Some might think Lou Ann Botsford always has fate on her side. Not quite, she says.
“We’re all scared to try something new,” Botsford said, “but this is my approach to life: If you wait until you think you’re ready, you won’t accomplish anything.”
Botsford has never been afraid to take risks. At 52 years old, she changed careers, transitioning from early childhood development to sports massage therapy. Now in her 11th year as an adjunct professor at the Community College of Rhode Island’s Newport County Campus, Botsford continues to inspire and instruct students through her own life experiences, most of which stem from her willingness to roll up her sleeves and wade into uncharted waters.
In addition to teaching sports massage therapy, Botsford owns her own practice – Finish Line Massage, LLC, in Cranston – and has worked with numerous collegiate, professional and Olympic athletes over the past 12 years. After randomly applying to a training program for Olympic medical volunteers, she landed a role as the massage therapist for the U.S. Olympic Men’s Ski Jump Team from 2012 through 2014, including a trip to Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 winter games. She is also an award-winning chair for the Rhode Island American Massage Therapy Association (RIAMTA).
Having completed 45 road races, 18 triathlons and an additional 13 long-distance cycling events – most of them “later in life,” she said – Botsford “walks the walk,” too. She’s experienced the same ailments as many of her clients, which enhances her credibility and allows her to provide the best treatment possible.
Later this month, she will again lend her expertise to students as CCRI launches a summer-long therapeutic massage program offering massage treatments to the public at the CCRI Student Massage Clinic in Newport. Botsford will also teach two summer courses for introductory and advanced learners.
“I’m living proof it’s not too late to do anything,” she said.
Her career in rehabilitative health began rather unexpectedly. Despite a rewarding job working with children, she longed for something more impactful. On a whim, she attended a wellness fair and happened upon a therapist providing free chair massages. She struck up a conversation, grabbed a business card on the way out and eventually attended the Bancroft School of Massage Therapy in Worcester, Mass., earning her certification in 2007.
That inner drive to peer around the corner and see what lies ahead has guided Botsford through most of her greatest challenges. After a chance meeting with a case manager from the VA Boston Healthcare System in the parking lot of Narragansett Beach, she began working with Adaptive Sports New England, a non-profit organization geared toward increasing sports participation for those with disabilities.
She’s also been a medical volunteer at the Boston Marathon for 13 years. There, she met retired U.S. Army Master Sergeant Cedric King, who lost both legs when he stepped on an explosive device in Afghanistan in 2012. Botsford helped him recover after he ran his first Marathon on prosthetics in 2014 and finally reunited with the 42-year-old veteran in April when King crossed the finish line on a handcycle.
Since meeting King five years ago, Botsford has used excerpts from his book and clips from his nationwide motivational speeches in her classroom as a way to teach students the importance of connecting with their clients on a personal level. She almost considered skipping this year’s Marathon after running a race of her own in New York the previous day. As fate would have it, she bumped into King in the VIP tent.
“I’m glad I went. I would’ve missed an amazing opportunity,” she said. “I hadn’t seen him since our first meeting and I had been looking for him every year. I was overjoyed. He really appreciated how much he’s changed my life.”
Fate also kept Botsford out of harm’s way in 2013 when terrorists ignited two pressure cooker bombs near the Marathon finish line, killing three people and injuring several hundred. Botsford was about to take a break and head toward the finish line around 2:45 p.m. that day when her supervisor asked her to treat one more client. She obliged. The first bomb went off several minutes later.
Luck and happenstance are only part of Botsford’s story. What others consider strange twists of fate are the result of her motivation and inquisitive nature, both of which have led her to a successful career in massage therapy. Botsford continues to prove it’s never late to roll the dice and try something new.
“I just became open to the idea of, ‘I’m not sure where this is going, but I’m going to follow it,’” she said. “It may not be smart sometimes, but it can lead to amazing things. If you are a naysayer, you’re not going to go anywhere.”