“I knew I had a calling, but didn’t know this was it until I came and took this chance,” said Therese Wilson of South Elgin, a massage therapy student at Elgin Community College. “I encourage anyone my age, older, younger, that age is a number, and if you let it get in your way, you will miss out on so much. Your talents may not even be revealed to you yet.”
Wilson is 55 years old and has tried various jobs and careers throughout her life. Each attempt was either not the right fit or obstacle after obstacle was put in her way. However, these obstacles and life challenges guided her to pursue the journey to become a massage therapist. In February of 2022, Wilson pushed past her fear and attended ECC’s introductory class for the massage therapy program.
“I was so scared when I first came to ECC because I’m not 18 years old,” said Wilson, “but I came here to honor my dad.” Two weeks before the program began, Wilson’s father passed away after his battle with cancer. “My dad loved getting massaged, and that was the one thing I could offer to make him feel some relief. I could visibly see him sink into the sofa and let go of whatever trauma from the chemo, radiation, infusions, etc., he was experiencing.”
In addition to losing her father, Wilson had previously taken care of her mother and grandmother when they also became sick and passed away. Though unfortunate, each experience has led her to where she is now and the direction of massage therapy she hopes to pursue. These areas include hospice, those battling cancer, the elderly, individuals coping with an eating disorder, or those who have been taught hands are for hurting and not for healing, such as sexual assault or abuse victims. “Those that are touch-deprived need it more than anyone,” said Wilson. “There are so many lonely people in the world who don’t have someone to touch or hug them daily, and just another person touching their skin can make them feel better, and that’s beautiful. That’s what I’ve learned through this program.”
Within ECC’s massage therapy program, students get the chance to perform a case study on a volunteer student. They’ll work with this student for five weeks to develop a treatment plan centered around some of their chief complaints. Wilson’s case study was with an ECC student who is a former U.S. Marine and father dealing with PTSD, anxiety, and lower back pain. Throughout the five weeks she spent with her client, she was introduced to another area of individuals she’d like to help through massage therapy.
“At first, it was difficult. Many people cannot surrender to massage because they are used to the opposite,” said Wilson, “but to see him slowly surrender and leave feeling refreshed and energized was so rewarding and an honor to be a part of. I never thought about working with veterans before my case study client, and now I know that I would love to serve those who have served us.”
Wilson is a mother of twin daughters, and her experience raising and caring for her family supports her in a career field where a warm, nurturing personality is valued and necessary. Her daughters came with her to register for classes because she needed her support system to ease her nerves, and that support remained close by; Wilson’s daughters are both in their second year at ECC, beginning their own journey in higher education right after high school. “I’m so proud that my girls can see that even when they graduate and go into a specific career and do not like it, they can return and try something else. It’s never too late,” said Wilson.
One of Wilson’s biggest fears about entering the program was that most of her classmates would be her daughters' age, and she did not know how she’d fit in or feel comfortable. Throughout her time at ECC, she’s met students from all walks of life who have taught and touched her differently. “I’ve been guided here when I was supposed to,” said Wilson. “With my daughters being in school, finding their own paths and selves, it was time I found that for myself, too.”
On December 16, Wilson will cross the commencement stage to receive her certificate in massage therapy and plans to take the MBLEx to be eligible to apply for an Illinois state massage license. “It will be such a beautiful thing to live my life going to work every day to improve someone else’s life through touch. I finally found a nook in my life where I belong. It’s taken me a long time to find it, but at 55 years old, I did it.”
For more information on ECC’s massage therapy program, visit elgin.edu/massage.