What does a musical theatre actor and registered massage therapist do when she receives a major massage therapy award?

April Cook. Image credit: 10 Talent Management

When that person is April Cook, she makes sure all of the “supporting cast” shares the stage. For April, the 2022 Massage Therapy Association of Alberta’s (MTAA) Peter Martin Award winner, the supporting cast includes her family and friends, classmates, mentors and “the kind, patient, inspirational and knowledgeable instructors” that she had as a student at Vicars School of Massage Therapy.

Originally from Prince Edward Island, April has been singing and dancing since she was three years old. As a young adult, she trained at New York City’s American Musical and Dramatic Academy and worked professionally all across the country. Although performing has been her chosen path since she was young, she grew increasingly interested in helping others. After her father passed away in 2011, that desire to provide comfort and help to people who need it most became a motivation.

In 2020, April, now married and living in Calgary, decided to follow her heart, and enrolled at Vicars School of Massage Therapy.

While she loved learning massage therapy, April found the impacts of Covid and the necessity of working full time while going to school challenging. She took a break after first year to perform in a musical and decided to take monthly classes when she returned for her second year. “I really enjoyed the four days of focused learning and then having three weeks between to work at my own pace,” she says. “It allowed me more space to absorb all the information.”

April is the third Vicars School of Massage Therapy graduate to receive the annual Peter Martin Award, which is given for accomplishments in the recipient’s first year as a practicing RMT, and their dedication to advancing the profession in

Alberta. April plans to use the $750 prize to cover the cost of student loans and continuing education courses.

Corliss Robertson, one of April’s instructors and a reference for her Peter Martin Award application, says that April’s professionalism, her thirst for learning, and her contagious positive energy make her most deserving of this honour. Corliss singles out April’s excellence in the school’s Special Populations Clinic. “April really demonstrated her ability to make each one of her clients ‘heard’ and ultimately feel better.”

Vicars’ Special Populations Clinic welcomes people of all ages—from infants to seniors—and people living with mobility issues, cognitive disabilities, and complex conditions such as cerebral palsy and spinal muscular atrophy.

April’s “aha” moment happened when she started in the clinic. “I realized that I was passionate about massage therapy,” she says. “When I’m working with special populations, it requires more education, more confidence, and more listening, and gives me the opportunity to create an even greater connection with the client.” That for April, is what sparks real joy. And it continues to be the focus of her practice.

After graduating last October, April worked for a company in Calgary that specializes in treating people with special conditions, with a focus on pediatric care. While she loved the work and the people, she’d always known that she wanted to start her own business. At the beginning of March this year, April opened the doors to Kind Heart Wellness, located within Evolve Strength in Royal Oak in Northwest

Calgary. “I offer treatments at my clinic and also mobile treatments for those who either prefer it or require it, because I want massage therapy to be accessible for everyone,” she says.

April credits the flexibility and financial stability of her massage therapy practice for enabling her to continue performing in musical theatre. She also sees how her theatre background benefits her massage therapy practice. “You can’t be either an actor or a good massage therapist without being a good listener, being empathetic, and staying calm and confident,” she says. “Because of my dancing, I know my body really well and can relate to people when they have aches and pains.”

“I really love that as a performer, I feel that I have this gift that I can share with others,” says April. “And now I have this whole wealth of massage therapy knowledge and skills that can benefit everyone. To me this is just so rewarding.”

April will be in a Stage West Calgary production of 9 To 5 The Musical, running from April 21 to June 25, 2023.

This 3-part blog series is all about the advantages and challenges of starting a massage therapy career later in life. We’ll find out why it’s such an attractive career for people in their forties, fifties, and beyond, and the special skills that mature students bring to the classroom. Today, we’re sharing more stories from Vicars graduates who came to massage therapy as a second career. 

Hazel Bell

Twenty years ago, Hazel Bell made a phone call that changed her life.

Working at the time as a clinical assistant in a medical office, she had seen an ad in the paper for Vicars School of Massage Therapy in Edmonton. “The ad said: ‘How would you like to be a massage therapist?’ so I called,” she says.

Hazel enrolled at Vicars at the age of 45—a member of one of the school’s very first classes. Two other people in the class, including her sister, were around her age. She attended school one day a week while continuing to work full time.

“My children were older so I could take the time for myself,” she says. “It was challenging, but I was very focused on succeeding and eventually having my own massage therapy business.”

Hazel went on to become sole proprietor of Body Craft in Sherwood Park. She’s seen massage therapy change over the years, particularly the greater awareness therapists have of treatment for specific conditions. She also sees a more robust psychosocial environment for students, something that Vicars puts a lot of emphasis on.

While listening to clients is paramount in any successful registered massage therapist’s practice, Hazel adds a twist.

“Learning to listen with your hands is key,” she says. “My clients say I communicate with my hands.”

Now in her mid-60s, Hazel has no plans to retire any time soon. She’s prepared to reduce her hours eventually, but she loves being an RMT too much to consider stopping entirely.

“Massage therapy changed my life. It gave me a career, a business, and an income,” she says. “It’s been a fabulous experience.”

Rhonda Watson

Hazel was a mentor to Rhonda Watson when Rhonda was a Vicars student in 2016-2017. Rhonda owns Radiate Wellness in Edmonton and returned to Vicars last year as an admissions advisor.

Before she was an RMT, Rhonda was a successful business analyst. The stable 9-to-5 schedule worked well for her while her children were in school, but once they were grown, she was ready for a new start. She was interested in health and wellness, and wanted to help others. Massage therapy was the perfect fit.

“I was really anxious, wondering if my study skills were still going to be there and if I could retain information,” Rhonda says. “It’s amazing but you really don’t lose those skills.”

Rhonda treated school like a job: she set herself a study schedule and went into “the office” every day. She was motivated to succeed despite the challenging workload, and she revelled in the culture at Vicars.

“It was a very supportive environment, from the staff to my fellow classmates,” Rhonda says. “If you’re running into difficulty, there are people there to help you. They really do set you up for success.”

