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Up Close with DC massage therapist Luann Drolc Fortune [Massage magazine]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Massage magazine
January-February 1996

It was 1986 and Luann Drolc Fortune was standing at National Airport in Washington, DC, waiting for her bags to roll off the belt. She had just returned from Europe. Again. And she was in pain.

“I knew something had to change,” Fortune says. “I remember looking around at other people and looking back at myself and not liking what I saw. We all seemed to share a common frustration. Our bodies hurt and our spirits were becoming demoralized. We feel we have no choice but to keep our high-pressured jobs. We have to keep paying the bills. We get to a point where we just accept the pain. We say, I hurt, but I guess I’m supposed to.’ It’s the baby boomer philosophy.”

After a lot of soul searching, Fortune traded in her luggage for massage table and enrolled at the Potomac Massage Therapy Institute (PMTI), an accredited school in Washington, D.C.

“Everywhere in America, people live high-pressured, stressful lives,” she said. “But in DC, the pressure is really on. I felt it, and I looked around at the people I was working with and knew that I had to do something—for them and for myself.”

In 1990 she received her certification, but kept her hand in management consulting on a part-time basis. As it turned out, finding clients in conservative DC was tougher than she hoped.

“Few people who live here turn to massage as a means to ease tension,” she admits. “It isn’t part of their upbringing, and it isn’t part of the culture. In fact, they don’t really like to loosen their ties, much less take off their clothes and get under a single sheet for a full-body massage.”

Still, Fortune was determined. “I decided that if I couldn’t get Mohammed to come to the mountain, I’d take the mountain to Mohammed.” She bought a seated massage chair and began asking people at some government agencies if she could bring her chair and her healing hands in for a few hours.

The first person she contacted was an old colleague at the Department of Energy (DOE).

“She was sort of reluctant at first, and told me she had some bad experiences before because massage therapists tended to be somewhat flaky,” Fortune recalls. “I told her, ‘You know me. I’m not flaky.” And Fortune asked for the opportunity to prove it.

She set up a brown bag lunch meeting with the employees at DOE and made a presentation, corporate-America style.

“I knew how to make effective presentations from my career as a consultant,” she said. “I just put on my business suit, brought in my briefcase, and said: Give me a chance.”

Three years later Fortune is still going to DOE once a week to give 15-minute, $15 massages to the employees. She also takes her massage chair to the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In fact, her weeks are booked with seated massage appointments, and regular clients who come to see her in her studio.

Carol French, 46, is a case in point. The statistician never had a massage before she met Fortune, but for more than six years suffered from chronically stiff shoulders and a worsening pain in her neck. “Now, I go every Friday and never miss a session. My shoulder is a million times better. I couldn’t live without this I recommend her to everyone.”

While 15 minutes once a week tends to be long enough for French, it wasn’t enough for Elissa Turner. She began hiring Fortune to do full-body massage every other week, and says it is the best thing she has ever done for her physical and mental health.

“From my diaphragm, up my ribs, I get sore at places where the connectors are,” says Turner, 45. “Luann doesn’t only give a good massage, she also knows about psychology, energy work and aromatherapy. It is this interdisciplinary approach that has been especially beneficial.”

Fortune’s clientele now comes mostly from her government contacts, a group that suffers from spending so many hours stuck at their computer terminals all day.

“They all suffer from similar ailments: aching necks, stiff shoulders and carpal tunnel syndrome,” notes Fortune, who began writing a newsletter filled with tips on tips on how to alleviating neck strain and sit properly at computer terminals.

Not only did she get an incredible response, she got more customers.

“I consider myself very fortunate and know that my success comes from the fact that I remember where I came from,” she believes. “That’s true for everyone. Everybody gets to where they are through a whole series of experiences and skills. That makes them who they are. The magic is learning how to integrate where you want to be with where you have been.”


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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.