THE BIG INTERVIEW
For muscle definition, suppleness, flexibility and overall wellness, Sir Chris Hoy’s Olympic gold medal-winning legs get the perfect 10 out of 10.
A mere mortal like myself? Well...my limbs get a slightly lower – if respectable – score of six and a half.
That is the verdict according to top sports massage therapist Sally Barker.
And she should know having put her healing hands to good use on both myself and the legendary Scottish cycling star.
“There is no difference to the make-up of your leg muscles and Chris Hoy’s leg muscles – it’s just that Chris’s just happen to be twice the size,” Barker told me.
Hardly surprising considering that as a sports journalist, I spend most of my time either watching sport or writing about it, rather than taking part.
At 38 years old, a serious injury put paid to my amateur football career a long time ago, although I do manage to get out on my bike every so often, while also playing my favourite sport tennis in a local evening league.
As she evaluated and then treated my legs, Barker did detect a certain tightness and tension, particularly in my ‘glutes’ – a tell-tale sign of someone who works long hours sitting at a desk staring at a computer screen.
While she specialises in the treatment of elite sports athletes – and used her expertise to play a pivotal role in Hoy’s record-breaking exploits at the London Olympic Games – Barker is a strong advocate of massage for even the most inactive of people.
She believes everybody should get a rub down at least once a month and her practice – SB Sports Massage, which boasts two centres in Leeds and Chorley – caters for everybody from the elite sports person to the office worker.
“Just by massaging somebody, I could have a good guess what that particular person does for a living,” said Barker, who lives in Croston.
“Even just by watching them walk through the door into the treatment room, I could probably have a good guess just by looking at the way they walk and their posture.
“We always sit a client down and do an assessment first.
“You can tell by the way they sit, how they would probably sit at a desk and how that affects their posture.
“And you can tell by feeling their muscles where that person is more dominant, which could obviously be connected to their job or where they might have had a past injury and that part of their body is slightly weaker.
“People who work in an office, you usually find tension and tightness in their buttock region because they are sat down all day.
“You also find it in their shoulders because they are hunched over a computer all day.”
While a member of the general public would benefit from the services provided by Barker and her team of therapists, a lot of the 42-year-old’s time is spent treating professional athletes.
Regular massages are an occupational requirement if you are involved in sport at the highest level. And Barker, who hails originally from Wigan, has built up an impressive sporting clientele since changing careers around six years ago and qualifying as a masseur.
After studying for a degree in sports science, she spent the first decade of her working life involved in sales and marketing.
But in her mid-30s, she decided to take her career in a different direction and moved back to her first love – sport.
After deciding that re-training as a physiotherapist would take too long, she opted for the shorter masseur course. Once qualified, she immediately set up her own practice – aided by the knowledge of her previous career in sales and marketing – in Leeds.
Since then she has enjoyed a meteoric rise and has now opened up her second establishment in Chorley after returning to her native North West.
She currently works with the British Cycling Team at Manchester Velodrome and treats the elite squad of track, BMX and mountain bike athletes.
She also keeps the muscles of GB’s Para-Swim team at Manchester Aquatic Centre in tip-top shape, and lists Preston’s very own Commonwealth Games silver medal-winning swimmer and 2016 paralympian hopeful Stephanie Slater as one of her regular clients.
Hoy – who retired after the last Olympic Games – is the biggest star Barker has massaged up to now and she admits to being slightly in awe at first when Britain’s most successful ever Olympian was on her treatment table.
“I would say Chris Hoy is the most famous person I have massaged,” she said.
“I treated him at the velodrome, which has its own clinic, in the lead-up to the London Olympics in 2012.
“So it was a big crucial time for him.
“He is a lovely, genuine guy...with massive muscles!
“Believe me, it is hard work massaging somebody like that because he was in peak physical shape and the muscles were pretty solid.
“I’m fairly modest about the jobs I do, but you do feel a little bit in awe when you are treating somebody like that.
“He is an inspiration to so many people.
“But I think when you’re working with athletes like that every week, you just start to feel pretty down-to-earth with it all. They are just normal people at the end of the day and they treat you normally, so you just treat them like any other client.
