Carlene Ashworth hadn't counted on a new career. In fact, it would have been easier for the longtime accountant to stick with what she knew.
But if Ashworth is anything, it's determined. When she met veterans recovering from burns, limb trauma, and amputations at the Center for the Intrepid, she felt a tug to help.
Many of these veterans received massage therapy to help relieve their pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. It got Ashworth thinking: Could she help others in a hands-on way too?
It's a question she can answer with a resounding yes 10 years later. Not only is she helping others feel their best through massage, but she encourages the next generation of therapists.
'Best program around'
After her yearlong stint as American Legion Auxiliary national president, Ashworth quit accounting and enrolled in San Jacinto College's massage therapy program in 2012.
San Jac was her natural choice. She had experienced great instructors at the College in the '80s, and the two-semester program offered a more well-rounded curriculum than other massage programs she found, with classes in business ethics, kinesiology, and pathology.
As an older student, she appreciated both the intense curriculum and instructor support.
"Everyone that's involved in the massage therapy program is very dedicated toward helping [students] succeed," she said. "They give a lot of time working with individuals."
Starting out, Ashworth worked three months for an established massage practice. Then she found a massage business with a room for rent, and she switched to working as an independent therapist eager for more hands-on hours.
She launched a grand opening special, mailing invitations and letters to everyone she knew. She also worked morning to night to answer calls and take walk-ins.
"The first month I was there, I did more business and made more money than I had working the last three months for someone else," she said.
Her persistence paid off. Two years later, she took over the building lease, becoming owner of Pasadena's Therapeutic Massage and Spa. Now four other therapists rent space from her.
"We're a group that works together well," she said.
Case in point: When COVID-19 shuttered businesses in March 2020, the therapists gave the facility a makeover. Until they could reopen, they dedicated themselves to the three R's: ripping up old carpet, refinishing floors, and repainting.
A massage for the therapist
Ashworth enjoys helping longtime clients maintain health and new ones experience pain relief for the first time. She encourages her clients to pursue a maintenance program of at least monthly massages.
"It lowers your blood pressure, helps relax you," she said. "There are so many benefits people don't understand or know about until they experience it themselves."
Ashworth has also learned to take her own advice when it comes to self-care. Already a widow, she faced another challenge when her oldest son suffered a stroke.
Since her son can no longer live alone, she serves as his caregiver before, between, and after work shifts. Self-care, including getting massages herself, is as important for her as it is for her clients.
"I have to stay active not only for my business but to take care of my son," she said.
Since San Jac gave her a solid start in massage therapy, Ashworth refers prospective students to the program and even current therapists who need to pick up continuing education credits. She also chairs the massage therapy program's advisory committee, updating instructors on industry trends and advising on curriculum.
In fall 2020, the program relocated to the new South Campus Cosmetology Center, which features state-of-the-art equipment throughout.
"The new facility will give students a better outlook on what massage therapy is all about," she said.
Ashworth also gets massages at San Jac, helping current students clock their internship hours.
"I've had some really good massages there," she said. "I felt they really were going to make good massage therapists."
She not only gives students feedback on their techniques but also recommends potential careers, like sports massage.
Other side of health care
Although she has scaled back on her hours, Ashworth can't think of anything better than being an independent therapist.
It doesn't matter whose muscles she is kneading — from the seasoned veteran to the stressed-out mom or the sore jogger. She keeps a flexible schedule while having a hand in others' health, minus the lengthy medical degree.
"It's a great field if you're not pursuing medical to be a part of the 'good health' world," she said.