Hopkinton woman was certified massage therapist at the Olympics

By By Cindy Cantrell
Globe Correspondent / September 2, 2012
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OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE:Anna Gammal of Hopkinton was a top athlete in her native Greece, where she finished third in the 10,000-meter run in the 1989 national championships. However, she fulfilled her dream of a second Olympics at the London Summer Games in a different capacity: as a volunteer certified massage therapist.

Gammal, founder of Body n’ Beyond Massage Therapyin Hopkinton, was a member of the medical team for sports massage in the Olympic Village from July 23 through Aug. 6. At the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, she oversaw 180 massage therapists from 17 countries as co-director of the sports massage team. In addition, she has worked as part of the massage therapy team at the Boston Marathon since 2003.

According to Gammal, this was the first time in Olympic history that massage therapists were classified under the medical team, alongside osteopaths, physiotherapists, chiropractors, and other specialists. Because massage therapists were limited to providing massage for relaxation in the athletes’ recreation building at Athens, she found it more rewarding “doing what we’re trained to do” in terms of sports, rehabilitation, and clinical massage.

While Gammal is unable to give names due to confidentiality policy, she said she provided event preparation and recovery massage for athletes in judo, wrestling, swimming, field hockey, archery, rowing, and bicycling. She worked daily from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., while commuting from a hotel nearly two hours away. Volunteers were provided with one meal per shift, but no special access to the competitions.

“There was a lot of work and it wasn’t glamorous,” said Gammal, who is also a hypnotherapist and neurolinguistic programming practitioner, “but it was a very satisfying experience because I knew the sacrifices these athletes made to be on that level. It was an honor to help them.”

RIDING FOR A CURE:Yasmin Byron was working on her second book, “Enlightening the World: The Creation of the Statue of Liberty,” when stiffness in her writing hand forced a visit to her primary care physician. He referred her to a neurologist, who diagnosed young-onset Parkinson’s disease in October 2006.

She was one month past her 46th birthday.

Since that time, Byron said, her life has changed beyond simply relying more on her left hand. Increasing difficulty with stairs led her and husband Stephen Byron to move from their town house in Cambridge to a single-level unit in a Brookline high-rise with an elevator and convenient parking. She restricts subway usage to off-peak times to maximize the chances of getting a seat. Because she cannot stand long in line, she avoids some places altogether.

“Sometimes I have to miss things,” Byron said. “I’m making adjustments.”

One trip she is committed to making is to Old Orchard Beach in Maine on Saturday to cheer for her husband as he participates in the New England Parkinson’s Ride, which benefits the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Stephen plans to ride 50 miles, although participants may also select routes of 10, 30, or 100 miles.

Stephen said he surpassed his $350 goal on the first day of fund-raising. As of a recent count, he had raised $1,020.

“People were so responsive,” Stephen said. “Their generosity really warmed my heart, especially because I’ve never done anything like this before.”

Yasmin is also thankful for support from family, friends, neighbors, and those in the local community who help her focus on all the things she can still do. She participates in tai chi, gentle yoga, water exercise, and personal training for those with disabilities, as well as kayaking at Walden Pond in Concord through Easthampton-based All Out Adventures. She also attends an American Parkinson Disease Association support group that meets monthly at Eliot Church in Newton.

Most of all, Yasmin said, it is “wonderful” that Stephen and so many others are raising awareness of the disease. While courtesy is freely extended when she uses her cane, many are visibly impatient when she walks and moves slowly without the visual cue. The disease’s symptoms include tremors, rigidity, balance problems, fatigue, difficulty multitasking, and abnormal body temperature regulation.

“I hope they find out more about PD so they can develop something to slow its progression,” she said, “and, of course, cure it.”

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GIVING BACK: For the sixth consecutive year, Michael Shain of Milford will host a free dinner honoring area military families on Sept. 11, with this installment of Thanks to Yanks being held from 6 to 8 p.m. at Medway’s VFW Post 1526, 123 Holliston St.

The nonpartisan event honors active military personnel, veterans, and their families — especially those who have suffered a loss — while paying tribute to the heroes and victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“This is my small way of saying thank you,” said Shain, who has no direct ties to the military, but feels that military families are due random acts of kindness. “We are one nation, and it just seems like the right thing to do.”

The event has grown each year, according to Shain, with more than 300 expected this year. Speakers will include Tracy Vaillancourt, a “Gold Star” mother and executive committee member of Project New Hope; Katherine Guay, a licensed social worker with the VA Boston Healthcare System; Mendon Fire Lieutenant Mike Zarella, who created a memorial with a piece of steel from the World Trade Center; and a representative from the state Department of Veterans’ Services.

Free child care will be overseen by Shain’s wife, Donnalee, a physical therapist. Dessert is donated each year by Hannaford of Milford, and financial support is provided by Shain’s employer, Medway-based Charles River Bank.

Donations are welcome, he said, with any remaining funds going to veterans ser­vices. For details, call 508-330-8487, e-mail info@thanksto­ or visit www.thanks- ­ Seating is limited, with an RSVP deadline of Friday.

WHO’S WHAT WHERE:Juliana Field of Framingham (inset) has been named director of development at the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts of Westborough, responsible for growing the association’s base of financial support for preventing brain injuries and serving survivors. Field has more than 20 years of leadership and fund-raising experience in education, human services, and other nonprofit organizations.

David Krasner of Plymouth (inset) has been appointed dean of the School of the Arts at Dean College in Franklin. With experience as a performer, teacher, publisher, and director, he previously worked at Emerson College, Yale University, and Southern Illinois University.

People items may be submitted to Cindy Cantrell at cantrell@

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