Now that she’s an admissions advisor at the school, Rhonda fields a lot of questions from prospective students that feel familiar to her.

“The most frequent questions I get from callers are ‘Is it too late for me?’ and ‘Am I too old?’,” she says. “I tell them my story and how concerned I was before school started that I would be the oldest person in the room. In the end, there were lots of people in their thirties and forties—and up—in the class and that was fantastic.”

When she’s talking to people considering a career in massage, Rhonda has three key points she always makes. The first is about lingering perceptions about massage therapy.

“You don’t have to be strong and muscle-bound to go into massage therapy,” she says. “Instead, it’s all about the science of body mechanics and the right way and wrong way to perform massage.”

A related message is about self-care, something Rhonda is passionate about. “Although massage is about correct techniques and practicing safely and effectively, it is a physical occupation,” she says. “You need to understand your capacity, and what your limits are so you can pace yourself and not be exhausted at the end of the day.”

“Massage therapy is something you can do well into your older years, like Hazel [Bell] is doing,” she says as a final message. “You may not know what your career is going to look like going into school and you don’t have to have all the answers right away because if you keep your skills current, the training is something you will have for the rest of your life.”

Karen Jukes

The physical aspect of massage therapy, along with encouragement from two mentors, is what compelled Smithers, B.C. resident Karen Jukes to enrol in Vicars’ blended learning program on the Calgary campus. Even as a child, Karen had been interested in massage therapy, but her love of the outdoors led her into a degree in forestry. When she had children, she needed to find work with more regular hours that was closer to home. She started at a physiotherapy clinic, first at the front desk and then progressing to becoming a physiotherapist aide, where she was taught a few simple massage techniques. She loved her job but wasn’t willing to go back and do a four-year physiotherapy degree at her stage of life. One of her bosses suggested becoming a registered massage therapist instead.

Karen enrolled at Vicars in 2017, graduating in 2019. Her previous experience with distance education—she did her forestry degree by correspondence—meant that she had the self-motivation and discipline necessary to succeed while working part-time. “When you’re working and you have a family, time management is the priority,” she says. “My kids are into a lot of activities so when things got really hectic, my husband could step in to manage their schedules.”

Karen also found support from a woman she met on a hike who owns Invermere Massage Therapy Clinic. She mentored Karen, eventually offering her a position at the clinic after Karen graduated and where she works now.

Karen’s motivation for her second career was that she wanted to help people and she wanted to be physical because she didn’t like sitting in offices. “Massage therapy gives me the opportunity to be in movement throughout the day as I’m helping people,” she says. “I’ve been working at the clinic for three years now and just love my job. I couldn’t be more thankful.”

This 3-part blog series is all about the advantages and challenges of starting a massage therapy career later in life. We’ll find out why it’s such an attractive career for people in their forties, fifties, and beyond and the special skills that mature students bring to the classroom. Today, we’re sharing the stories of some special Vicars graduates and current students who came to massage therapy as a second career. 

Elliot Lloyd

Elliott Lloyd treats a client at an outreach event during his second year as a Vicars student.

The link between a healthy body and a healthy mind is what drew Elliot Lloyd to pursue a career in massage therapy. He’d always been into sports, even signing up for an Ironman triathlon in his late forties. It was while training for that grueling race that he began getting massages, finding them an essential part of his regime.

After retiring from 30 years in policing, followed by a couple of related security and investigations jobs, Elliot realized he didn’t want to investigate anything anymore—he wanted to help people the way that his RMTs had helped him when he was training.

He graduated from Vicars in October—one of four people in their 50s in his class.

“I joined the police young, at 19, and while we had learning and courses in the police force, going back to school at 51 was hard work,” says Elliot. “But I’ve really enjoyed it.”

For him, the key to successful learning is staying organized to deal with the course load and to keep the stress levels down. And his life and career have given him plenty of practice in that department.

“After the stress of policing, I find working one on one with somebody to help them relax or resolve a therapeutic issue—in a nice quiet room with music in the background—is almost as therapeutic for me as it is for them,” Elliot says.

Elliot has found that his life experience in policing, particularly in communicating with people, translates directly into massage therapy.

“I feel that when I’m dealing with someone in a student clinic, I’m probably more comfortable than someone who is maybe 19 or 20,” he says. “Having a lot of experience in listening and figuring out how people tick is really is the key to massage therapy.”

Sheryl Moroziuk

The idea of being a mature student gave Sheryl Moroziuk a lot to think about.

Sheryl had left her engineering job to care for her children when they were young. Once they’d reached school age, she didn’t want to go back to her old job. She was 37 years old, restless, and wanted a career where she could make more of an immediate difference in people’s lives. An earlier interest in physical training and body building led her to consider massage therapy, and to attend an open house at Vicars’ Calgary campus in 2017. She was intrigued—but the doubts lingered.

“I had a lot of concerns ranging from potentially being the oldest in the class to the transition in my own identity where I might be working on former colleagues or neighbours,” Sheryl says.

Nonetheless, she enrolled and was relieved to discover that many of her classmates were around her age. And once she got back into the rhythm of school, Sheryl found her age was not a hindrance but a strength.

“As a mature student, I had my priorities in order,” she says. “With kids and a family, you don’t have a lot of time to waste.”

A few months after she graduated in 2019, Sheryl was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Rather than letting it be a setback, she decided to view it as another opportunity to turn her own life experiences into professional strengths.

“When you’ve experienced the limited range of motion and lack of mobility that older clients go through, it makes you more empathetic,” she says. “You do more thorough assessments of clients and you have a lot of wisdom to incorporate into your practice.”

Sheryl has a mobile service with a full client base, and fills in for other therapists in a few clinics in her area. She loves the flexibility and freedom to choose her own schedule.

“I’d worked at a lot of different jobs, hoping to contribute and have a purpose,” says Sheryl. “Massage therapy has been the longest running interest of mine and it’s still going strong.”

Did you know that over the past four years, one in every four students enrolled at Vicars School commuted each month from their homes and jobs in BC to Calgary or Edmonton for their massage therapy training?

