers that to people and that that’s an option is huge. I didn’t do the same thing [as my mom] ]by any means, but I did get to work full-time and go to school. And I know a lot of people just don’t get that opportunity. So basically, I saw her do it and if she can do it, I figured I could too.



And she was incredibly resilient child, no matter what was going on. But when I registered to go to school—yes, it fits in nicely with a full-time job, but I was working in the school system then, and I had to take a day off per week because I attended the Wednesday class.

That’s a significant amount of income I wasn’t bringing in, that one day a week.

So we had to move. We moved to the country. We were living in Sherwood Park proper, and we moved to an acreage basement suite ten minutes east of Sherwood Park.

So we had that ten minute drive into town every day for sports in school and all of that kind of thing. It was a very regimented lifestyle for us. School for Darby, work and school for me. Homework for me, homework for her. Whatever activities she had going on extracurricularly.

We made it work, but there were some sacrifices that had to be made.



We always tell our students: “Where are you going to find 30 hours or more a week? Where are you going to find room for another full-time thing? And sometimes it means that it’s not working full-time anymore. Sometimes it means that your partner has to take on way more if you’re lucky enough to be able to juggle that. Or maybe you put all of your hobbies on hold.



I would tell my students often, that in those two years I didn’t date or read a novel. So if you want to call those the hobbies…!



Darby, coming to Vicars was less of a change in your lifestyle because you weren’t a single parent who had to move to the country in order to do it. But that said, by the time you came to the program we had added a lot to it, in terms of clinic hours and also the intensive nature of some of the material. So how did you balance school and life while you were a student?



I think I was really fortunate that I was already working in a field that was relevant. So I would learn something in school, and then I would go to work, and I would hear this chiropractic doctor that I was working for speak of that, and all of a sudden it clicks. I’m like, “Oh my God, that’s what he’s been talking about!” Or “That’s what they meant in school!” I was really fortunate that I had that crossover.

It solidified things that we were learning or that I’d read in my Anatomy and Physiology textbook.

Memorization is definitely a strong suit for myself, and that’s huge in the program, but so is learning hands-on. So I found that the program literally ticked both those boxes. I felt like I could really excel. So I was confident, definitely.



And it certainly helps in terms of confidence going into the program, knowing a little bit about what you’re in for! Because not only had your mom been through the program, she had been with the program, teaching it every day for years. So you knew what you were getting into and you knew what to expect.



I did. I remember my classmates when they found out what my mom did and who she was and whatever, they would not necessarily envy me, but they were like, “Oh, you’re so lucky that you have her as an asset.”

And not in a spiteful way, but didn’t really want to use my mom that much. I wanted it to be my journey.

If I really needed help, sure. Read over my case report, the big stuff. But other than that I just really wanted to take it on myself and then maybe just get some reinforcement from her. But I really didn’t use at home as much as I thought I was going to.



And I imagine it was really useful to have part of your support system fully understand what you were doing. But on the flip side, I can only imagine how using her as one of your practice bodies in the first few months of the program would have been more stressful than if someone didn’t know anything about, say, draping!



Pretty much! Yeah, that’s exactly it.



I couldn’t wait to help her. I couldn’t wait to help her, but she was like, “No, I’m good!”

In the two years, she maybe got me to read her case study, maybe her business plan, and that was it.

And it was already done—those things were done, and she was just showing them to me. She wasn’t really having me do anything with them at all.

So I get that that she wanted to complete it and be successful on her own steam, 100%.  She probably doesn’t remember this, but when I was studying… flashcards are an amazing study tool, but I was single, though, right? I didn’t have anyone holding the cards and asking me.

So I would literally give the cards to her and ask her. And these are the anatomy terms and the names of the nerves and names! And she’s seven years old!



And they’re all in Greek and Latin!


Yeah! So I would just ask her to try to say the word, and so she would start and she would start to sound it out. And then I would kind of clue in on what she was asking me, and so I double check, “Oh, is this it? Yes? Okay, that inserts here and does this and originates there.”

So she got her first study session with anatomy at seven!



Maybe subconsciously, I just had retained all of that information, and it just clicked for me.



That’s the study secret.



That’s it—start when you’re seven.



Than take a long break.






What was it like for you Nicole, as a mother, to watch her go through this experience?

Obviously, it’s a big deal when your daughter goes into a full-time post-secondary program, watching them choose a career and work towards it. But knowing as you did what she was in for and knowing so much about the career already, as well as having gone through a version of that experience yourself, what was it like to just be on the sidelines and watch?



Yeah, I was worried. I knew she could handle it, but I knew what she was going to face. That feeling overwhelmed by the learning and the work that was involved, the anxiety of the practicals, the disappointment of maybe not doing so great on something that you thought you had nailed.

As an instructor I had seen it in students. Those ebbs and flows, those highs and lows of feeling really thinned out, and then the growth, and taking more on and major life changes.

That was something I always cautioned about. It’s like, try not to do anything major in your life in these two years because you’ve got a lot going on. And Darby did do some of that kind of stuff, moving and getting into a serious relationship and that kind of thing. But I had to stand back and be there for her if she needed my support.

But it’s kind of been my tactic with her throughout her growing up. Allowing her to experience her life as it is and not try to remove all of the obstacles in front of her, but rather just be there should it happen, and should she need a soft place to fall.



And when she told you, she decided that she was interested in becoming a massage therapist—whether that was right before she applied or if she’d been thinking about it for years—what was your reaction? What concerns did you have? What advice did you have for her?



Yeah. This is actually kind of a funny story, because obviously from the time she was seven to when she was 20, anytime people met her they asked, “Are you going to become a massage therapist like your mother?”

And it was a resounding no. No, no, no. She was not at all interested.

