Interview with Holley DeShaw

Written by Roger White on . Posted in Blog

Holley 1I have the incredible pleasure of catching up with a one of the top sports massage therapists, Holley DeShaw.  Holley is well known by the top athletes on the track circuit and travels the world to provide treatments. Holley has been a:

  • 2013 Nike Therapist working Pre Classic, USATF Nationals and IAAF World Championships
  • 2012 USATF London Olympics Medical Team member
  • 2011 USATF Medical Team Member for IAAF World Championships and Pan Am Games
  •  and so many more experiences to list!


Hi Holley! Thanks for taking time to answer a few questions.  It’s an honor to have the opportunity to ask you about some of the “life of a sports massage therapist” type questions.

You have worked with a few national teams, and also privately.  What makes a therapist sought out and what makes you different from all the other massage therapists out there?

I would have to say what makes a therapist or athlete medical support staff member sought out by athletes would be most importantly be the “quality” of their work.  It doesn’t matter how impressive your resume or fancy your webpage, if you are aiming for a career with athletes, your dedication to your craft and application of it has to match the world class level athlete you are working with.

As far as what makes me different from other therapists, I have to be honest and say I don’t compare myself, but I have had the opportunity in the past ten years to work along-side some incredibly talented therapists and medical practitioners and I always observe and aim to absorb some of their knowledge.

I believe in life when you find something you are truly passionate about doing and love not just like to do it, that is your calling.  That is step one in what will sets you apart in any profession.  Then your desire will always be for the very best in what you have to give!  The bar will always be set so high!  The drive to be the absolute best that YOU can be will make you want to study and work and perfect your craft, and then keep going!  I have a endless joy and energy that comes from this “profession.”  It is hard to call it a profession because in the countless moments in the past 11 years that I have seen athletes shine and clients achieve goals, it gives me such happiness that I consider this career more a gift!  I will never accept anything less than my very best with each and every athlete and client I work with!

I read you have had a vast background of experiences.  Who have been some of your therapy influences over time? 

I have had the opportunity to do rotations and continuing education at the Olympic training centers and have also always sought out the quote on quote best in our line of work as well as on medical teams to learn from and study with.  I have always thought that the more tools (massage techniques) in my toolbelt the better equipped I would be to handle whatever situation I had to address from a soft-tissue standpoint.  I truly love my profession and find I have a persistent hunger to always learn more!  I have studied pretty close to all techniques applicable in our profession but one of the wonderful things about our line of work is you can always keep learning!  Something I always strive to do.

In my 11 years I have had the opportunity to work along side the best of the best when it comes to the athletic world.  From athletes, coaches, agents, LMT’s,  MD’s, DC’s, CCSP’s, ATC’s, PT’s, Sports Company Representatives and Governing Body Officials.  I have learned from each and every one of them!  I have soaked in every aspect of the business and the knowledge that I could get.  I always try to stay humble to and respectful of those I have worked for and with.  All of these people are incredible sources to learn from!

In your experience, what are the biggest mistakes therapists make, and what might be wastes of time in therapy, especially when you are on the race circuit?

I think therapists need to be very in tune and listen carefully to what the athlete is asking for as far as treatment.  Your application should always be based on exactly how that athlete’s body is reacting to your application.  Make sure your technique and application of your work is in line with what the athlete wants and to also be very aware of how the techniques you are applying will affect the athlete not only in the following hours, but days.  Make sure you are giving purpose driven work, and not generic.

With all your massage work, what therapy techniques are most effective (which do you use most), and how do you measure effectiveness?  How has your therapy sessions evolved since you first began, or have they remained relatively the same? 

The effectiveness of the techniques I apply are always based on the specific athlete I am working with and the timing and results we are aiming for.  For example, I take into consideration the athlete’s sport, the biomechanics of the sport, the most probably injury potential in the sport and then I go in depth with the athlete.  I ask questions such as, how long have they been in their sport, what is their injury history, what is their training schedule, where are they in their training, when is their next game or race or event, how does their body react to soft-tissue work or stretching or taping applications.

This may sound like a lot, but to be honest this is just the beginning of how involved you should be when you are aiming to give the quality of work that will assist an athlete in reaching their peak performance potential.

I am also a CKTP and utilize kinesiotaping on a daily basis and have used all sorts of different applications in every sporting group i have worked with.  Normatecs are also a must in my line of work and I carry a set with me whenever I travel.

Normatec compression boots

You travel quite often around the country and in Europe.  When out on the road like this, how much time do you actually get to spend on each athlete?  Do you ever do multiple sessions daily?

