The 2016 Hill Country Ride for AIDS took place April 30th this year. This was my first time participating in this event and no, I did not ride.
Instead, my dear friend, Jacob Cain McRae, and I volunteered our services as Asian bodywork therapists. We spent a fantastic day providing Chinese tui na-style restorative treatments to post-race cyclists. It was a magical experience. It was also really moving to read the stories and the updates that appeared the next day and to find out just how much this convivial event raised for local HIV/AIDS charities here in the central Texas area.
It was a lucky happenstance when I decided to attend the 2016 Dolly’s Birthday Bash in support of her Imagination Library for children in eastern Tennessee. One of the many engaging people I met there was Ride Director and all-around lovely human being Prentiss Douthit. We chatted and he charmed me with his beautiful Alabama accent and enchanting smile. When I told him who I was and what I do, he asked me right away if I would like to volunteer. I could not say yes fast enough and I knew just who I wanted to bring on board with me, too. Luckily, another local practitioner, Jacob–of Cain Healing Arts–in turn said yes to my invitation.
And this, my friends, is how HCRA 2016 riders got to experience the wonder of the iron thumb of doom (but I’ll get to that later…).
The Hill Country Ride for AIDS is an institution by now. Founded in 1999, the first race took place in 2000. Riders come in all ages, shapes, sizes, and fitness levels and folks can choose their distance from the option of 13, 46, 65, or 100 miles. All that a rider needs to do is commit to raising $500.00 for his or her ride and then show up to enjoy the family-friendly, warm, and joyful community gathering. In fact, the HCRA was voted “Best Bike Ride” for two years in a row in the Austin Chronicle Best of Austin Readers Poll. The beautiful photographs and stories that show up on its Facebook page demonstrate that this is a genuinely beloved event. There is a solemn aspect to it, of course. There are red ribbons along part of the route with the names of those who died of AIDS on each one, for example. The memories people share of loved ones who are gone but not forgotten can be wrenching, too. But the money this race raises bring help and hope to so many via the ten charities that its event serves. There is laughter and fun and good food and lots to do at the race in equal measure to the seriousness of this fundraiser and its origins. And no matter how big it gets, there is a personal and down-home quality to it that endures over the years. My neighbor across the walkway from my apartment has ridden in years past and he knew exactly who Prentiss was when I told him about my volunteer commitment. He is a runner, not a cyclist, but he rode with some friends on a whim and–he told me–even though his team was one of the last to finish, there was Prentiss with a big smile and a hug for each and every finisher. (And in fact, I saw my neighbor yesterday and the same thing happened at this year’s race.)
The Race pampers its riders all along the way with snacks, encouragement, and lively rest stops. Along with food and social gathering, massage therapists were stationed in a beautiful grove by the pavilions at the end of the race. Jacob and I were the only two Asian bodywork therapists so we were over by the tents set up for certain riding teams. I loved treating everyone who ended up on my table and was super excited to give a treatment to a woman who had relocated to Texas from California–she knew exactly what tui na was and said that it was easy enough to find in her old home state but not so common here in Austin. This is one thing that Jacob and I are realizing as we are building our businesses; Jacob with Cain Healing Arts and of course myself here at Two Hearts Wellness. To wit: not a whole lot of people know how amazing Asian bodywork therapy is and that it is locally available. Oftentimes, people have heard of (or tried) shiatsu or Thai massage, but not Chinese tui na-style Asian bodywork therapy. Jacob and I hope to change that one patient at a time here in Austin. I know that the people I worked on at the race certainly seemed to appreciate my iron thumb of doom.
And what, you may be asking, is the iron thumb of doom?
Well…that’s a story. When I started my program in traditional Chinese medicine, one of the first classes was point locations (e.g., acupuncture points). One day, we students were tasked with locating and putting stickers on points on the chest. I went first as the location model and–as I think is fairly obvious–I’m busty. Even though the points we were theoretically locating were only a couple inches from the midline of the chest, my friends couldn’t find my ribs in part because they were reluctant to dig their thumbs into the edges of my bosom. We called over the professor (who shall remain nameless here since he didn’t ASK to be the cause of a cute story like this one) and he came marching over somewhat crankily. My two partners timidly said that they couldn’t find my ribs and the professor slammed his thumb into my rib cage and turned to lecture them on the finer aspects of palpation while I laid there on the table in frozen silence and he pressed down hard. When he finally finished and left, I said “Oh my God, I have now experienced the Chinese Iron Thumb of Doom.” (Of myself, at the time, I said that I am in possession of a Gentle Sicilian-American Thumb of Love and Kindness).
Funny enough, though–as I have progressed in my program, I have too developed an iron thumb of doom and indeed must acknowledge the fact that iron thumbs know no ethnicity. Good palpation skills do require a firm thumb and knowledgable fingers and between my clinical internship and my experience as a practitioner, I can say that I have both. And coupled with my intuitive hands and ability to truly feel a person’s muscles, I am able to give an Asian bodywork therapy treatment worthy of the teachings of my mentor and dearly-esteemed teacher, Dr. Fan. But this took a lot of work and a lot of care (and Jacob will say the same thing about his development as a practitioner). Jacob and I were incredibly lucky to have all of our internship hours together. We used to discuss our cases and compare our thoughts on our own and each other’s treatment strategies after each rotation. We both love this modality and see it as an art to be cultivated, to be mindfully practiced, and to be delivered with great respect for its history and place within Chinese medical tradition. Whether via a firm pressure or a gentle thumb meditation (a technique that is used to soothe a discrete tender spot), a proper Chinese tui na-style Asian bodywork treatment is well-thought and reflective of a centuries-old philosophy of practice. I will continue to refine my assessment skills and therapeutic techniques throughout my entire career and so will Jacob. We stand on the shoulders of giants in so doing.
In this context, then, the main goal of our treatment strategy was to soothe and relax tired post-race muscles and offer a heart-felt thank-you to participants whose fundraising meant that ten local charities got the financial support that they need in order to serve our communities. Jacob and I loved participating in this event and I hope that we will do it again next year. It was an honor and a joy to give our gift of love for our practice to the participants in this worthy event.
If you want to be a part of next year’s race, either as a rider or as a support volunteer, you can find out all about it right here. If you missed the chance to experience Asian bodywork therapy at the race, do not despair. If you are interested in having Jacob work on you (and he is amazing–I know, from treating with him in clinic, that patients LOVE him), contact him here. As for me, I am treating by appointment and you can contact me here for Asian bodywork therapy and/or boutique health coaching services.
And no, I will not inflict the Iron Thumb of Doom on you–I promise!
Two Hearts Wellness is a local holistic health and wellness outfit with a passion for all things nourishing, including but not limited to: joyful living, great food, art, and literature, and–of course–traditional Chinese medicine. If you want to learn more about me, click here and do feel free to follow my blog, keep up with me on Instagram, connect with me on Facebook, or contact me here to set up an appointment for personal training or health coaching services. If you are interested in Asian bodywork therapy, click here to book an appointment online.