The right touch
weeks of grueling deadlines, fingers glued to the keyboard and eyes
to the monitor, I couldnt wait to meet Michael Adler 83.
A former special education major, Adler has made his mark in a career
of a different sortmassage therapy. My assignment was not
only to interview him but also to receive my first-ever massage.
Voted Best of Philly in 1997 and 1998 by Philadelphia
Magazine, Adler provides massagesmany scheduled weeklyto
dozens of devoted clients at center citys Adolph Biecker Spa
and Salon as well as in the Mantua home he shares with his wife,
Fran Mannino Adler 86.
I arrive and Adler offers to show me around. He leads me from room
to room, including the couples well-equipped home gym adjacent
to his massage studio. When I thank him, he chuckles and says, Ill
bet thats the first time you were ever given a tour by a blind
Adler uses humor to disarm anyone uncomfortable with his blindness.
Despite having been diagnosed at the age of nine with retinitis
pigmentosa, a degenerative disease that causes total blindness over
time, Adler himself had never met a blind person until after college,
only months after his sight had worsened to the point that he could
see only shadows. No longer comfortable with the idea of teaching,
Adler faced graduation uncertain how he would support himself.
Within only a few months, however, he had taught himself Braille,
and at the suggestion of a woman from the New Jersey Commission
for the Blind, Adler decided to turn a life-long passion for sports
and fitness into a career in massage therapy.
He knew immediately hed made the right choice. After initial
training in Swedish massage, Adler began his career at Toppers Salon
in Philadelphia. He extended his training to include Shiatsu and
other massage techniques and now offers clients what he calls an
integrated body works approach. I focus on a gradual
movement from one part of the body to another to promote a soothing
transfer of energy. My goal is to create a state of deep relaxation,
It was time for my massage. Frankly, I was nervous. Like most women,
I wasnt crazy about taking my clothes off around a strangerblind
I shouldnt have worried. Showing me into the studio, Adler
puts me at ease, turning on soothing music and dimming the light,
instructing me to call when Im ready. He leaves the room and
I undress, then sink into a cocoon of soft, heated blankets on the
When Adler enters, he explains that he wants me to relax and not
speak. He will remain equally quiet; for him, the task is an art
form. When Im giving a massage, its like Im
creating a sculpture or a painting. I can forget the person is there.
Sometimes, he says, if the client speaks, it startles him.
As he works, I feel, one by one, the knots in my muscles coming
undone. My stressand my fearboth begin to fade away.
Anything that feels this good is definitely something to savor,
Adler calls the health benefits of massage considerable. People
come because they want to relax or because their neck or back or
other part of their body is bothering them, he explains. During
a massage, a person enters a relaxed state, which releases endorphins.
This creates a feeling of well-being and helps cure the problem.
He trades massages regularly with another therapist-friend and one
evening, after his own massage, he found the relaxed state literally
life-saving. Walking more slowly than usual, he had made it only
to the middle of six-lane Market Street, one of Philadelphias
busiest, when the light changed. As cars sped around him, Adler,
stranded, simply stood calmly, staying where he was until he could
tell from the flow of traffic that it was safe to continue crossing.
Both he and Fran, inside sales director for the Philadelphia firm,
American Lawyer Media, say they knew from the moment they met they
were destined to be married. Among the interests they share is traveling,
especially to Baltimore to catch games of Adlers beloved Orioles.
I can tell a homerun as soon as the ball hits the bat,
he says, true whether hes sitting in the stadium or listening
to the game on the radio.
This summer, the couple is embarking on a new ventureparenthood.
They are expecting their first child in July, and Michael is planning
to spend as much time at home as possible, caring for their child.
Of course, for his local clients, theres that great home studio