Vicars offers an exceptional education that prepares graduates for all aspects of a successful massage therapy career, from anatomy to treatment planning to business skills. And regular readers will know that Vicars School is accredited by the same body that accredits massage schools provinces that regulate massage and massage education.

But BC has several excellent accredited massage programs, too. So what’s so special about Vicars that inspires so many students to choose us, despite the time, inconvenience, and cost of travelling to Alberta each month?

We chatted with recent Vicars grads Ainslie Conway and Andrew Wautier to uncover why they chose Vicars.

Ainslie Conway knew that she wanted to be a registered massage therapist (RMT). She also knew that she wanted to keep living in beautiful Whistler, BC while she went back to school.

The one thing that she wasn’t sure about was whether she’d be able to find a school that would give her both the high-quality education and the flexible student experience she was looking for.

In addition to raising two young children, Ainslie and her husband own Back In Action Physiotherapy clinic in Whistler. She wanted to find a massage therapy program that would give her the most thorough training possible, given the sacrifices in time, livelihood, and family attention that going back to school would require. She also wanted to make sure her training would match the quality of the other services delivered at the clinic.

“We have high-level athletes among our clientele, and we have the Canadian Snowboard physiotherapy team and the Canadian ski cross physiotherapist lead working with us,” Ainslie says. “Expectations are high.”

And then—as if her standards weren’t high enough already—life threw another challenge her way. The COVID pandemic erupted just as Ainslie was researching massage therapy programs.

“I found that none of the colleges I talked to in British Columbia had a solid plan about how to train or offer clinical hours during COVID, while Vicars School had been offering blended-learning programs for decades and had a plan in place,” she says.

She had already hired several Vicars graduates at the physiotherapy clinic, and had been impressed by their performance, work ethic, and ability. Vicars School’s much lower tuition cost was also a factor in her decision.

The Vicars program is a full-time blended-learning experience, consisting of four in-person classroom days per month and on-campus student clinics. Between classes, students work from home, using high-quality online learning and study-at-home materials. About 30 hours per week is required in independent study.

The unique combination of a blended learning schedule and an education that meets the national curriculum standards means that Vicars attracts students from all over western Canada, the Territories, and beyond. The vast majority of them—25% of the all Vicars students in the last four years alone—are from BC.

Because she lives in Whistler, Ainslie found the time restraint of flying into and staying in Calgary every month about the same as if she had attended a Monday-Friday program in Vancouver.

“I would have been driving five hours a day, every day to go to school in Vancouver,” she says. “And I would also have had to go into the student clinic on weekends.”

To get the most out of her visits to Alberta, Ainslie tacked on a couple of extra days to her stay in Calgary each month to earn her clinical hours at the Vicars student clinic. She was able to keep her travel costs down by teaming up with her fellow out-of-towners—including three other students from Whistler, who became her car-pool buddies to and from the airport.

Including Ainslie, there were nine students in that monthly class who travelled from outside Alberta for school: seven from BC, and two from Saskatchewan. Once pandemic restrictions were eased, the nine of them shared a house when they were in Calgary. Beyond just saving them money on accommodation, having the house (complete with kitchen and laundry room) meant they could travel with only carry-on luggage, eat better and more cheaply, and have a support system while away from home.

Back at home, Ainslie’s husband took on more of the household responsibilities, and her mother pitched in with childcare when needed. While the blended learning pathway was not easy for her and her family, Ainslie says the positives very much outweighed the negatives.

“It was great for the family because the kids saw what it was like to learn as an adult,” she says. “They were even involved in my studying, with colouring and drawing diagrams.”

Ainslie also found it led to better communication with her husband, both personally and professionally.

“He has three physiotherapy degrees and has worked for three Olympics, so he’s very experienced and was a great resource,” Ainslie says. “But massage is a different perspective, and I was able to identify when I needed his knowledge and when I didn’t.”

Ainslie was able to work part-time in her first year of study by allocating 40 hours a week to her schoolwork and filling in at Back In Action around her studies.

“In my second year, I definitely had to reduce my work hours. There’s a lot to learn and a lot of practice time required, and I wanted to ensure I could dedicate the time to be the best that I could be.”

Reality check: she remembers that to balance the full-time commitment of blended learning, she had to take some me-time when she returned from Calgary each month.

“It’s a very heavy content load and by Sunday my brain would be exhausted from trying to absorb everything. I found it important to take the Monday off when I got home, just to process it all and regroup.”

Ainslie graduated from Vicars in June 2022. Before she could practice professionally in BC, however, she needed to pass the board exams in a regulated province. Like many Vicars graduates, she chose to write her exams with the College of Massage Therapists of Newfoundland and Labrador. She was successful, and is in the process of transferring her registration to BC so she can get to work as RMT at the Back in Action Clinic.

Like Ainslie, Andrew Wautier travelled from BC to Alberta each month to train at Vicars. Andrew flew from Prince George and graduated from the Edmonton campus in 2022.

As a certified athletic therapist who works in disability management for the Prince George health authority, Andrew wanted to offer more one-on-one treatment to his clients to improve their outcomes. The problem was that his services were is not currently covered by benefits programs.

“As an RMT in a clinic setting, my clients would have their massage therapy covered through benefits and insurance programs,” Andrew explains.

Andrew looked into options for massage therapy training in BC, but with a full-time job and a young family, the requirement to attend daily classes for two years was just not possible. A friend told him about Vicars School of Massage Therapy’s blended learning program, and he enrolled in early 2020.

He flew into Edmonton once a month, staying with his sister and tacking an extra day onto each stay to fulfill his clinic requirements. In the two-year period, he only had one flight delay that set him back a day and one month where he missed an entire trip because COVID. Once he completes his BC registration, he’ll begin seeing clients at his home studio.

“The blended learning program is great for adult learners who have to keep full-time jobs and have families, and who know what their time is worth,” Andrew says. “Vicars did a fantastic job of that in terms of balancing people’s time.”