But like she said, she kind of got into a related field. She took athletic trainer type courses, sport taping. She was kind of right in that same realm. And one day I was giving her massage, and it was very quiet. And I just started thinking about the sports massage that we offer. It’s very brief, but at least it’s an introduction. And I thought as I was massaging her, she could get her two years, get her diploma, and then maybe she could start working in that direction. I thought that that would be something she would really enjoy.

So I wrap up the massage, we come out of the room and I said to her, “Darby, I know you said you’re not interested in massage therapy…”

And she goes, “Well, actually…”

I was like, “What?”

And she was literally in the same mindset that I was. I was shocked. We were on the same page right in that very moment.



The mother-daughter mind meld!



Yeah, that happens a lot!



Darby, is that how you’ve continued now that you have your diploma and are practicing in Banff, a fairly athletic town?



Yeah, I’ve had a bit of—I think a lot of grads go through this—of just kind of trying to find the right fit.

It’s very much like trying on shoes. You think it works, you take a couple of steps and then you find out something just not quite what either you deserve or what fits or what suits you in your work style.

I went right straight into chiropractic clinics because that’s what I was familiar with. I knew how to apply my newfound knowledge to what they were doing in treatment rooms, I knew what they were asking of me, and things like that. So I had confidence going into that and still do.

But each office and business structure is very different. So I was just kind of figuring out what I deserve, because even though being I was a new grad I still deserved to be compensated correctly, and treated with respect. I’m a professional.

I think I did about three different clinics, part-time, just kind of feeling it out.

And then I had an opportunity to move to Banff and work at the Springs, which is ironic, because I always said I would never work in a spa! And then I go into this world class spa, wearing cargo shorts! So I did that for a while. And again, no matter how great it is or how much people fawn over the Banff Springs and all that, it’s just another clinic where you do generally the same thing.

The clientele is different than you get {in a more clinical setting]. We were getting a lot of different cases, whereas at the Springs, you’re getting a lot of relaxation clients, which has its place but it gets a little repetitive.

So I did that for about a year and just kind of asked myself if I was happy, and if it was worth living in this pretty expensive town to do.

So I took a break. I bartended and loved it. And now I’m working with CMH Heli-Ski and I’m working as a bartender and a massage therapist. I get to do both, based out of Revelstoke. So I’m very excited. It’s kind of the pinnacle. This is where I want to be.



So you found the career that you love and found a way to do it in a place that you want to be.



And I found that balance between the more social aspect and getting to hang out with people and get to know them, and then using my more practical skills and what I’ve been trained to do and what I’m confident in doing. So it’s great.



That’s wonderful!

Nicole, one of the really remarkable things about your career is the involvement that you’ve had over the years with the Robin Hood Association, working with clients with disabilities and brain and spinal cord injuries. Can you tell me a little bit about your involvement over the years with that demographic and that organization?



Yeah. That started really young for me. I’ve always had an interest—I’ve always been drawn to that population, even as a young child and seeing individuals in my hometown. And when I graduated from University with a BA, the economy at that time was very difficult. It was very difficult to find a job. So I actually found work in providing supports for people with disabilities, developmental disabilities. I worked in a couple of different organizations and eventually landed at Michener Center in Red Deer, and did that for a few years. I absolutely loved that job.

And then ended up in Sherwood Park with Robin Hood Association, working as a personal care support worker, and stayed with them for many years. I began with them in 1997.

The thing is, though, is that work is quite financially limiting. And as you know, I was a single mom. And so as much as I loved it, I felt like I needed more. I needed more control over my finances. That’s ultimately what had me seeking something else.

I can work pretty damn hard. And I just wanted to do something where if I chose to work pretty damn hard, I got paid for that.

And quite literally, it was serendipity. I think I was just reading the Sherwood Park newspaper, and I saw a little ad from Vicars School of Massage that said,”Study massage therapy without quitting your day job.”

And it literally was a light bulb moment. I’d only ever had one massage, didn’t care for it. [laughs. ]But for whatever reason, I’m like that’s it, I’m doing that!

I maintained some work with Robin Hood—I still worked for them on weekends. I still work for the school system as an educational assistant, working with children with disabilities. That was my work when I wasn’t in school. And I remember in my first year sitting in class, we had a guest speaker. And I can’t remember the topic of what she was speaking on, but provided massage for people with disabilities.

And again, another light bulb moment in my head. I was like, “I want to do that. That’s definitely something. It may not be all that I do, but I definitely want to do that.”

And fast forward, I’m five years post-grad and I was still doing some weekend work with Robin Hood.

One day they called me and they said, “We want to add a massage therapist contract to our services here. Would you be interested?”

And it was like, not even a hesitation. Absolutely yes. And that was in 2010.

So I’ve been growing that. And it’s been a slow growth. It’s kind of been a little challenging to get families to buy in to signing up their children for the service because it was an extra cost.

I started out where I maybe had eight to ten individuals that I would see on a fairly regular basis, like once a week. And now my case load is near 50. I did the math the other day, and I’m doing close to between 110 and 120 20-minute massages a month on those individuals.

And it’s been incredibly rewarding. Very, very rewarding.

And there’s been some very interesting developments with them. When I first began, I was just super excited to really get into the muscles, get into the tissues, because, you know, a lot of those folks are in wheelchairs several hours a day. So flexed hips, flexed, knees, postural dysfunction. So I just was really excited to provide some relief to the muscles that were probably screaming for help.

But in my first month, what really stood out for me was the psycho-emotional impact. The calming effect of just touching them for a few minutes. Sometimes they would fall asleep, , sometimes they would sigh. Sometimes there would be weeping.

And it was because they wear their hearts on their sleeves. Whatever they’re experiencing, you get to experience it with them. And that was really, really impactful. And to this day, I absolutely adore going and being with my people.

Robin Collum
Author: Robin Collum