Friday, January 4, 2002

Larry Packer, left, and Geno Ortiz display the design for T-shirts being produced as a fund-raising effort to get them to the Winter Olympics.

Isle therapists
massage for the gold

2 Kona men will get to ply their trade
on the athletes at the Olympics in February

By Helen Altonn

Principal Geno Ortiz and Vice Principal Larry Packer of the Kona Hawaii School of Muscular Massage have been selected for the Olympic medical staff at the winter games in February, in Salt Lake City.

They are among 200 massage therapists chosen out of 14,000 applicants for the Olympic Massage Team.

The Winter Olympics begin Feb. 8 in Salt Lake City. American speedskaters, above, held their trials at the Olympic site last month.

It will be Ortiz's second Olympic experience. In 1984 he was part of the first massage team in Olympic history when the summer games were held in Los Angeles.

He was cited in the top 10 percent of all Olympic staffers for performance and dedication and was the only member of the massage staff receiving that award, he said.

Then living in Southern California, Ortiz said he was inspired to apply for the Olympics medical team after giving a massage to a nurse who told him, "That was so great, you should work in the Olympics."

He was one of 36 massage therapists chosen from 4,000 applicants for the Los Angeles games.

"We just worked and worked and worked. Some days we did maybe 16 massages a day," he said.

Ortiz said he is the only one of the first 36 Olympic massage therapists returning for next month's winter games.

"It's such an incredible honor, you can't believe," he said, adding that he wakes up in the morning thinking, "I'm going to be in the Mecca of the greatest event in the world."

He worked on a lot of gold medallists in 1984, he said. "It's a phenomenon."

Ortiz first visited Kona in 1977 "to thaw out" from the University of Portland, got into canoe racing and stayed a year and a half.

He returned to the mainland with a back injury and attended massage school, got his license in Hawaii in 1980 and went to San Diego to work for a triathlon team. In 1986 he returned to Kona and founded his school.

Ortiz said he and Packer, his longtime friend and vice principal, attended the same high school in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., and share a "teamwork spirit."

Packer graduated from Ortiz's school, licensed by the Department of Education, and spent a few years working in Sweden where he had his own massage practice. When he returned here, Ortiz said he asked him to help with his school.

The two must be in Utah by Feb. 7; opening ceremonies are the next day.

But first, they have to raise money to cover all expenses involved, plus lost wages. "We are not paid in any way, shape or form," Ortiz said.

They are planning several fund-raisers and are having T-shirts made with Olympic rings of red plumeria leis and the words: "I support the aloha touch of muscular massage for the athletes of the world. Salt Lake City, Utah. 2002."

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