Jenn O’Connor | Reader Athlete January 2013

Jenn O’Connor gives a massage to Bobby Bailey after Stage 3 of the Green Mountain Stage Race.

Age: 37
Residence: Burlington
Occupation: Owner/massage therapist at Sustainable Wellness Massage, science teacher at Champlain College
Primary sports: Cycling, skiing and yoga

After skiing the bigger mountains of Colorado and Wyoming, Jenn O’Connor has returned to her East Coast roots. The massage therapist has opened her own business in Vermont and formed partnerships with many local groups, often providing complimentary massages to athletes at sporting events.

VS: What kind of cycling do you prefer?
JO: I primarily do road cycling and I like a mixed, varied terrain. If I don’t have a lot of time, one of my favorite loops is the route the Green Mountain Bike Club does on Wednesday nights. If I have more time, I’m likely to head towards the mountains for a 50- to 70-mile ride that might include a gap or two.

VS: Have you always been a cyclist?
JO: Growing up I was physically active. I played soccer and volleyball and I had a bike, but I didn’t take riding seriously. It wasn’t until I tore my ACL six years ago at Steamboat that I got reacquainted with the bike since my rehab included doing a lot of stationary cycling. I was living in Wyoming and after borrowing a stationary bike from a neighbor I got a hand-me-down road bike from a friend. It was too small, but I rode it for two years and finally upgraded to a carbon fiber bicycle. When I moved back to Vermont I contacted Kevin Bessett of the GMBC to partner with his group, which has been a really awesome partnership. I did some group rides and learned about a racing group called 1K2GO. I got my feet wet racing this summer and I’m going to be part of their women’s development team next season. I’m still learning a lot on the bike and absolutely loving it. I’m honored to be part of the development team and really looking forward to it.

VS: Tell us about the kind of skiing you enjoy?
JO: I grew up skiing and got my undergraduate degree in nutrition at UVM. After that I moved to Colorado to attend the Boulder College of Massage Therapy. When I moved out West I wanted a shift. I grew up seeing telemark skiers so I wanted to give that a try. In 2001 I switched to telemark skiing and I haven’t been on Alpine skis since. Three years ago I started skate skiing and I really like that a lot, as well.

VS: I understand you’re going to be involved with the Bolton Valley Snowshoe Shuffle.
JO: This year I was asked to be a member of the American Lung Association’s Vermont Leadership Board. I donated a massage for their auction and will help coordinate the event. I’ll also give complimentary massages during and after the event.

VS: You give a lot of complimentary massages, don’t you?
JO: I enjoy helping out. I work with two different organizations to provide complimentary post-race massages. The biggest one is USATriathlon. I coordinated all the massages for that event in 2011 and that was a really fun thing to do. I got to work with local physical therapists and massage therapists. I also provided massages at the IronMan in Lake Placid. In addition, I provide complimentary massages for the New England Nordic Ski Association’s Women’s XC Day and this year I’ll give massages at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. When I was in Colorado I provided massages at the Leadville 100 mountain bike and running race and for the Boulder Bolder (a 10K road race). More locally, I’ve given free massages at some GMBC time trials but this year I started riding in them, instead.

VS: Can you tell us the importance of massage?
JO: It all stems back to sustainability. That’s why I gave my business the name Sustainable Wellness. If you look at my progression from a degree in nutrition to yoga instructor, massage therapist and then getting a master’s in environmental science with a focus on biology; it’s all been about promoting health and helping people reach their goals athletically. In order to have something sustainable you need to have balance, wellness, and a strong sense of community. When I thought about forming my business those were the central themes. The sustainable part lets me involve my interdisciplinary background. I’m meeting people where they need to be met to help them get a good understanding of their body and the rigor of what they’re going through. I work with professional athletes, Olympians, recreational athletes and weekend warriors. Massage therapy is a practice that’s proactive, preventative, and responsive to imbalances in the body to support athletic achievement.

VS: Tell us about your teaching career.
JO: I have been a science teacher for nine years working with fifth graders through undergraduates. Once I got done with massage school I moved to Telluride to be a ski bum for a season. When I was there I was working on a lot of athletes and began thinking about how I could use my passion for health. That’s when I started thinking about being a teacher. I wanted to continue doing massage but I also wanted to move forward. I went to Arizona but it was too dry for me and then I ended up in Los Angeles which is not a place I ever considered moving to, but I found an amazing teaching job at a very progressive school which set the foundation for my being holistic in my approach. After a few years, I decided to go for my master’s, which is how I ended up in Jackson Hole which has a partnership with the University of Wyoming. After I finished my graduate degree I spent two years in Colorado.

VS: And after all that, why come back to Vermont?
JO: Vermont has always been the standard for me. I enjoyed doing my undergraduate degree here and wanted to stay, but the type of exploration I wanted to do with massage school and bigger mountains required me to find my opportunities elsewhere. I valued my time in the West but I’m excited to be back. My family is on the East Coast and it’s wonderful to be closer to them. There’s something special about this place. I always knew that I always wanted to come back here. It’s absolutely the right choice for me. I’m very happy here.

Phyl Newbeck

Phyl Newbeck lives in Jericho with two spoiled orange cats. She is a skier, skater, cyclist, kayaker, and lover of virtually any sport which does not involve motors. She is the author of “Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving.”