Moon plans to race, massage Hanoi streetkids

19:54, Jul 12 2013
Melissa Moon
MELISSA MOON: "My work with the streetpeople in Wellington over 10 years has taught me how to handle people with emotional needs, aggression and frustration."

Melissa Moon is off to Hanoi soon to massage disabled streetkids.

She will compete in a vertical stair race while she is there but this story is not about running, it is about a Wellington woman who can't do enough for the needy.

For 10 years Moon served at the soup kitchen in Wellington before deciding to hang up her apron and help in another way.

These days the 43 year-old massages the elderly, those with dementia.

One day at Sprott House in Karori, another at Seven Oaks in Paraparaumu, another at Millvale in Miramar where the most extreme dementia cases live.

It is Moon's own massage business but she doesn't make a lot of money.

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Moon has had plenty of stories written about her running, mostly in early 2000s when she was good enough to be a back-to-back world mountain running champion and also in 2007 when she did the Blue Planet Run around the world for charity.

But when she goes to Hanoi, the real story is what goes on before the race. For seven to 10 days she will work for the Blue Dragon Foundation, which was set up in 2002 to help Hanoi's streetkids.

The foundation has a drop-in centre where the youngsters can sleep, eat and learn English. Moon is a qualified massage therapist. She offered to help and of course the offer was accepted.

She expects to work in the centre some days, walk the streets with a table strapped to her back on others and also visit the homes of some children to educate their caregivers about the benefits of what she calls "compassionate massage".

"When you go to places like Nigeria and Vietnam, you see some terrible sights and I've always been the person who has gone to these places, raced and left," Moon said. "I looked at how they lived and I felt the compassion for them but didn't know anything about it.

"This year is a year I don't want to go back to Vietnam and just race. I'd seen poverty and streetkids and I thought there must be some way I could race and make a difference as well for them, so that is what I am factoring in.

"In Vietnam two years ago the kids were selling postcards and shoe shine. I thought I don't want to come back to this country and do nothing."

Plenty of people will wonder about the worth of massaging streetkids, many of them disabled.

Moon says a compassionate touch helps the circulation of the body and calms the nervous system. It is what she uses every day in Wellington to help the elderly who are losing their minds. This is the first time Moon has done voluntary work overseas but she says "it doesn't faze me, it doesn't frighten me".

"I understand streetpeople and how to deal with them," she said.

"My work with the streetpeople in Wellington over 10 years - mind you they are adults not kids - has taught me how to handle people with emotional needs, aggression and frustration.

"I've done my training here so I feel very confident. I've been put in so many situations here in Wellington. When you have people who live on the fringes of society, have been to prison, have drug and alcohol problems, you have to come back to the simple values in life.

"It is showing them kindness, respect and not judging them. You have to look behind the initial behaviour. You can diffuse a situation very fast. Ninety-nine per cent respond unless they are psychotic.

"There is no doubt the streetkids of Hanoi are very different to the streetkids from here. These kids have it pretty rough. For me it will be a learning experience. I will do my work and hope to make it an ongoing thing."

Hanoi is just one of five vertical races Moon will tackle during the next five months, the others being in Beijing, Sydney, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Moon tried to retire 12 months ago and is now glad she didn't.

She might not win as often these days but this way she can race her heart out and give it out as well.

"Last night [Thursday] I took myself up the Majestic Tower five times and then went to the gym. If I'm doing that, I must be back into it."

The Dominion Post