We love telling you about some of the amazing people whose path brings them to Oregon School of Massage. Here’s one….
Gladys’ Story – Part I
Written by Jessica Zisa
For many the prospect of going back to school or starting up a business might be intimidating. But for 80-year-old Oregon School of Massage alumna Gladys Walgren, who began studying at OSM at the age of 70, massage has become an empowering way of life. You wouldn’t believe she was 80 years old with her contagious energy and enthusiastic demeanor, but when asked her age, Gladys smiles and proudly pulls out her drivers license, which confirms she will be 81 in September. She carries herself with a humble, quiet strength, and in a recent interview, Gladys shared her experience as an older adult student at OSM and how she came to establish herself professionally in the world of massage.
Gladys first decided to go into massage because of the lingering pain her and her sister, Velma, experienced after being in a car wreck. “Helping people has always been thrilling to me,” she said. “I hate to see anyone hurting. I want to help them.” Gladys began her studies at OSM in 2004 and completed the program in 20 months. “I went straight through. I never took anytime off because I figured if I took any time off I ‘d never make it back. I was a chicken,” she laughed. “I came so close to quitting that first quarter I told my daughter ‘I’m going to quit’ she said, ‘oh, Mom, don’t worry about it you’ll make it; you’re doing fine.’ I had been out of school 52 years when I went back, so having to knuckle down and study and everything was totally out of my way of doing things. I had to really change my lifestyle when I went into school.”
After making the decision to go back to school, Gladys chose to enroll at OSM, despite it being a further distance to drive, because the OSM program seemed to better fit her needs. She considered other schools that were closer to her home, but when she discovered OSM offered a flexible schedule that allowed her more time to complete her coursework if needed, she said, “Oh, I can do that.” Gladys in 2004
As Gladys reflected on her studies at OSM, she said, “I also really liked, and benefited from, the OSM way of thinking in terms of the body and mind relationship. Plus, the people at OSM were just great. They didn’t treat me different because of my age. They treated me the same as the students who got out of high school. I wasn’t given privileges; I wasn’t held back. I was just treated like a regular student. They made sure you got what you were in there for,” she added, “the advisors were knowledgeable and so great at helping you plan your classes. They were wonderful. I recommend OSM to anyone interested in massage.”
Gladys developed her hard work ethic growing up on a farm. She always had an interest in helping people, but decided against a career in nursing because of the high school Latin language requirement. Gladys said she got a got a job working on phones. She went on to apply for a job at Williams Air Controls in 1968 and worked there for 35 years. “When new management took over, the employees went on strike, she said, “and when the new contracts came back the contract said if you retire you have to give 30 days or else you’d lose your health benefits, so I said bye. I quit and went to school. Big change.”
During Gladys’ time at OSM, she began giving massage for patients receiving chemo treatment at OHSU. She continued her volunteer work for eight years. “It was a great to work with people and make a difference in their lives,” she said. “There was young man who I had treated several days and the nurse said you can’t give him a massage today because he was struggling so much. His back hurt so bad, and I asked him could I do polarity? And I did, and pretty soon he said, ‘Oh, I feel so much better.’” She smiled, “It’s little things like that. It just makes it so worthwhile to help people and make them feel better.” She even found ways to change peoples attitudes toward massage: “One patient I offered massage to and he said, ‘Oh no, no, no.’ His daughter said, ‘go ahead Dad,’ so he held out his hand, and I just lightly rubbed down his hand. He said, ‘Oh that feels so good.’ Just by rubbing his hand, he changed his mind about massage.” She laughed and shrugged her shoulders, “It’s just so fun to work with people and change their lives.”
When asked what advice she had for prospective OSM students, Gladys said, “Try it you might like it.” She smiled, “To me if you like people, I think you should get along fine. For me it was one of the greatest things I’ve gotten into. I love it. It’s something you have to try. I don’t think I knew though how much I would enjoy it. I had no idea what I was getting into when I started, but I knew it what I was looking for.”
This is Part I of a two part interview with Gladys Walgren. Go to Part II to learn about Gladys’ journey into private practice: http://www.oregonschoolofmassage.com/gladys-walgren-part-ii/
Jessica Zisa is a recent graduate of Marylhurst; she is now in graduate school at New York Univ