When Louise Drinnan started at Vicars School of Massage Therapy, she had no illusions about how challenging and time-consuming the two-year training would be.
She remembers telling her family that she was going to be married to the course for two years.
“I told them that if I drift, I’ll catch up with you after graduation,” she says. At the time, the single mother of two young children knew that the best way forward in her life was to pursue the career she had always wanted: massage therapy.
Louise attended class every week, which enabled her to work at her own pace and still get a good education. She and her classmates formed a study group that met weekly, something she says made all the difference in keeping up with the curriculum.
“Our instructors were incredibly supportive,” Louise says. “There was always someone to hold your hand if you needed that,” but they also encouraged the students to “go do it,” she says.
During the last part of the second year, Louise and some of her classmates found themselves intimidated by the heavy workload. But Dan Hvingelby, one of their instructors, gave them some advice that really stuck with her.
“He said ‘How do you eat an elephant?’” says Louise. “’One bite at a time.’”
During her training, Louise fell “completely in love with the human body.” And it changed how she felt about herself. “It gave me confidence and purpose,” she says. “My son was too young to notice but my daughter was a teenager and old enough to see the difference in me.”
Part of that change was a renewed ability to cope and persevere for the sake of the new and satisfying career that she hoped the training would bring.
Louise’s yearning for a career in massage therapy had started when she was a teenager. After high school, she worked a number of jobs in the healthcare and wellness industries before joining an insurance brokerage as a receptionist to support her two young children. The stable hours and benefits of her job were valuable, but massage therapy was always in the back of her mind.
She had looked at courses at different schools around Calgary. The monthly class offered at Vicars School of Massage Therapy appealed to her. She thought she could make that work if she were allowed to take her vacation one day at a time. This would have allowed her the days off she would need to make it work (at that time, the monthly class schedule was offered over a three-day weekend on campus in addition to the at-home schoolwork).
“I made the mistake of telling my then-boss what I was thinking,” Louise says. And that was the end of that. Her employer was not going to make an accommodation that would result in Louise leaving to start a new career.
Louise stuck it out at her old job for another two years. It took a family tragedy to propel her into action. Louise had a female cousin with whom she was very close when they were children. They grew apart as adults and her cousin moved to rural Ontario. Then one day in February 2011, Louise’s cousin was found frozen to death by the side of a road.
The shock and grief of losing her cousin hit home for Louise. “That was my reset,” said Louise. “You don’t know what’s around the next corner and if you have a dream, you should chase it.”
Six months after her cousin’s death, Louise started in a weekly class at the Calgary campus.
“It was a big leap of faith,” Louise says. “I left the insurance brokerage, didn’t have a part-time job, and didn’t learn I had funding for massage school until the Friday before the course started.”
Louise graduated from Vicars in 2013, and after a short stint at another clinic joined The Wellness Studio as an independent contractor in 2014. She’s been there ever since.
“It’s a multidisciplinary chiropractic clinic with a really great team.”
Louise’s greatest satisfaction comes from seeing her work have a direct, positive effect on her clients. “I have this one client with dystonia, which is uncontrolled muscle spasms, whom I was treating biweekly for five years” says Louise. “At first, she was in a pretty constant state of spasm, but now between acupuncture, meditation, and massage, she can go weeks without a spasm.”
Another major source of satisfaction is when clients come back after a hiatus. “They tell me they were seeing someone else for a while, but they came back to me because the other therapist didn’t do the work that I do,” she says. “That’s pretty cool.”
“Just knowing that I’m having a direct, positive effect on somebody’s life, when I help them move better and feel better,” says Louise. “That’s what I consider to be a good day.”