No matter where you live in Canada, a diploma from Vicars School will set you up for success. Our graduates are trained to the same level as therapists in regulated provinces, and are in high demand from employers and clients everywhere they go. Take the next step on your career journey by signing up for an online or in-person open house event!

This is the second instalment in a series about pediatric massage: massage therapy for children ranging from infants to adolescents. Check out the first post to learn about massage therapy for infants, including its potential benefits for both parents and child and the science that assesses those benefits. Today’s post is a conversation with an experienced Vicars graduate who has incorporated infant massage into her practice.

Shannon Collum, RMT, is a Vicars graduate who lives and works in Duncan, BC. She owns Maple Bay Massage Therapy there. As part of her general therapeutic practice, Shannon also has training in infant massage education, and offers one-on-one and group sessions with parents and their babies.

Shannon Collum, RMT

I recently talked to Shannon about this part of her practice.

Robin: Can you give me a brief overview of your experience with infant massage?


Early in my career, I found I was working with a lot of pregnant clients. It just happened by word of mouth—I think it helped that a lot of my friends were at the right age to start having babies!

As I went on, I realized I wanted to offer even more services in this area. We had learned the fundamentals of infant massage in school, but I knew there was more to learn.

I found a continuing education course for RMTs on infant massage and at the same time I trained as a doula, learning how to give support to mothers during and after childbirth. I was fascinated by it and knew there were at least some of my clients who would be interested.

I’ve been a massage therapist for more than 18 years now. Teaching infant massage has been a bigger part of my practice at some points than others. But it’s something I enjoy and that I’m glad I can offer to my clients.

There are so many different continuing education options out there for massage therapists—so many different directions and areas of practice for people to choose from. Would you recommend taking infant massage, and pregnancy massage?

When new grads ask me for continuing ed recommendations, I always say that it depends on what resonates with you. What are you interested in? Because if you’re not really engaged with whatever it is, you’re not going to make a success of it.

For me, I’ve always had a connection with babies and children—it’s always been a part of my life. If an RMT feels the same way, furthering your education by taking ongoing training in pregnancy massage and training new parents may be a good choice for you.

And you have to be practical too, of course. Think about the focus of your practice, where you work, and your current and potential clientele. If you’re based in more a retirement community this will obviously be less of a focus in your practice!

How do you introduce the idea of infant massage to pregnant clients?

I have it listed on my website as something I have experience in, and so some of my clients bring it up to me themselves or even find me that way. But usually it will organically come up in a conversation with them about what they’re experiencing, their hopes or even what they’re nervous about.

The last time it came up was I was working on a woman who was quite far along in her pregnancy. I was performing abdominal massage, and I was explaining to her how we do the strokes in a specific direction around the abdomen to promote digestion. I explained that this is also what we do with babies, and she says, “Wait, we can do massage on babies?!?!”

Do you find that do you usually get that surprised reaction? In your experience, do parents know that this is an option?

Some do, some don’t. And some are confused—some think that I do the massage; that they bring the baby into the clinic. But I explain that it involves teaching the parents what to do and how to do it in a way that is comfortable, safe, and joyful. And for most people, I find, that’s a lot more appealing.

So how do these sessions work?

I like to set up a class, either one-on-one or in a group setting, outside the clinic. It’s usually a set of four short sessions. That way, baby isn’t overwhelmed by a new environment and the parents are able to practice with the child between sessions. My goal with these sessions is for the babies and the parents to feel relaxed and have fun together, and for the parents to leave feeling confident and excited about having learned a new way to connect with their baby.

I normally don’t teach the classes for babies younger than two months. Before that, massage can be overwhelming and too stimulating. Babies still don’t understand the world, and they are getting bombarded with new information every second, so we wait until they’re a little more settled.

Earlier, you were telling me about a recent client you had for infant massage that was a bit of an exception to this rule. Can you share that story?

Of course. That experience was exceptional in a few ways: it was only one session, it was at my clinic, her baby was a newborn, and we fit it in after I had just given the mother a full massage!

This woman was living and working in a very small community up north on Vancouver Island. Because of the remoteness and lack of medical care, her employer transferred her down here to Duncan for a month or so before her due date, and for a couple of weeks to recover postpartum. She booked a few prenatal massages for herself while she was in town. Because I saw her regularly for a few weeks, we developed a rapport and had lots of conversations about her pregnancy and upcoming baby, and we ended up talking about infant massage in a general sort of way.

Not long after she gave birth, she came in for a last massage before heading home. She then revealed that the doctor had told them their baby had significant torticollis and she wondered if I could help. They weren’t going to be in town long enough for that, and baby needed some specific help as soon as possible, so we arranged for baby and dad to arrive at the end of her next appointment. I ended up working with them for about 15 minutes in the treatment room, laying baby on the warm massage table in front of us. I demonstrated a few techniques specifically for that issue and had them try them out and walked them through a few other things. I was able to start the process of improving his positioning and they felt more confident taking him back up north without an RMT nearby. Everybody was happy.

What sticks out to me about this story is that this was a therapeutic massage, essentially. I usually think of infant massage as being about helping the baby sleep better, helping with bonding, helping with digestion…

But when you think about it, babies have just gone through a quite physically demanding experience! Especially in that case, as he was very newly born. But even after that, they’re constantly building muscles that have never been used before.

But you’re right, a lot of times people don’t realize that something like torticollis can happen to babies. Extreme versions don’t happen a lot. Usually, it’s mild and corrects itself over time. But in this case, it was extreme, and he wasn’t able to keep his head straight.

The infant massage outcome that is probably most well known is how it strengthens bonding between parents and baby, helps babies sleep, and can help with things like colic and digestive issues. What people don’t always think about is that it can help alleviate postnatal depression for both parents. It seems most effective when massage is built into their daily routine. For infants, massage sessions should be short but frequent; a little quiet time after baby’s bath is great.

But there can be more direct physical benefits, too. I remind parents that birth is hard for babies too. As newborns, they’re not moving much and they’re often end up facing in one direction for long periods in car seats, carriers, and strollers. It’s a tough life!

