Kenosha native Doug Radtke was 51 when he enrolled in a Milwaukee school to become a licensed massage therapist. Nothing about his past work experience or education would have pointed in that direction. He was 40 when he graduated from Marquette University in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration through a program at Harley-Davidson Motor Co., where he was employed as a parts coordinator. After graduating from Bradford High School in 1976, he attended Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, earning an associate degree in automotive mechanics in 1977. In 1988 and 1989, he earned two additional associate degrees there, one in retail marketing, the other in industrial marketing.

While offering free massages recently at S.J. Crystal’s men’s shop in Kenosha, Radtke, now 52, talked with Bill Guida for Prime magazine about changing careers.

Prime: What prompted you to change careers at 51?

Doug Radtke: I was in bar/restaurant management, I was in corporate customer service and retail. Making a living wasn’t panning out for me with the economy. What I was trained for at Marquette and at Gateway in business and marketing just wasn’t panning out. I had to think out of the box because my formal education in business wasn’t panning out for me, and moving — for me — was not an option.

Prime: Why did you decide to pursue a new career as a licensed massage therapist?

Radtke: People had mentioned that I had good hands, that I had a good touch when I gave massages. And I had no idea what I was doing. So, I decided to look at schools for massage therapy, which ultimately led me to Lakeside School of Massage Therapy.

It’s funny. When I was a kid, I never wanted to get involved with anything medical because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to pronounce words an inch-and-a-half long. Now, here I am pronouncing words 3 inches long. I took to this like a duck to water.

Prime: When did you begin your massage classes, and when did you complete the necessary coursework?

Radtke: I started March 2009. My learning style fit their 52-week program, and I graduated in March 2010.

Prime: Were there requirements other than classroom studies you had to meet before obtaining your license?

Radtke: Yes. There was clinic work, and there was field work.

Prime: What did the clinic and field work entail?

Radtke: Clinic work entailed the ability to use classroom methods in real-life situations. We were supervised, but we had to meet certain criteria before we could pass our clinics. Out of the 52 hours required, I ended up logging 72, due to repeat bookings. I booked so fast, people just kept booking me. I also filled in when different students didn’t show up.

The field work was different in that field work was more versatile. In the massage environment we got the chance to go to sporting events. We got the chance to go to nursing homes. We got the chance to do real-world work outside the school, which is what we were going to do. They exposed us to that work, which was very important.

Prime: Where are you licensed, by whom, and when did you get your license?

Radtke: I’m licensed nationally by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork and in the state of Wisconsin by the Department of Regulation and Licensing. I’ve been licensed since March 2010.

Prime: How rigorous was the licensing process from your perspective?

Radtke: For the national licensing, I had to go back from day one from my science classes and all my classes and study all the main concepts for massage therapy. And then I ended up taking a couple practice tests that they have on the national level just to gear up for the real test. It was actually an intense process. You know, I go to school for a year, and all my grades were excellent. But like I said, I had to go back from day one to remember just to answer those questions.

I passed that test, and my test result was given to the Department of Regulation in the state of Wisconsin. The state requires that a national test is taken and passed, and then submitted by an independent testing company. The state test itself was online and was actually pretty easy. It was a lot different. It was a series of questions focused on laws, regulation and the code of ethics for the state of Wisconsin.

Prime: You had several options for becoming licensed that could have gotten you there more quickly, but you chose the longer 52-week course that met three days each week. Why?

Radtke: My learning style was more conducive to a 52-week program because I had the time to study what I was taught with the gaps between classes. I could have taken a 30-week course, or I could have taken a nine-month course. But they were a little bit too accelerated for me. I wanted to put the time into studying. I wanted to really grasp what I was learning, especially the sciences.

Prime: Including tuition and other related schooling costs, how much do you estimate you’ve invested so far in your career change, and how much more do you anticipate spending?

Radtke: Right now, through my core classes and the equipment I purchased: a table, a high tech Dolphin II massage chair, sheets, lotions, miscellaneous tools, reference materials, that kind of thing, I’ve invested approximately $15,000. School was about $12,000.

Prime: As of late March, you’ve been self-employed as an independent massage therapist. How is that going for you?

Radtke: You know, one of the things I like about this work is that I can be as busy as I want to be. But right now, during all my advanced classes, I’m keeping all my options open until I graduate in June 2011 through the ADMT prgram, that’s their (Lakeside Massage School) associate degree in massage therapy.

Prime: What are you doing in the meantime?

Radtke: I’ve been appointed to a state position by the president of the American Massage Therapy Association, Wisconsin Chapter, Kay Peterson, who was actually my hot stone instructor.

While I was going up to Madison along with other AMTA members to talk to legislative committees about licensure in November 2009 and also offering free chair massages to legislators in the Capitol rotunda, all in an effort to bring attention to the need for state licensure in Wisconsin, I was recruited by our director at Lakeside to be a field work instructor. They got me on board as a (part-time) field instructor right away after I graduated.

And I do massages for clients upon request. I keep a client base right here in Kenosha.

Prime: What styles of massage therapy are you qualified to do, and what other areas are you pursuing?

Radtke: Right now, I do hot stone, Swedish, sports, deep tissue, connective tissue, trigger point, shiatsu, hot and cold hydrotherapy, therapeutic traction. In my advanced classes, I’m working on national certification as a personal trainer.

Prime: “Sports” massage?

Radtke: Sports massage is like I’ll work pre- and post-event. I’ll get an athlete ready to compete. I have the ability to work with them during the event, and then I put them into a recuperative state after the event, get the muscles to relax. I’m doing an internship right now in sports massage at MSOE (Milwaukee School of Engineering). I bring my table and travel with their track and field team, the baseball and soccer teams.

Prime: How do you see your past experiences in bar/restaurant management, as well as in customer service, integrating with your new career?

Radtke: I have encompassed everything that I’ve learned ... I’m incorporating all of my life’s lessons in this one industry. It’s like I’ve been groomed for this for my entire life.

Prime: How satisfied are you with your choice to leave your old career behind as you embark on your new endeavors in massage therapy?

Radtke: At 52 years old, I’m finally figuring out what I want to be when I grow up. Massage therapy is the pinnacle of everything I’ve learned in my life.

I feel very fortunate to have the ability to make people feel better. That’s what I got into this whole thing for. For me, this whole thing is not work. It’s fun and it’s very rewarding. Just yesterday, I had someone who was crying when she got up off my table. I asked her, “Why are you crying?” She said, “Because I feel so much better. The pain is gone.” It’s a humbling experience.