Success Stories Archives - Florida School of Massage

The Only Way to Make Change in the World

“Nothing stops me. I keep working hard at what I do; it’s the only way to make change in the world”


Ariela Grodner did not plan to attend FSM. However, in 2002 Ariela convinced a good friend that she had to check out “this cool massage school” in Gainesville (with the ulterior motive of getting said friend to move to Florida). She did such a thorough job that Ariela “sold” the school to herself as well.

At the time, Ariela was a new mom looking to find herself again. From teaching Shivananda Yoga in India, to owning a punk rock store in Ybor City, to living on a farm in the Berkshire Mountains, she had always lived life on her terms. In her application, Ariela wrote of wanting to heal people and needing a livelihood that would increase her ability to grow in compassion and love for her fellow humanity.

A Greyhound To Gainesville

by Dar Mikula

    Dar at FSM: May 1992

It’s December in Buffalo and a mixed blessing for us in this City of Good Neighbors. The warm glow of red and green holiday houselights reflect the crisp season of cheer in the freshly fallen snow, and meanwhile the bitter wind is ripping its way across icy Lake Erie and straight into my bones. I’m living in my sister’s basement in a room she built for me when I moved back 19 months earlier after living in Seattle for the latter half of the 1980’s. It’s 1991, I’m 30 years old, I’m working part-time as a cashier at the Convenient Food Mart and part-time as a page in the Lancaster Library. My bachelors degree in creative writing sits stalled on my desk in a black 8×10 picture frame after a successful yet brief career in journalism. I jump up and down on a mini trampoline to keep warm and stay lean because it’s too frigid to exercise outside. My mom and dad live two miles from me; my brother, grandmother and other relatives are within a five-mile radius. This is my home.

I’m still close with one or two friends from my childhood; in fact my buddy Roger and I have been dabbling in massage. He’s bought a massage table and so we take turns giving each other a back or foot rub. He’s got an irritable back from standing and bending all day and has read that massage might help. I’ve just come from five years of living in the Pacific Northwest where it seemed every other person I met was a massage therapist. I’d received plenty of bodywork and informal training as a result, so I just repeat on him what I’ve had done or shown to me.

FSM Graduate Opens Local Wellness Gym



 Jason Atkins-Tufts

Editor’s Note: We recently sat down with Jason Atkins-Tuffs, a 2003 graduate of our massage program and a recent graduate of our teacher training program. Atkins-Tuffs recently started his own gym, Gainesville Wellness and Performance, and is also now a member of the FSM faculty. Here’s a little more about how FSM played a role in his ongoing journey.

What were you doing for work before your FSM training? 

I was a chef/kitchen manager. 

What do you do now?

I am a partner in Gainesville Wellness and Performance where I perform exercise physiology, nutrition and lifestyle design, and massage therapy. 

What was it about the FSM experience that inspired you to do what you do now?

FSM was my first exposure to the field of human development. By learning how to create a healthy space for myself and my client, I was able to begin the process of making a passion of mine – helping other people – into a fulfilling career. 

Don’t Let One Failed Exam Stop You: A Graduate Tells Her Story

by Kendra Ostrander

I had first arrived to Gainesville late January 2014, a week before I would attend the Florida School of Massage. My uncle was attending at the time and talked highly of this magical place that not only allowed, but encouraged, students to be barefoot. I was sold when he carried on and told me that this place is a place for healing – and that in order to be a good therapist, you first must go through therapy.  It made sense.  After a few exchanged phone calls between the school and then with my uncle, I had decided to leave what was familiar and take a leap of faith and fly on a plane to Gainesville.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

By Dar Mikula

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”  – From “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Suess

One of the many blessings of my job is that I get to reach out to graduates and find outdar how they are doing once they’ve graduated.  In my recent cycle of calls, my attention was drawn to the diversity of paths each one of us is on, even though we all share the same qualification as “licensed massage therapists”.  In talking with graduates of our October 2014 massage program, I learned the stories of two fascinating women, both of whom share the same name and both graduates of the same program. Here is the story of the variance and intrigue of the two directions they went in after completing their training here.

