Dave Sundstrom | Olympia Massage
I have known Dave for as long as I can remember. His sister is my best friend and we grew up like siblings. However, though I have known him for years, I rarely get the chance to sit down with Dave and discuss his version of his own story. Dave’s unique path to success built the grit within his character. As a human, Dave embodies strength and spirituality which gives him a leg up in the field of massage therapy. He believes that in order to find connections with others, you first need to find your connection with yourself.
As told through our conversation, here is Dave’s story.
[L] Let’s just jump right into it. How do you describe yourself as a real, authentic person? Attributes? Values? Massage Therapist aside, who are you?
Dave’s posture changes and he sits up straight. He has a beaming smile on his face as he begins to talk.
[D]: Well, I am lucky that I can tell people I AM a massage therapist. I found something that is me. It’s what I can do. And it’s what I can do to help people. I think I’ve always been the middle child that wants to help people and wants everyone to be happy. It’s kind of the perfect profession because it everything that I embody.
Dave grew up in Mentor, OH with a pretty large family: two older siblings, a younger sibling, and happily married parents. Nevertheless, he insists that it was being the middle child growing up that has helped to define who he is as a person and massage therapist, today.
[D]: I always joke about it, but I think it’s really easy to be a massage therapist when you’re the middle child. Literally all I did growing up was do my best to get people to like me. I wanted my older siblings to like me. I wanted my little sister to think I was the coolest. Now, when a client comes in, I do everything I possibly can to make them feel comfortable with me immediately.
[L]: Were there any pinnacle moments growing up, aside from your family dynamic, that you think may have had an impact on who you have become today?
[D]: I don’t think I could pin it down to one experience that I had that made me into the person that I am today. It all comes back to family. We never wanted to let anyone in our family fail. So, I knew that whatever I was going to do with my life, I was going to have my family behind me saying ‘hey listen, this isn’t panning out right now, what do you need help with?’
[L]: Tell me more about that. Tell me about your journey to get into massage therapy.
[D]: You know, it’s every young guy’s dream to play the sport they grew up playing. I always thought I was just on track to play professional hockey. So, I played Junior Hockey after high school and college hockey after that. And then [age] 20 hit and I blew out my shoulder and had a full reconstruction. I played one more year at Ohio University after that and I just knew that I could not do it anymore. I had been training heavily since [age] 13 and by that point I was just burnt out.
[L]: So, you spent that entire time from age 13-20 just thinking that you’d play hockey for a living. That shoulder blow-out must have been a very pivotal moment in your life.
[D]: My injury gave me a whole new perspective on life. It made me realize how much time you can put into something just to get it pulled from you in an instant. It made me realize that life is essentially just adjusting. You’re going to have to adjust every day.
At age 21, after his shoulder blow out, Dave’s hockey career came to an end. He left Ohio University and moved back home to Mentor, Ohio where he started working for a local construction/landscaping company.
[D]: Construction made me hard as nails when it came to the work world. I have never been asked to put so much on my plate. But I did it. And it was such a grind for so long. Not to knock anyone [who works in construction] but it ultimately showed me what I don’t want in life. It’s not fun getting cropped into family photos kind of jokingly when they’re on vacation but you’re on a Bobcat or in an excavator moving dirt around. I knew that I needed a work/life balance and that 15-hour days working in ridiculous conditions was not ideal.
After a while, construction really started to wear on Dave and he knew that it was time to think about his goals moving forward in life.
[D]: I was in a rut in construction. I thought that I was going to buy into this company and do big things. But at the end of the day it was someone else’s company and I wasn’t guaranteed a piece of it. When I began realizing that the plan in my head might not work out, that I might not own a part of the company, I knew I needed to have a new plan.
[L]: Was there ever one moment where you realized that you wanted to move forward with a focus on massage therapy?
[D]: Massage therapy is kind of something that has been with me my whole life, I feel like. It’s weird looking back on it. When my little sister was in track, she used to get really bad calf cramps, so I would look up how to fix that and I started working on her calves. My mom used to be an estheticianand cosmetologist so she would give me facials when I had allergies and rub sinus points in my face, so I started reading and learning about pressure and sinus points and thought it was so cool. In high school, I bought a book about massage at Brookstone at the mall and it came with a bunch of hot rocks so I played around with them and learned from it. I also began getting massages in high school but couldn’t always fit them into my schedule with hockey so I began and trying to massage myself and my teammates and that carried over into construction. We would shovel tons of gravel and dirt and that isn’t easy on the body so I started warming up the guys’ shoulders in the morning before work.
One day, I was golfing with my dad, and I don’t know what it was but I just sort of blurted out, “hey dad, what do you think about massage therapy as a career?” He goes, “Eh. It’d be cool” And I’m trying to hype him up like “Dad, they make decent money and I could make even more working for myself. I’ve been an athlete my whole life, I know a decent amount about the body, and I’m always stretching people out.”