“I work with Steph Slater – she comes to see me twice a week.
“There’s Rik Waddon, who is a local athlete, and has won medals at the Paralympics in the para-cycling.
“I’ve treated Jason Kenny, Laura Trott, Sarah Storey, who is a para-athlete competing in both swimming and cycling, so there’s a few household names in there.”
With athletes like Hoy and Slater, who were and are so dependent on their physical conditioning, Barker does feel a certain amount of responsibility when she embarks on a course of treatment.
“It’s not just down to me – there are other people in the team of staff, who contribute towards an athlete winning gold,” Barker said.
“But you do feel an element of responsibility because you are there to do a job and ultimately that job is going to help them win or get a medal.
“As well as responsibility, you also feel pride when an athlete wins.
“It is an amazing feeling to see an athlete you have treated win.
“When you think, there’s not that many jobs available at that high level and I happen to be doing one of those jobs with two of the biggest sporting organisations in the UK in cycling and swimming.
“I guess there is a certain amount of nervousness as well especially at a major Games and you are the one who is massaging them before their event.
“There is a lot at stake, but because you’ve had the experience of working with that athlete on a regular basis two years prior to a major Games, it does make it easier.
“You get to know them and learn how they react to massage.
“You know what they respond well to, so you just get on with the things that you’ve done with them on a week-by-week basis in training.
“It just so happens that you are maybe at or are close to a major Games and the tension is high.
“The thing is, people like Chris Hoy are very aware of their bodies. They will work with you and will tell you where it feels tight.
“Obviously someone like him, he would need a lot of work on his legs – his quads, glutes – where the power comes from in cycling.
“Those areas would certainly be the tighter areas, but you also often find in cyclists that because of their position on the bike where they are hunched over the handlebars, they get a lot of tension in their neck and upper back.
“That’s why it’s a nice mix for me with the cyclists and the swimmers.
“With the cyclists, it’s mainly their legs that you treat, but with the swimmers, it’s their shoulders.
“And there is not much difference in the treatment of disabled athletes and able-bodied athletes.
“Some of the para-athletes I work with are missing a limb and that makes it a little bit different because there may be more of an imbalance in their body than an able-bodied athlete because they are having to over compensate.
“You would need to be aware of any disability, but generally speaking you will work off the same principles.”
Barker has also been lucky enough to travel worldwide with her job.
She has accompanied the cycling team at an altitude training camp in Switzerland, as well as World Cup events in Canada and USA.
Next month, she will be accompanying the para-swimmers at the World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland.
Ultimately, her dream is to be part of Team GB’s backroom staff at either the Olympic Games or the Paralympics next year in Rio de Janeiro.
A promising runner in her younger days, Barker ran at the English Schools’ Championships and these days competes in marathons where she has a personal best time of three hours and 22 minutes.
It was always her dream to be an elite athlete and compete at a major Games, but unfortunately she was not good enough.
For her though, the next best thing would be to earn a place on the plane to Rio as a masseur
“At school, I joined Wigan Harriers, but I was more of a recreational runner than anything else,” she said.
“I tried hard, but I did not really get anywhere.
“I would have loved to have competed at the Olympics Games as a runner, but I was never that talented.
“That’s why I feel like I am living that dream now from a professional point of view rather than from an athlete point of view. I would love to go to Rio – that would be the ultimate.”
Other sports to make use of Barker’s talents include netball and rugby league .
She has also worked with Team England squash and has massaged Chorley squash star and former world champion Laura Massaro.
So far, she has not really ventured into the world of football, but can count former Manchester United winger Lee Sharpe as a former client when she worked in Leeds.
Interestingly, Sharpe – an ex-England international and Leeds United player – came to see her to alleviate a golfing ailment he had picked up after retiring from professional football.
l SB Sports Massage is situated in the same building as Ravat and Ray Dental Care practice, West Bank, Chorley PR7 1JF.
To book an appointment, please call Sally Barker on 01257 441554,
All treatments last 50 minutes and cost £40 with a senior therapist and £35 with a therapist.
The practice is open late at night and weekends. There is free parking.