Colchester - Laura Stevenson-Flom couldn't do anything about the leukemia that claimed her father's life more than a decade ago.
But while caring for him full time for 16 months, she discovered she could do a lot to ease his pain. It was something about her touch.
Her father's oncologist noticed it.
"He asked me if I'd ever considered going to massage school," Stevenson-Flom said. "He noticed the way I put my hands on the patients I visited while dad was in the hospital."
For Stevenson-Flom, the realization that something as simple as skilled touch could make a major difference in the way people feel, both physically and emotionally, was a revelation.
"It was life-changing," she said.
Since taking the oncologist's suggestion to heart, she's never looked back.
Stevenson-Flom, 54, a one-time banker who stopped working to stay home while her two daughters were young, is now a nationally certified, state-licensed massage therapist with a specialty in sports massage and a private practice in her Colchester home.
And she's preparing to travel to London, where she'll serve as a volunteer massage therapist at the Summer Olympics, helping assist athletes from around the world. She's been assigned to Athletes' Village, one of seven Olympic Park venues.
She'll make two trips to London, the first June 14-15 for training and then for "the real thing," July 21 to Aug. 14.
Stevenson-Flom said she was among some 270,000 people who applied for volunteer "Games Makers" positions at the Olympics. About 75,000 were chosen, most of them from the United Kingdom. While many will meet and greet Olympic team members and visitors arriving at London airports, others, like Stevenson-Flom, will fill specific roles.
Inspired by the experience of two colleagues who had volunteered at previous Olympics, Stevenson-Flom began looking into the application process about a year ago. On two occasions, she interviewed by telephone for more than an hour with members of the London-based Olympic organizing committee.
"I could tell they had my resume right in front of them and that they'd gone over it with a fine-tooth comb," she said.
Her colleagues, both of whom had instructed her at the Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy in Newington, applied separately at different times and also were named Games Makers. Richard Testa of Southington, who has volunteered at three previous Olympics, has been assigned to Olympic Stadium while Lee Stang, also of Southington, will report to the basketball arena. Stang has volunteered at two previous Olympics.
"I've been so inspired by the stories they came back telling," Stevenson-Flom said. "I wanted to follow in their footsteps."
Increased mobility, flexibility
Stevenson-Flom enrolled at CCMT in the wake of her father's death, intending eventually to work with oncology patients. A required class in sports massage expanded her interest in the field.
She graduated from the school in 2003 but has never left. Now a faculty member, she teaches sports massage and orthopedic rehabilitation massage. She also serves on the board of directors of the Connecticut chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association.
For the past eight years, she's served as director of the Connecticut Sports Massage Team, which provides free sports massages to athletes competing in such events as the Boston Marathon, the Hartford Marathon, the Mystic Places Marathon and the Niantic Bay Half-Marathon.
In 2011, she said, the team provided 3,700 free sports massages.
Stevenson-Flom also serves as executive director of the ECHO Cancer Foundation, a Norwich-based nonprofit that supports cancer patients and their families. In that role, she helped develop The Spa at Norwich Inn's "fragile client" program for people undergoing chemotherapy or living with chronic diseases other than cancer. Stevenson-Flom lost her mother to cancer last year.
In Balance Therapeutic Massage, her private practice, caters to clients of all stripes, from high schoolers to "weekend warriors" to serious athletes as well as cancer patients.
"I just fell in love with sports massage," said Stevenson-Flom, an athlete during her high school years at Norwich Free Academy. "It's very different from relaxation massage. … I do a lot with getting (athletes) ready to compete."
Post-competition massage is important, too.
"Athletes tend to understand how important massage is; they're in tune with their bodies," she said. "Massage increases mobility and flexibility and therefore decreases the possibility of injury. It enables them to maintain their training schedules - they don't want to give up a day for an ache or a pain."
In London, Stevenson-Flom said she expects to treat athletes before and after they compete. She estimates her Olympic involvement, including airfare for both trips - $1,200 each time - will come to around $8,000. She joked that after "a harrowing couple of months," during which she feared having to live "in cardboard boxes in Hyde Park," she's secured lodging in a flat five miles from the Athletes' Village and has connected with other "Gamers" via Facebook.
Stevenson-Flom traveled to England and Scotland in the early 1980s with her father.
"From what I remember of London, it will be amazing to see how they fit the Olympics into this old, historic city," she said.
Picture beach volleyball on the prime minister's doorstep.