He said, “well, let’s give it a look.” He was very non-chalant. I don’t think he knew if this was some sort of crazy idea or what. But we sat down and we looked at some things online and I started getting the conversation started.
[L]: How did you take the step from just talking about a career in massage therapy to actually applying for the school program?
Dave sits up straight and dawns a huge smile. I could tell that he was excited about what he had to say next.
[D]: Actually, I was in NYC with my little sister and we were talking about massage therapy. I guess I had been talking about it a lot because one of our friends literally said to me ‘Don’t be a bitch. I’m pulling up the application for TRI-C’s (Cuyahoga Community College) massage school right now.’ So, I filled out the application and sent it in when I got home from New York. After that, everything just kind of started spiraling into place. There was a greater plan for me that I was just kind of fighting for a long time.
Dave attended Cuyahoga Community College and earned his Associates of Applied Science in Massage Therpy. Upon graduating, he almost immediately began working for University Hospitals’ Exhale Spa at the UH Avon Fitness Center Then, less than a year into his career, Dave landed a position as a Massage Therapist for the Cleveland Browns.
[D]: The hustle that happened in two short years was incredible. You know, I’d stay a few extra hours at the school, after already having been in school for six hours, just practicing. I would utilize the professors outside of class and learn from them on a more personal level. One of the professors that I spent the most time with was a lead therapist for the Browns. His biggest thing was that if I was able to prove to him that I was going to put in the time to learn how to be an excellent therapist, he would help me out. He was basically grooming me to get in with the Browns. But, when I tell people that I really hustled to get into the NFL (National Football League), they laugh because the timeline was actually pretty short.
[L]: Right, but the amount of time you hustled in that short timeline. People don’t do that in 30 years.
[D]: I think sometimes people forget how long and hard the hustle is. They want to say ‘Okay. I went to school, graduated, and got this job. That’s my hustle.’ But let’s take a look at it differently. I got my job with the NFL so quickly after school because I have been working since I was 15 and haven’t stopped. Every job that I had taught me a little bit more about my work ethic. To me that is all a part of the hustle. It takes a long time.
In January 2018, with dreams of opening a full-service spa/sports facility, Dave began the business plans for his own private company, Olympia Massage.
[L]: Tell me about your business, Olympia Massage.
[D]: At first, when I began dreaming up Olympia, I wanted a facility with gorgeous rooms with a full spa experience right when you walk in. And then I started getting house calls from people who were willing to pay me to come to them and I thought ‘you know, this is where the need is.’ When you find a personal niche in the business world, you’d be fucking stupid not to follow it.
For the moment, Olympia is a privately-owned traveling massage company specializing in holistic wellness. And while he is the sole employee right now, Dave has dreams of hiring and training more therapists in the future.
[L]: Before we wrap up, what is your biggest advice to people that want to start their own business?
[D]: Don’t just get caught up in the dream! It’s so easy to get caught up in the dream. When I first started this business venture I thought ‘I’ll just rent a place in downtown Cleveland, open it, and make tons of money. People will just be flocking into my door!’
The dreamer in us says ‘I’m going for this. I am really fucking good at it so why not?’ But don’t be afraid to ask for help. People are so eager to open up a business or start a venture that they value their own experiences way too much. When you’re going for a business, you realize that you do not have all of the tools. You need to give up some of your pride and ask people to borrow their tools. I sat down with a financial planner and business advisor right off the bat because I don’t know it all and I need assistance. We all need assistance.
Have you ever heard the parable about the guy stuck out at sea?
[L]: No, I don’t think so.
[D]: Ok so there’s a guy stuck out at sea. And he’s sitting there and he’s just praying that someone will come and save him. He’s so blinded by faith that he believes that one of the god’s in the universe that he prays to will save him. So here comes a guy on a row boat. And the guy says to him “Hey man, you look stuck out here. Why don’t you hop on my row boat?” And the man says “No, no, no. I’m praying. I know someone will save me. The God’s will save me.” So, the row boat leaves.
Next, a guy on a jet ski comes by and sees the man stranded at sea and says “Hey man, we’re both pretty far out here, why don’t you hop on the back of my jet ski and we can ride to shore? “No, no, no” the man says. “I am out here praying and I know the universe will save me. So, the man on the jet ski leaves.
And as the man sits there and continues to pray, a shark comes up and eats him. And as he is getting eaten, the man thinks to himself ‘FUCK, the universe failed me!’
Of course, he dies, and he’s standing at the pearly gates and he meets whoever he meets, whatever god he believes in, and whoever is up there looks him in the face and says to him ‘Hey idiot, I sent you a row boat and a jet ski and you chose to get eaten by a shark.
You kind of just have to be open to what the universe throws at you. I started being open to those kinds of things when I was 26 and a lot of cool things have happened since.
To treat yourself to a massage appointment with David, contact Exhale Spa at UH Avon @ 440-988-6811.