It’s Pink Floyd day at the Monster Den massage parlor in New Castle, California, and the volume is loud enough to drown out a scream from a horror flick. That’s exactly the way Ve Loyce Shackleton, the owner and master massage-practitioner, wants it. He offers deep tissue bodywork or what he calls “Attack-Orientated Target Massage,” and if that sounds painful… it is. Look no further than the company logo: “It Takes Monsters to Kill Demons.”
The patient is face down on the table and ready.
Ve Loyce isn’t. Not yet.
The relatively small man in camouflage pants and a handle-bar mustachio, enters the room gracefully, raises his hands over his head, clasps them together, and says a prayer. “Thank you, father, for using these hands in this healing.” Then, with elbows described by some to be as sharp as razor blades and knives for knuckles, he descends upon his victim. When asked to describe exactly what he does, he just smiles. “What happens in the den, stays in the den.”
If you’ve run Western States or Black Canyon or any number of runs in the Sacramento area, you’ve seen his tent. It’s the bright red one with black trim and orange lettering that spells out: Monsters of Massage. With his wife and assistants called “the MOM crew,” they wait, like a M.A.S.H. unit, for the carnage to come in. But make no mistake, the monster’s work is not only about muscles and tendons; it’s emotional, even spiritual. “Knots and doubts are the same,” says Ve Loyce in a wise, practiced tone. “They can be fixed.”
Framed pictures of runners on the wall of his parlor, which he calls the Monster Den, span decades and attest to his talents. He’s worked on Tim Twietmeyer, Ann Trason, Adam Kimble, Rob Krar, and elite marathoners Jane Kibii and Shadrack Biwott. He also works on pacers and has seen the damage inflicted on crew members forced to be off and on their feet all day.
Those that have experienced Ve Loyce and his crew can attest to the fact that his bodywork is indeed serious business. Some clients have been with him for over 20 years, and many leave reviews that blur the line between torture and ecstasy.
“I made 100 ugly faces, the most of my life,” said Kayla. “Glad I was face down.”
Another patient, Yvonne, added that Ve Loyce’s massage was, “deliciously painful!”
“You don’t come here for some foofy spa massage,” wrote one Yelp reviewer. Another added, “Come expecting to have the demons worked out. I had lower back pain for 3 months straight, [sic] after my first visit I was healed.”
Kimble, who recently placed 13th at Western States, has made regular trips over the last four years from Tahoe City to Newcastle. “Ve Loyce does in fact have razors for elbows (believe the hype!) and at times I have even yelled at the top of my lungs,” Kimble says, but also adds that he’s “realized that the pain you experience on the table is reimbursed through a healthier body in the days that follow.”
Ve Loyce says he was “called to heal” 28 years ago when he was in sales and marketing for a Canadian Football team. He found himself repeatedly leaving his station and massaging stressed-out sales workers. Told he had a gift, that he should be a therapist, and should go to school and learn the art and science of bodywork. So, he did.
After studying at the Healing Arts Institute in Roseville, he worked at Gold River Chiro, where he got his name. Training a replacement with the right “pressure” technique, he went to work on an Army Major. When they got into the heavy stuff, she turned around and said, “You guys are a couple of monsters.”
Ve Loyce has worked with MMA fighters and boxers like Eric “The Hitman” Reagan and James Irving but finds trail runners in more need of healing than any group he’s witnessed. He’s seen multiple spasms hit a runner, once watching a spasm climb up a runner’s calf to the hamstring, where it proceeded to twist and throb Exorcist-style. He’s also seen the grimaced faces caused by shin splints and witnessed the cruel, debilitating effects of plantar fasciitis.
“Because the work is so extreme, we work on extreme people,” he says, and admits he’s been, “Cursed out in 32 languages.” He combats the demons with knuckles, elbows, and positivity. They are his weapons. The former Army man wears camo when he enters the battlefield but assures his customers, “We understand how the body works and keep a positive attitude to heal people.” Things happen in the den; “experiences,” he calls them. Some border on the miraculous.
“As a trail runner I struggled to get past 15 miles without serious I.T. band pain,” said one patient. “After a few weeks in the Monster Den, I achieved my goal of running a 50k.”
Another patient had more serious issues. “I am not an athlete. I am 66 years old. I developed a serious IT band injury from just walking too much,” wrote Anne C. of Pleasant Grove, California. “After my first visit, through which I screamed and cursed, I could walk again. I have regular appointments now.”
“In the end, it’s intuition,” says Ve Loyce, who sees massage as more art than science. “What we do works.”
When asked if he runs, he quickly scoffs, “heck no.” Massage is his fitness, five hours a day, five days a week. On the weekends, he’s at the races. Worn out by the time he gets home, he pops open a beer or enjoys a glass of wine then off to bed. Up the next morning, he’s bright-eyed, eager to get to the den, blast some rock ‘n roll, and do battle with your demons.