It really depends if I am traveling for a company, a governing body, a specific group of athletes or even just for one athlete.  I have worked in all situations and have done everything from non-stop sessions with dozens of athletes day in and day out due to the number of athletes on the team. I have also traveled with smaller groups or even specific athletes and then all of our treatment times and applications are based on the timing of their race or game.

Do you do any assessments and or evaluations do you do prior to treatments, and how does this guide your treatment? (when athlete comes in for treatment, what do you do that determines the treatment plan?)

Absolutely! what we call the “intake'” process is key to deciding what your goals are for treatment. Again, going back to the questions such as where are they in their training cycle, when is their next race or game and I also incorporate physical testing or analysis which may include muscle testing, postural analysis, soft tissue palpation, ROM testing and other things like that.

Do the techniques you use in the session vary depending on when race day is?  How would your treatments be modified on the day of a race, and also post-race? 

In general the techniques you apply race day would be that of getting the athletes primary muscle groups warmed up and at the same time not taking any power out of them while facilitating maximum performance potential.  The longer you work with the athlete the more both you as the therapist and they as the athlete will know what types of applications are most conducive to their performance.  Post-race application should be focused on taking as much of the race off their body as possible, meaning facilitating blood and lymphatic flow and addressing any possible areas that they feel might have been affected during the race or game.

How were you selected for the USATF medical staff?

I was first selected by the USOC for a medical rotation in an Olympic Training Center. I was then selected by USATF and USACK.  Each team you are selected for you are evaluated by each and every staff member and athlete and have to attain a certain score to continue being placed.   I worked with both groups for two years and then committed fully to USATF, as my belief was that if I help in giving consistent and high quality work to the USATF athletes from 2008-2012 then in the Olympics I would have gained the trust and knowledge to help assist them to their best results.

If someone new were to be chosen for the team staff for the first time at a world championship event, what advice would you give to them?  What advice would you recommend for therapists doing so many hours of therapy daily? 

Be professional!  Give your best work each and every day, as the athletes are going out and giving their best.  You will work incredibly hard but the joy that comes from seeing the athletes you work with succeed is beyond anything else you may ever experience.

When you are on the road, where do your treatments take place?  When you work at these bigger meets and championship events, what determines if you treat athletes at the hotel or at the warm-up track?

This is a funny question for me!  You wouldn’t believe some of the spaces or places you will work in as a sports therapist, especially overseas!  Be prepared to work in any and all environments.  I have worked in the hottest, coldest, smallest and most unbelievable places! You just have to at least appear calm and comfortable in any space as your energy will be apparent to the athletes you are working with.  Working at hotels and warm up tracks may be based on something as simple as credentialing or how an organizing committee has an event set up.

You have a Hall of Fame client list, working with these athletes in championship events, how would you treat them between rounds, if at all?   You’ve worked with athletes in many events.  Do you find that athletes of different event groups have certain styles of treatment they prefer? Or does each athlete let you do what you do?

When an athlete is going through rounds, we typically have discussed ahead of time exactly what will happen if they in fact want anything between rounds.  Many times “time” is a major factor and as a therapist, you need to be very aware of the time you have to work with and work within it.  Also, it is very important to have respect in timing with their coaches, agents, call rooms or whatever else they need to do in that time. You also need to be prepared for the unexpected to come up, in essence be prepared and over prepared for anything!

This may sound like a silly question!  What might be some things you travel with that someone might not be expect?  For me, it’s nail clippers!  I have to keep my nails short at all times.

Yes, I have those too!  I have a full kit that I travel with that includes everything from all sorts of bandages, wraps, Prossage, Biofreeze, scissors, tape, pins for bibs to Epsom salts.  You name it, I will probably have it in my kit! I always error on the side of over-prepared!

When working with athletes, is there a common request you find?

I have been and am truly blessed to have formed some long standing working relationships with athletes, coaches, agents and companies so they do trust me in my application as I have a long track record at this point of always being in line with an athlete’s treatment goal.  The communication is always there and ultimately I have found we are on the same page.  I have not had an athlete request an application that I felt would be adverse to their performance.  With the level of athletes I work with at this point in my career, they are very well aware of how their body performs best.

Are there any events you will working in the next few months we might be able to find you at?

I have been incredibly blessed in my career path to have worked with so many different sporting groups and athletes.  Currently, I am mainly focused on my work with athletes in track and field, the NBA and NFL, so that is where most of my work will be throughout the rest of the year. I try to keep those interested of my work up to date via twitter.

Holley, thank you so much for your time and openness.  It’s been really interesting to hear the behind the scenes stories.  I know I see you on Twitter @Holley_Deshaw posting updates of your travels. You can check out her webpage here: and can also find her on LinkedIn.  I look forward to seeing where you travel to next!

Thank you so much, Roger!  It was a pleasure!

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