Report from the 2013 AMTA National Convention

Published: October 11, 2013

Opening Ceremony

This year, the AMTA National Convention began not with a speech, but with a sing-along. If there was any doubt that the members in attendance were excited to be in Fort Worth, the sight of that many people clapping and singing “Deep in the Heart of Texas” dispelled it right away. President Winona Bontrager highlighted some of the actions that AMTA has been undertaking on a national level, including the consumer awareness program, updating the job bank for ease of use, and promoting the Entry Level Analysis Project (ELAP), which aims to find out exactly what it is that entry-level massage therapists need to know and do across the country. She also announced that the AMTA Massage Student Scholarship was being renamed in honor of the recently-deceased Bob King, who was an inspiration to many.

Keynote Speech

The keynote was given by Doc Hendley, founder of Wine to Water, a charity that helps to provide sustainable access to clean water in developing areas. A consistent underachiever in a family of go-getters, he was pretty happy with his life as a bartender when his girlfriend told him, “Is this it? You’re better than this. You have more to offer the world.”

When the phrase “wine to water” came to him unexpectedly one day, he thought at first it might be the title of a hit country song. But a little Google-action later brought to light the fact that over one billion people have no access to clean water, and that bad water kills more children each year than tuberculosis, HIV, and malaria combined. He began with a simple fundraiser, but quickly found himself working in places all around the world, finding ways to empower people to solve their own water problems, whether they consist of broken wells or lack of filtration.

Hendley acknowledged that it took traveling across the world to learn a lesson that massage therapists seem to have known all along. “For the first time,” he shared, “I feel like I could have an impact. I feel like I’m living for someone other than myself.” MA Chapter 2nd VP Kelly Dalbec shared that the keynote really served to remind her “realize that one person who follows through on an idea can make a difference.” That’s a very powerful message!

Continuing Education Sessions

As always, there were many educational opportunities for the attendees to take advantage of. One stand-out fact was the increasing popularity of the research-focused classes. While one might not expect a lecture-based research class at 8 am on a Saturday morning to draw a huge crowd, it absolutely did. The class on writing case reports was full of lively discussion, and many came away with specific plans for writing their own. One presenter in a panel of researchers who is a Registered Nurse expressed surprise at how many people chose the class; she typically speaks to groups of 25 or so when presenting at nursing events, so she never expected over 70 massage therapists to have so much interest in her work!

Even the hands-on classes included a research component, giving credibility to the techniques being taught. Farris Ajalat, MA Chapter Treasurer, attended one such class by an ergonomics expert who is the first of his profession to formally study the body mechanics of massage therapists. Farris shares, “I had the opportunity to participate in Edward G. Mohr's workshop on ‘Reducing Injury and Increasing Output With Proper Body Mechanics’. With my work schedule of 25 to 30 hrs/week this workshop was of particular interest to me. Mr. Mohr stressed and demonstrated the importance of proper body mechanics and technique to offer deep pressure massage, increase efficiency, reducing injury, and increase longevity. I would recommend workshops on proper body mechanics as an important piece to our careers.”

Massage Therapy Foundation Reception

Massage Therapy Foundation donors and volunteers gathered for a reception that was full of surprises. Diana Thompson was presented with not one, but two awards. Unexpected and extremely generous gifts to the Foundation were presented by Massage Envy and the Florida Chapter of the AMTA. Then a hat was passed around the room, and over $800 was collected in under 20 minutes.

Of course, the Boston Marathon is close to the hearts of all MA Chapter members. Our own President Mary White spoke about the first MTF charity bibs that premiered at the event last year. She shared: “When Cliff Korn and I approached John Hancock, it was with the thought that they would sponsor the International Massage Therapy Research Conference of 2013 in Boston. What instead resulted was three bibs for the Boston Marathon 2013, with each bib carrying a minimal value of $5,000. What this means is that the wearer of each bib must not only train for and run the marathon of 26.2 miles but also raise the funds to do so in the name of their charity. Last year we hit a home run with our runners, Tom Heidenberger, Les Sweeney and Kathy Borsuk who combined raised $51,500 . For this we thank them. As a result of their generosity, fundraising and chocolate making the foundation has again been awarded another three bibs for Boston Marathon 2014.”

Following Mary’s inspiring words, it was also announced that, in addition to the three new Boston Marathon bibs presented to the MTF for 2014, the three runners from this year’s race who were unable to cross the finish line due to the attacks on the marathon will also be allowed to run again as well, meaning that a total of six runners will compete on behalf of the Foundation in 2014.

Affordable Care Act Panel

MA Chapter 1st VP Lisa Curran Parenteau had this to say about the closing panel: “One of my favorite parts of this years schedule was the closing panel; the panelists were informative and I was so impressed the that the room was PACKED for the last session of the last day. it speaks volumes about the importance of the ACA conversation to our members.”

And Lisa was not the only person impressed by the comprehensive information provided by the diverse panel of professionals who spoke during the closing session. Some background was provided to help attendees understand the uniqueness of the American health insurance system, and how employers came to be involved in healthcare at all. The exchanges were then explained in more detail. The issue of coverage for massage therapy was thoroughly addressed, and the answers turned out to be quite a bit more complex than many expected. It’s neither a totally rosy situation, nor a lost cause, and much will depend on massage therapists pushing for coverage on a state-by-state basis. Chapters have a lot of work cut out for them! Finally, there was an explanation of how the ACA may affect massage therapists as employers and self-employed individuals, as many of us fall into these categories. While there was no formal question-and-answer session, many participants chose to stay late and talk with the panelists afterwards, who were very gracious about expanding on their answers and answering questions for the curious.

Looking Forward

From all the developments that could be seen in Fort Worth, it’s clear that 2014 is going to be a huge year for the massage therapy community in the United States. The next National Convention will be held in Denver, Colorado, on September 17th. Will we see you there?