And, of course, as babies get bigger they turn into active children, and children’s bodies are going through a lot, too. Starting massage at a young age can really help as they age and start getting growing pains and other bumps and bruises. Because they’re starting life with more body awareness, they’re more likely to be able to communicate about what is happening in their bodies when they need help.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience with infant massage! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I almost forgot to mention, although it is really important to me, is that learning how to give a massage to your baby or child can actually help them start to understand bodily autonomy, consent, and the concept of healthy touch. Those are big concepts, but understanding them starts with day-to-day routines like this.

One of the things that we teach parents is to make sure that they’re only massaging when baby consents. This is more nebulous when they’re very young and you’re just starting out, but you start to learn your baby’s body language. You can tell when they’re up for it and when they’re not. And when they’re not, you just hang out with them so they’re still getting one-on-one time and see that their refusal doesn’t equal rejection from their loved one.

It’s showing kids, from a young age, that they have a say in what happens to their body. And that’s a really huge thing, in my opinion.

Still to come in our blog series: Research on the effects of massage on conditions in older children and the benefits of massage in strengthening the parent-child relationship beyond infancy.

During the 20-plus years we’ve been teaching massage therapy, we’ve learned that there’s no such thing as a typical RMT, or a typical massage student.

Some people choose massage because they’re interested in holistic wellness; others, because they’re fascinated by human anatomy and want to be front-line health care professionals. Some have a head for business and want to own their own clinic; others want to work side-by-side with a wide range of professionals. Some want to work full-time as RMTs; some want to combine massage with their other skills.

And some are like Timmie Horvath, and can check off “all of the above.”

Timmie graduated from Vicars School of Massage Therapy in 2021. She opened her clinic, Sacred Wellness Massage Therapy and School of Healing Arts, while she was a second-year student. Business has grown so much in the last year that she’s already had to expand to a bigger location.

I recently visited Timmie at Sacred Wellness in St Albert for a clinic tour. We talked about what drew her to massage therapy, what it’s really like being your own boss, and how her Vicars education (and especially the business plan assignment) prepared her to start her own clinic.

Robin Collum: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What were you doing before you became an RMT?

Timmie Horvath: Before I came to Vicars School, I was already a holistic health practitioner and my main business was teaching wellness. I have a business called Sacred Wellness School of Healing Arts—since 2015, I’ve taught Reiki certification courses in Edmonton and the surrounding area. Before I did that, I was a licensed practical nurse in community nursing care.

I decided to go back to school to become a registered massage therapist because I was missing that one-on-one client interaction from my nursing days.

I find it so interesting that you have that combined background. On the one hand, the evidence-based science side of things, the anatomy and physiology. And on the other, the experience with alternative therapies. You have been able to combine those two points of view in your practice. And you took a big leap of faith by starting your business while you were still in second year—signing a lease and everything! Can you tell me about that experience?

If I had taken the program at a different time in my life, I suspect that I would have applied to work at a clinic or spa or somewhere. And I just want to say that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! I actually think that’s a very smart, financially stable thing to do and it can be very rewarding if you find the right fit.

But by the time I went back to school for massage therapy, I was already quite comfortable as an entrepreneur. I was still running my teaching business while I was in school. I had the feeling that because I already had a business and a brand of my own, that it just made more sense to build them together, to keep things from getting messy later on!

In my second year, I had an opportunity to rent a space in downtown St. Albert. So I went ahead and did that and started my practice—also called Sacred Wellness. It was a big risk, of course, because I was still a student and I didn’t have a lot of time to dedicate to building a

practice because I had to focus on school. But it was such a lovely place that I didn’t think it would be available when I had graduated.

It was really challenging to do it that way—I’m not sure I would recommend that to anyone—but it was an opportunity and it’s paid off for me.

When I graduated from school, I already had a little bit of a start on my practice. I was established in my location, and had regular clients. I recently moved to a bigger space, and I have a couple of contractors working with me. One is a Vicars student!

It must have helped that you weren’t starting a new business completely from scratch. You had already built a successful brand and had professional networks. But launching a business is still no walk in the park.

Absolutely. One of the most helpful projects was the second-year business plan assignment.

If I were to do my business plan again I would make some changes, but really not that much. It almost acted like a vision board.

I remember earlier this year looking at it and being like, “Oh my god, I did it !” The timeline wasn’t correct, obviously, I did things at a different time, but my menu of services and what I was looking to do—I actually did that!

When I was still in my first year, there were at least two second-year students who started their own businesses while they were still in school. And I remember talking to one of them and I said “How did you get approved for the loan?”

And she said, “You know that business plan assignment you’re going to have to do? That’s what I used. I sent it to the bank and they gave me the money I needed.”

I think the outcome of that business plan assignment goes one of two ways. You realize “Yeah, starting my own business is going to be hard, but I can do it.” Or you’re like, “Yikes, I don’t want to have anything to do with this!” And, either way, it’s a good thing to learn!

It really forces you to look get into the details, doesn’t it? I think that assignment is equally valuable for students who have no interest in working for themselves. It’s just as important for an employee or a contractor to understand the expenses that go into running a business, what good business practices are, and all that. It can help you negotiate a good contract for yourself.

Yeah, absolutely. And that also informs how I work with my contractors as well. Having been a contractor, I think, okay, this is what I would expect to receive to work on commission. This is what I would expect the clinic to take care of. And this is the amount of advertising.

What did you learn from doing the business plan, and the other business assignments?

It was so incredibly valuable because it really forces you to look at all of the numbers.

Now, massage in general, it’s very low overhead. Your biggest investments will be your rent and maybe your table, depending on how much money you want to spend on a table. But these things like a table you buy at once, you should use it indefinitely, right?

But I did have to accept the fact that I was going to be paying for a space and that I would just be paying out of pocket for that for however long it took. And especially being a student, I didn’t have a lot of availability. So even in my tiny amount of availability, if I booked out completely, it still wouldn’t cover all of the operational costs. And I knew that and I accepted that. I had that discussion with my husband.

