Feature by Jeff Commings
PHOENIX, Arizona, September 13. TOD Miller earns a living on the backs of hundreds of people each year. And their hamstrings. And their calves.
Miller is the owner of Beyond Massage Therapy, a company that specializes in a form of massage therapy called BodyWalking. Simply put, the client lies on a special mat on the ground, with the certified Bodywalker using his or her feet — and gravity — to put compression on muscles. On the surface, the procedure sounds weird, especially for those who have only known the traditional massage method of using hands, elbows and lots of body oil. That's how Miller first felt about it when he encountered a version of BodyWalking 16 years ago.
“I had some basic steps on me,” Miller remembers. “The practitioner said I was going to do a best time at a (triathlon) race next week, and it turned out to be true. It all made sense after that.”
Miller started his new BodyWalking enterprise in a small office building in central Phoenix, and slowly expanded the BodyWalking name into California and Florida. And tomorrow, he's going national with an appearance on the season premiere of the ABC show “Shark Tank.”
The show features ordinary people (and a few celebrities) pitching business ideas to successful entrepreneurs and business owners (such as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and inventor Lori Grenier). If the “sharks” like the idea, they'll write checks to invest in the new venture. If they don't, well, at least the people got some time on national television.
Miller is very tight-lipped about his appearance on “Shark Tank,” which he filmed a couple of months ago in an attempt to get some investment money from the millionaires for nationwide expansion. Thanks to an agreement he signed to not disclose the outcome of his pitch to the “sharks,” all he can say was that “it was crazy and it was good.”
Those are two words some of Miller's clients have been using to describe BodyWalking. As a 23-time Ironman participant, Miller knows what athletes feel during training and after competition. He knows that for many swimmers, cyclists and runners, traditional massage is not enough to get their bodies ready for more work — especially those in their 30s and 40s.
“It works in terms of helping the individual to have more freedom in their bodies,” said Miller. “If you're a swimmer, you're going to have more DPS (distance per stroke). You'll get better space between muscles, and that means less heat and less friction and cleansing the body with new blood to new joints and ligaments.”
Miller's appearance on “Shark Tank” is bound to make BodyWalking more prominent in the United States, but it's been a part of Chinese massage therapy for centuries. Commonly known as Ashiatsu, the practice can be found in a few cities around the country in varying forms.
Rod Dixon, a champion runner who won bronze in the 1972 Olympics in the 5000 meters and has been a longtime fan of Miller's work, said his first encounter with a form of BodyWalking in China in 1978 was an eye-opener in terms of muscle recovery.
“When I first had bodywalking on me in 1978, I wasn't quite sure, and it was a bit of a fright to me,” Dixon said. “He wasn't forceful or heavy, and he was placing his weight on those crucial trigger points. He would stretch me out from my shoulders to my hamstrings and control it. He found those trigger points on my hamstrings with his heels, and he couldn't get that with his elbow.”
And that's a major selling point for Miller when he tells colleagues about BodyWalking. Because the practice does not put stress on joints in the upper body, Miller has been able to enjoy a career in massage therapy that has lasted nearly two decades.
“Five to seven years is the average career span for a massage therapist,” Miller said. “We're utilizing gravity as the therapeutic component, as well as compression technology to elicit a high amount of blood flow.”
Those are big words, but does the technique really help his clients swim faster and run further?
“After I work on most people, they say they are able to find that balance in their bodies again,” said Miller, who's prepping to compete in November's Arizona Ironman. “They feel invincible.”
And, maybe strong enough to face a panel of sharks.
Send feature story ideas to Jeff Commings at firstname.lastname@example.org.