A sense of touch

Brian Watson has overcome his disabilities to become a professional massage therapist and master body worker.

What others might see as handicaps, Brian Watson considers advantages
in his job as a massage therapist

Brian Watson has overcome his disabilities to become a professional massage therapist and master body worker.MEEKER I Brian Watson is good at working with his hands.
In his line of work, that’s an important skill to have.
Watson is a professional massage therapist and master body worker.
He is also legally blind and hearing impaired, due to a rare genetic disorder called Alstrom Syndrome. As a result, he is accustomed to relying on his sense of touch.
“I tend to believe since I do use my hands a lot more, to read Braille, to do a lot of things, my sense of touch is more advanced or fine-tuned,” Watson said. “I had to memorize where all of the muscles attach and the different tissues when I was in massage school. I believe it gives me an advantage doing massage.”
Watson, who lived in Meeker until he was in the seventh grade when his family moved to Grand Junction, has returned to his hometown. He has set up shop at Swanky’s, where he is available three days a week — Wednesday through Friday — and by appointment. He stays at his grandmother, Charlotte Wix’s house, when he’s in Meeker.
Kim Watson (formerly Wix) said her son’s heightened sense of touch makes him an even better massage therapist.
“He gives a good body workout,” Kim said. “He can feel what needs to be worked on.”
Brian, 30, attended the Arizona School of Massage Therapy in Tempe.
“It’s a seven-month program,” Brian said. “I graduated in May of ’08. Then I went back and did the master’s program.”
Brian is a fan of massages himself.
“I love massages,” he said. “I got one every day when I was in school. Not so much anymore, unfortunately.
“When I was in (massage therapy) school, the teachers would give a demonstration and I would be the one on the table, so I could feel what they were doing. It was very helpful,” he said. “Without me seeing it, it let me see what they were doing, basically.”
Brian is continuing to learn new techniques.
“I’m learning about ortho-bionomy. That’s working with the nervous system. When it gets information, it fires to the brain and gives a signal. Then the brain notices the body is out of alignment or whatever,” Brian said. “The body has a very powerful self-healing system. When it gets that message, the body starts healing itself. It’s a very powerful technique.”
Besides being a graduate of massage therapy school, Brian has two bachelor degrees from Mesa State University in Grand Junction — one in history and one in Spanish.
Brian put his Spanish to use during month-long trips to Spain and Costa Rica in 2001 and 2005. His younger brother Mathew, who is an engineering student at Arizona State University, served as Brian’s guide on both trips.
“He (Mathew) was 15 years old at the time they went to Spain in 2001,” Kim Watson said.
“He did a great job,” Brian said.
Brian has a seeing-eye dog, a 6-year-old golden retriever named Barry, that helps him navigate his way around.
“He goes pretty much everywhere I go,” Brian said. “Although Rock Jam didn’t work out so good, the first time we did that. There was too much noise. Although he did go to a Rush concert and he did all right, except for the fireworks.”
Barry is the first seeing-eye dog Brian has had. Generally, people are understanding and respectful when Brian and Barry go places together.
“People are pretty accommodating,” Brian said. “Sometimes it’s difficult when they don’t know the rules, like when he’s in his harness. When he’s in your harness, you’re not supposed to try and pet him or distract him in any way. So, it’s usually good if people ask.”
When he’s not working in Meeker, Brian works at The Massage Store in Grand Junction.
“I work there three days a week,” Brian said.
Michael Que, a Meeker chiropractor, can understand what Brian deals with as far as overcoming his disabilities. Like Brian, Que is legally blind.
“Basically, before I moved to Meeker I had a really hard time with my disability, to the point where I would hide it,” Que said. “But when I came here I had to force myself to be more open about it. And the funny thing is I got comfortable here, and my clientele has been really supportive. It wasn’t an issue and people accepted it.
People have realized my chiropractic is different. I feel more things … I get to the root of the problem. I basically go by feel.”
Que said he found more acceptance of his disability living in a small town where people look out for each other.
“I can be crossing the street and cars will stop. You can’t do that in a big city. I can go into a restaurant and not be with my family and they (the restaurant staff) will tell me the specials or they will read me the check. That’s the coolest thing, and that doesn’t happen anywhere else. Raye Arnold is actually teaching me how to ride a horse and he’s training the horse to respond to me with my disability. Where else would that happen?”
Brian has found not everyone is understanding of his disabilities.
“I’ve had a couple of instances where people are uncomfortable with me not being able to see, but not very often,” he said. “It kind of makes me a little disgusted or whatever. I try not to let it bother me. They can see somebody else if they are not comfortable.”
Brian has spent two-thirds of his life without the ability to see.
“For probably the first 10 years of my life I didn’t have perfect sight, but I could see colors and shapes,” he said.
Without the loss of his sight, Brian has had to rely more on his other senses.
“With me not seeing, I really have to notice everything with my other senses, not just touch, but the sense of knowing something is there without seeing or touching it,” he said.
It’s those other heightened senses that help Brian do his job, and do it well.
“I think I notice a lot more muscular-wise what people look like,” he said, “without having to see them.”