And I said the benefit of this is that if I really stick it through for the six months, then I won’t be starting from scratch when I graduate.

What I really learned is that I think the biggest myth in the massage industry and maybe in business in general is that you make more money with your own business. That can be true, but it’s wrong to assume that if you’re getting paid as a contractor that you’re automatically making less money. And it’s certainly more stable.

I think people who start their own businesses are an eccentric bunch of people. Because it is not the easier path. But for me, I enjoy these things. Why knows why? [laughs]

I think Maryhelen Vicars, who founded the school, would agree with you on that!

All of this is to say that I would have done it anyway. I would have eventually ended up running my own show, and I really enjoy it. But I felt prepared to so right out of the gate because of the training that I received from Vicars School.

And I just want to share that this is probably one of the coolest things that I’ve ever done, and that it’s just really been an amazing, fulfilling career so far.

What kind of massage therapy professional do you want to be: a contractor or employee, or an “eccentric” entrepreneur striking out on their own? Whichever path you choose, a successful career starts with the right education. To begin your journey, contact our friendly admissions team by calling us toll-free at 1-866-491-0574, or sign up for a virtual open house!

For the second year in a row, the Massage Therapist Association of Alberta’s Peter Martin Award has been given to an MH Vicars School of Massage Therapy graduate!

Please join us in congratulating massage therapist Lee Brill, who graduated from Vicars in 2021.

“We’re incredibly proud of Lee for winning this year’s award,” said Robin Collum, the school’s communications director. “She represents the compassion, ambition, and dedication to comprehensive client care that Vicars therapists are so well-known for, and we’re thrilled that she’s been honoured in this way by the MTAA.”

The Peter Martin Award recognizes a newly qualified massage therapist for their accomplishments in their first year as a practicing RMT, and their dedication to advancing the profession in Alberta. It is given out annually by the MTAA, one of Alberta’s leading massage therapy professional associations.

Last year’s winner, Sheena Taggart, was also a Vicars graduate. Read Sheena’s story here.

“The MTAA is committed to supporting new massage therapists that have completed their education and are ready to embark on their new career,” said Kaitlyn Crawford, MTAA Marketing & Member Services Coordinator. “One of the ways we do this is by offering the Peter Martin Award. It provides new graduates with the opportunity to receive a $750 cash award that can go towards their student loans, purchase of supplies to get their practice started, or for their MTAA Active Membership.”

Lee chose to become a massage therapist in part because of her interest in women’s health, particularly around pre- and post-natal care. Lee’s previous career experience includes acting as a doula and a nanny, which opened her eyes to new ways she could provide care and support to her clients during pregnancy and beyond.

“While working as a birth doula I started to realize how many things were missing from prenatal care in Alberta and specifically what I was unable to provide for my clients,” Lee explained in her application essay for the award. “I have a strong sporting background as well and have always had an

interest in the human body and all that comes with that. I felt that massage therapy was the

most natural next step for me to satisfy my interests and my clients’ needs.”

Lee has turned her dream into a reality since graduating in June. She currently practices out of the Holistic Institute of Health & Fertility in Calgary, a multidisciplinary clinic that specializes in fertility, prenatal, postnatal, pediatric, and menopausal care.

“I was introduced to the world of fertility and infertility through working at HIHF, and have learnt so much more about what massage can do to help individuals and families through their fertility journeys,” Lee said. “I’m so excited to keep learning and growing in this profession.”

Lee’s plans for the future include taking continuing education courses in prenatal and postnatal massage as well as complementary modalities such as cupping and neurofascial reset therapy.

Having a strong support system: in conversation with Krista Quinlan and Joan Oancia

Mother knows best! It was Krista Quinlan’s mother Joan who suggested that she should consider a massage therapy career. Joan had been a regular client at the MH Vicars School of Massage Therapy public clinic in Edmonton for years, and she had a feeling that her daughter had what it takes to become a successful RMT.

And she was right! Krista has a thriving practice at BodyTx Massage & Health in Fort Saskatchewan—and Joan still visits the Edmonton clinic for regular massages.

In this edition of Alumni Spotlight, Krista and Joan talked with Vicars communications director Robin Collum about how important it is for students to have a strong support system while they’re in school. Watch the full video, or scroll down to read an edited transcript of our conversation.


Let’s send our minds back in time a little bit to 2015, when you were considering a change in career and thinking of going back to school. Can you tell us a little bit about where you were in your life at that point when you were considering massage as a career?



Absolutely. So massage was actually the third time that I’ve gone back to school. I had gone into education, and then I tried to get into paramedics and I wasn’t able to really find a lot of work. And my mom said “You’re so into helping people, why don’t you look into massage?”

She had been going to the student clinic for I don’t know how many years before I even looked at going into massage therapy. And I was looking for just a different thing, a change, something where I could still work one-on-one with people. And massage just seemed to be right up my alley. So I went to an Open House, and Robin I think you were there! And it was just like, “This is going to be perfect for me, because then I can set my own hours and, you know, I want to have a family.” So I just thought it would be the perfect setup for me.



So it was your idea, Joan, which seems very convenient for you. Were there ulterior motives there?



Perhaps a little bit! I was client of Krista’s to begin with when she was practicing, and at first it was a little bit pokey, but it became very very good.



So why did you initially think that massage therapy would be a good choice for Krista?



I just thought she would be a good person to be able to give you good advice on your body or your aches and pains. She’d tried a few other careers and it just wasn’t really for her, so I thought this would be really good.



And obviously you were, by that point, very well acquainted with quality of massage of MH Vicars students. How did that experience as a regular clinic client factor in?



Well, because I had been going to the clinic for quite a while, and you could see the girls’ progress as they were practicing on the clients myself. And I was coming like weekly, so I could see the improvement that was happening with the girls. So I just thought it would be really good fit for Krista. Basically, I thought it would be better than the other couple of careers that she had looked at.



And Krista, by that point, you would have gotten to know a bit about yourself as an adult student. Were you looking for anything particular in an educational experience when you started looking for massage schools?



