For as long as she can remember, Kathy Rich has been good with her hands.
And for as long she can remember, those hands – strong and certain from a lifetime on the family ranch – have been good for others’ bodies and souls.
Whether it was rubbing her grandmother’s tired feet as a child or relieving the tension in a neighbor’s shoulders, the art and science of massage therapy have always come naturally to the lifelong Mantecan.
Rich is a healer, but for many years that attribute manifested itself in other dreams and endeavors.
She worked in the dental field and poured herself into family, relishing her role as wife and mother. Eventually, though, Rich realized those healing hands were meant to hold much more.
Shortly thereafter, Rich became certified, opened Kathy’s Therapeutic Massage and rented a room along South Walnut Avenue in Ripon. Sixteen years later, she is among the City of Ripon’s longest tenured therapists with an established clientele and reputation.
“I was ready for a change and family and friends said I needed to do (massage) for a living because I had that magic touch,” she said. “I was like, ‘You think?’
“I did a lot of healing work and everyone felt better. Friends and neighbors would come by and say, ‘Can you feel this?’ That’s the god’s honest truth. You could say it was my calling. I figured out what I was meant to do.”
Her business model cuts against the grain, a reason, she says, for her continued success in a competitive industry that seems to double in size each year.
People can find a “massage” at their local gym, in the mall or doctor’s office, or next door to a pizza restaurant. Rates vary, but so do styles and expertise.
What haven’t changed are Rich’s somewhat unorthodox ideals and practices.
For starters, Rich has never changed her hourly rate. It is the same now – a $50 per hour – as it was in the late 1990s when she broke into the business. She estimates her rate is at least $10 cheaper than the regional standard.
She refuses to raise it as a courtesy to her clientele, which ranges in age and ailments. She understands that $50 isn’t easily raised or earned, especially in this economic climate.
“I haven’t changed it; won’t change it,” Rich said. “There’s that person that comes in with $50 they’ve taken out of their social security check or saved and saved. So, to me, it’s not all about the money. It’s about helping others. It’s in my DNA.”
The second wrinkle in her business model underscores that point. When Rich meets with a client, the session begins with a conversation and pain assessment. She relies as much on her ears and heart as those healing hands. Once she’s identified the trouble zones, she customizes a therapy session.
It could be reflexology (feet), a prenatal massage, Swedish massage or sports massage. She’s taken care of patients with varying conditions, from the cancer-stricken to the stiff-necked.
No two massages, she says, are ever the same.
“I’m not a programmed masseuse, per se. It’s not like they come in and lay on the table and I rub them four different ways,” said Rich, who graduated from Stockton’s Body Tune-Up School of Massage in 1996.
“My mission is to make you feel a difference when you walk out of that appointment. Not only are you a caregiver, but I’m doing everything and anything I can to make that person feel free of all their ailments.”
It’s no wonder many of her clients have become much more than regulars. They’ve become friends.
Roberta Davidson has been visiting Rich for 12 years. She came to her with a broken body and spirit – the product of injuries sustained in a car accident. Davidson was in so much pain that she couldn’t work – “and I loved to work,” she added.
Davidson had searched far and wide for an alternative to surgery, even looking into counseling out of state. Then she found Rich. Over time, Rich was able to alleviate the pain Davidson was experiencing.
“I tell you, her hands are magic. The best way I can put it: She has a gift from God,” Davidson said. “She has a natural intuition and she’s very in tune. It seems she’s been blessed. She not only has the heart for it, but her hands just know where to go.
“I’m working again. I have my life back.”
Like many of her clients, Davidson meets regularly with Rich, whom she considers a very dear friend.
“They start as clients and you develop these wonderful friendships. I’ve had some of the same people for 16 years,” Rich said. “ ... My job is the most rewarding you could ever ask for. I just feel it’s a blessing I went into this field.”