A Career With Massage Envy: What LMTs Can Expect

We recently sat down with Renee Toporek, Massage Envy’s Director of Therapist Recruiting and Retention for the Central Florida and West Coast of Florida regions. The intention was to get input on what graduates can expect when seeking work with this established employer.  See the interview below. – Dar Mikula, Editor

What qualities do you look for in your therapists?

Renee Toporek

       Renee Toporek

We look for massage therapists with great communication skills and a genuine desire to help others. Our Brand Promise is “We help you take care of you,” therefore their service delivery with our members, guests and their teammates needs to embrace this promise. Of course, timeliness, commitment to professional growth, and the ability to listen to client’s needs and customize their therapeutic session to address member and guest needs is equally important.


Please outline for us Massage Envy’s application-to-hire process and your minimum requirements.

“The Only Obstacle is Yourself”

Success Story Featuring Susie Vought, LMT

by Dar Mikula

Often the seed for attending massage school gets planted years before a student actually makes it to our door. Take the case of Susie Vought, a 2012 graduate who said she kept putting off her desire to come to school here until finally getting overwhelmed with retail life. She didn’t have a plan, but she did have a sense of responsibility to herself. susie1

“In general in my life, I’ve found that when I take responsibility for myself and my actions and what I’m doing, then I tend to move forward more easily,” Vought said. “I become more confident in my power to change, and it then becomes about me making decisions for my life, and not other people dictating what’s happening to me.”

Recognizing this, Vought quit her job after 10 years at Earth Pets and started a cleaning company so she could set her own work hours around prioritizing school. The ground leading to massage school continued to magically blossom when the Florida School of Massage started to shop around for a “green” cleaning company and Vought’s “Squeaky Green” company won the bid.  

Graduate Uses FSM Foundation as Core of Peacebuilding Practice

best qualityGraduate Success Stories series, we chose this month to talk with Philip Hellmich, author of God and Conflict: A Search for Peace in a Time of Crisis (Published 2012, Spirit of Peace Press, Petaluma, CA,  Philip, known better to his Summer 1990 FSM classmates as “Phil-Bob”, said it was “coincidence” that brought him to the massage school 23 years ago. Philip goes into great detail about his exploration of peace, including his time at FSM, in his book God and Conflict.

Coming off of four years working with the Peace Corps in the Sierra Leone bush in West Africa, Philip said,

“I was trying to come to terms with the materialism and consumerism I encountered when I got back, and the impact it has on the world.  I was confused and upset.” 

Returning to Viet Nam: Healing the Past Through Touch

by Michael Broas

I am standing at my massage table, laying my hands on a man about my age, who is also a veteran of the same war that I was in, but with a very major difference; He was in the North Vietnamese Army, my former enemy, who I tried to kill and who tried to kill me.  I notice a scar near his scapula that looks as if it might be a bullet wound, so I Michael in VNcall over an interpreter to ask him about the scar. He laughs and says, yes, that is one of his scars and yes, he did get shot. I ask him where he was in Viet Nam when this happened and he replies that he was in Pleiku in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam, which happens to be where I served in 1969-70. I ask him when he was shot and he states that it was sometime around Christmas in 1969. I get a tingly sensation in my body, as I was in a large firefight, one that I will never forget, on December 22nd, 1969. I communicate this to this man, and he looks up with a huge smile and says “Isn’t that so funny, that both of us didn’t kill each other and are here now to be happy together? We can now love and make peace! “ In that moment for me, the past crashes into the present, bringing with it a soothing salve on a bitter and terrifying memory.

Returning to Viet Nam: Healing the Past Through Touch, Part 2

by Michael Broas

Clinic in Hoi AnAfter visiting Friendship Village near Hanoi, we next traveled south to the city of Hue, which was the site of one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the Viet Nam war, lasting a total of 26 days in 1968. Hue is also near the DMZ, or Demilitarized Zone, where we visited several other famous battle sites. It is so interesting to go to those locations that I had only heard of and that were charged with such strong memories of a time so long ago. While in Hue, we also visited the Thien Mu Pagoda, one of Viet Nam’s oldest and most beautiful Buddhist Pagoda’s, located on the north side of the Perfume River. Lying in juxtaposition just across the river is the Citadel, where a large battle was fought during the war. It was interesting for me to think that while the battle raged at the Citadel, the monks continued to offer their prayers for peace just a short distance away.