I was just looking, honestly, for something that was flexible. When I went to university, class schedules were Monday-Wednesday-Friday and Tuesday-Thursdays. And it was very heavy, just a lot of on campus time. So that didn’t really provide for a lot of home life stuff or work stuff. And when I found out that I only either had to go to school one day a week or one weekend a month [at Vicars] I was like, “This totally aligns with what I’ve got going on.”

Because I am an adult, and I was going back to school as an adult. So I already had a job, and I needed to figure out how I was going to go into higher education. I needed something that met with my schedule and what I needed. So being able to have an option of going one day a week and doing the studying at home, which I mean—there is quite a bit—but I really thrive in a very chaotic environment! [laughs]

I just found like, “Okay, I’ve got time here, and I’ve got time here. And this is when I can do this, and this is when I can do that.”

And I just found it really just nice, honestly, nice to have that ability to change. Say I couldn’t make it one day. I had the option of being able to talk to some of the other instructors, say, hey, look, could I pop in for this day because I missed it or I had an appointment or something came up, and I loved that ability, too. And it wasn’t all the time. It was just for those emergency times. But you guys were always so accommodating, and I just loved that and appreciated that so much.



That’s lovely to hear. One of the reasons that I wanted to talk to both of you at the same time is not just because it was an excuse to see you both, but we talk to our future students so much about the support system that they’re going to need while they’re in school. Because we want them to think ahead. Where are you going to find the time? Who’s going to pick up the slack and some of your responsibilities? Who are you going to go to for emotional support, logistical support, all of those things. And I know that Joan was such a huge part of your support system when you were a student, Krista. So can you talk a little bit about what kind of support you needed as a student, particularly in a program like this one?



Oh, all kinds of support. Honestly, I found that the biggest thing for me was just having the support with the day to day tasks that needed to be done. I was living back home with my parents, but I still had responsibilities around the house. And so obviously I’m not going to be able to do everything that I had been doing before because this is a priority for me. This is something that I need to do for myself. So really just sitting down and having a conversation of like, “This is what I’m going to need from you. I’m not going to be able to help out as much. I’m not going to be able to galavant and do all the fun things with my mom all the time, because I’m like school comes first!” And just telling them—and them knowing—that “Hey look, this is important to me.” It made it a lot easier for me to say no to certain things that I may have wanted to participate in.

I did not get any financial support from my parents with school, but they supported me in other ways, especially when it came to exam times and I was going through major anxiety and feeling like “I don’t know if I can do this.” Just knowing that I had my mom and my dad in my corner supporting me and pushing me and saying “You’ve got this.”

And we’d always celebrate when I came home saying “Look what I got on my exam!” Especially when I was having those anxious moments and fearful moments of “Am I going to do it? Can I do it? I don’t know.” They were always there supporting, which you absolutely need.

You need a support system. And if they aren’t your immediate people you’re living with or people who are immediately in your circle, the other people in the classes can also be your support. I had a close-knit group of friends within my own class, and we always got together, texted, called, did whatever we had to do if we needed some extra help. And we supported each other as well. So  if you don’t necessarily have that support at home, there is plenty of support that you can find through the school to help you get through this and do something for yourself.



Nobody understands what you’re going through like someone who is also going through it!

Joan, what do you remember about those two years? Do you remember having that sit-down conversation where she said “This is what I’m getting myself into.”?



Yes, I do. And I thought it would be really good for her. And like she said, her dad and I would really push for her to be going to school to find something that she really wanted to do. So it was easy to support. There were days that she just was anxious. But we were there to stand beside her—and there to get the extra few massages!



Yeah, that’s what I was going to get to next, actually, because people who aren’t familiar with our school might not know! Obviously, it’s a blended learning program, and you do lots of hands-on in class, but you also do lots of hands-on practice at home. We call it your Out-of-Class Practicals: your massage assignments. Can you talk a little bit about your experience as being one of Krista’s go-to ‘bodies’? Getting to watching her, or rather feeling her, improve?



Yes. In the very beginning, it was a little bit pokey! And as time had gone on, it was getting better and better. And then I was handing out flyers to bring more customers into our home, so she could have more practice. Quite a few neighbours benefited! I’m sure they were finding it a little bit pokey to begin with, too! But it was very good. And I really enjoy getting a massage from her now.



There’s something special about getting a massage now and also having experienced every step along that journey.



Now I’m like “I’ll be over every day!”



Krista, what are you most proud of in terms of accomplishments or challenges that you’ve overcome in your career?



It was a brand new experience, this whole massage thing. I was like, “I don’t know, I don’t know!” New situations give me really bad anxiety, but I was like, “You know what? I’m going to push through.”


And I’m so proud of myself for sticking with it and pushing myself as hard as I possibly could. I knew for myself having to pay for school on my own that this was my own thing. I was responsible. And just looking back and seeing the progress that I made, I am so proud of where I’ve gotten and where I’m at in terms of my massage career. I’ve gone on and done some other [continuing education] courses, and I’m just really finding my own way.

And the clinic that I work at just fills my heart because all of our therapists are amazing. We all talk to each other about different techniques that we’re using, and we’re very much a family. And I wouldn’t have known that massage therapists were so family-oriented or into wanting to help each other out until you kind of get into that.

So I’m just honestly proud of myself for sticking through, and even after school. Because the other two career paths that I went down, I finished the schooling, I attempted to go into the workforce, but it didn’t push myself nearly as hard as I did with massage. Because I really found that I had a much bigger passion for it than I did for my other career choices.

So I’m just proud of the fact that I stuck with it and I did it. And I pushed through the anxiety and that fear of “Am I going to be good?” You just get better and better with time and the more you learn, right? So I’m just really proud of myself for pushing forward and doing something for me.

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.

For our latest entry in our graduate spotlight series, we’re switching things up a bit. Instead of interviewing a grad and writing about our conversation, we handed over the whole blog to her! 

In this post, Claudia Wattel tells the story of her massage therapy career in her own words—from going back to school as an adult, to starting her own business in her small town. 

Hello! My name is Claudia Wattel, RMT. I run my own home-based massage clinic, R.E.M Massage in Barrhead, Alberta. I graduated from MH Vicars of Massage Therapy in Edmonton in 2017.


For me, going back to school was a life-changing event in more ways than one. When I decided to go back to school and pursue a career in massage, it was a now-or-never moment in my life. It was also, in a lot of ways, a spur of the moment decision.


I was 43 years old and I had already been a single mom for many years. I was looking for something that would be fulfilling and I wanted to do something that would benefit the health of others. I was looking for a career that would give me freedom and would not tie me to a specific place.


I also wanted options so that I would never feel stuck in any job. At the time, I was working full time as manager of a furniture store. I was doing okay making a living off of that, but knew that something had to change if I ever wanted to get ahead financially so that one day I could retire.  


I was also looking for a career where I could attend school while working full time. After doing a lot of research I was pulled in the direction of massage therapy because MH Vicars offered a blended-learning schedule option that would make this possible. 


But I still was not sure I would like it. So when I saw that MH Vicars was offering a weekend introductory massage course, I signed up for it.


This in itself was way out of my comfort zone, but I decided if I was ever going to do it then now was the time. My two older children had already graduated and in the work force, and my youngest daughter was in high school. I wanted to be done my own schooling before she went into her grade 12 year—I wanted to be able to dedicate my time to her in her graduation year.  


After taking the weekend massage course, I decided to jump in with both feet. I was called into MH Vicars for an interview after which I was accepted into the weekly program.


I will admit it was a very tough 2 years. But I knew it was doable. I remember thinking when I started that if I can make the pass grade of 75% I will be happy. Being a mature student, I knew that failure really was not an option. There is not only a lot of money invested into education but also a lot of time. Time is a precious commodity. And I will admit—there is also a sense of pride that is not always there when you are younger. There was no way I was going to go home at the end and have to tell people that I failed! 


I was working full time most weeks. I had two days off each week: Sunday and Wednesday, the day I had class. 


The first year I was in school from 9am-5pm (plus the commute to and from Barrhead, which is 2 hours each way). I also did about 4-5 hours of independent study work every weekday evening and most weekends. 


Once public clinic was added into the mix, it became even more time-consuming. I chose to do my public clinic shifts on Wednesdays after class so that I wouldn’t have to drive into the city more often than necessary. So I was in school pretty much every Wednesday from 9am-9 pm. 


I was thankful that my kids were older and fairly self-sufficient. I was also thankful that I had a strong support system: my sister and brother-in-law helped me out a lot.


When all was said and done it was all worth it: hard work and perseverance definitely pays off. Not only did I achieve my goal of not failing—I graduated from MH Vicars with honors! 

I received a great education through MH Vicars. 


The program is jam-packed. I had very hands-on instructors and public clinic supervisors. By the time I graduated I was prepared to confidently put into practice what I had learned. Today, I am doing what I love.


I was very fortunate because I still had my full-time job at the furniture store when I graduated. This meant that I didn’t have to stress about having a full client base right away and gave me the freedom to build my massage practice at my own pace. 


I started working part time at Pembina Massage in Barrhead in September 2017. I knew that I eventually wanted to have a home-based practice where I would have complete control over my schedule and my clients, but I also wanted to get some more clinic experience first.

For almost three years, I worked at Pembina Massage three evenings a week and treated a few clients at the clinic space I set up in my home. And then COVID hit in spring of 2020 and Alberta had its first shutdown. 


When Alberta Health made the decision to allow massage clinics to open up again, I decided that the time was right to leave the clinic and focus on my home-based business. 


I knew that this would mean rebuilding my clientele, but I could afford to take this risk because I am still working at the furniture store (I love that job too!). 


It was always my intention to practice massage part time. This career supplements my existing income. At first that additional income went towards paying off my student loans. Now that I have done that, I can slowly work towards retirement.

I believe that massage therapy in a small town differs a lot from a city practice. In a small town everyone knows everyone. When you walk down the street it is a constant stream of saying hi to people you know. This also means that your clinic has a much more personal feel to it. 

When we studied ethics in school, our instructors really stressed the importance of having boundaries between your friendships and your client relationships. In a small town, many of your clients are friends or acquaintances before they become clients. So I need to pay special attention to enforcing the appropriate boundaries and maintaining the therapeutic relationship both during massage treatment sessions, and in my everyday life. When my friends and neighbours come to me for a massage treatment, they know that for the time they are in the clinic space, they are my clients and I am their massage therapist. Outside of that space, I’m their friend and not their RMT.


Professionalism is very important. I have found that because I work from my home, new clients are sometimes surprised that it’s a professional space, a professional business. But they learn right away that my clinic is exactly that: my clinic. It is a professional environment, and I my clients receive the same respect and care that they would in any professional clinic. 


In a small town there is a lot of “it’s not just what you know, but who you know.” Advertising happens through word of mouth. You have to be good at what you do, because if you are not news travels fast. That being said, if you do your job well others will hear about it.  


I have been very blessed.  My career in massage therapy to date has been very fulfilling. I have been able to help a lot of people and continue to do so. My clinic is open 3 nights a week. I am fully booked through October and am booking clients into November and December. I have not had to advertise for my clinic and have had to turn clients away because I am already busier than I imagined I would be. 


My massage career has also given me that step up that I was hoping for financially. In addition to saving for retirement, I was able to purchase a new home this spring and I have been able to create a perfect set up for my home-based clinic. 


When I was a student, we had to create a business plan. One of the required elements was a mission statement. I still believe in what I wrote back then, and it’s now the mission statement of R.E.M Massage: 


To assist in the healing of body and mind. 

To relieve tension and pain. 

To bring an overall feeling of health and wellness to each and every client in a professional and relaxed environment. 

One massage at a time. 


Claudia Wattel, RMT 

R.E.M. Massage 

Rejuvenate. Enhance. Maintain.