Leslie Ciaccio, Coordinator of Complementary Health Programs at Kishwaukee College, became aware of Therapeutic Massage because she was a competitive swimmer in high school and college. “I received massages as part of my training,” she recalled. The years went by, and she became a Therapeutic Massage professional and then began the program at Kishwaukee College, leaving her swimming days behind. Until the fall of 2015, when she dove back into her former passion and became a state champion.

Leslie’s journey is one with many twists and turns that yet seemed focused on bringing her to her current place, both professionally and personally. She received a BFA in Film from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and worked in TV production at WIFR in Rockford for several years. Searching for more regular working hours than those required by TV news, she tried her hand at radio advertising sales and eventually took a relative’s suggestion that she try her hand at therapeutic massage. She passed the national exam and found her professional path.

After working in the field and then taking some time off to be a stay-at-home mom to her twin sons, she heard that Kishwaukee College was starting a Therapeutic Massage Program (TPM), the first community college in Illinois to offer TPM. Leslie applied and discovered a position that was almost tailor-made for her. “I worked with [then Dean] Carol Quenett and couldn’t have asked for a better person with whom to begin a program. Carol had experience with accreditation. She knew the College and I knew TPM. It was perfect!” she said.

The TPM program continued to grow and was moved under the new Health and Education Division. With the support and leadership of Health and Education Dean Bette Chilton, an Esthetics Program was added and the name was changed to Complementary Health to better represent the focus of the program. In 2013, the Complementary Health department moved into a new spa-like clinical space on campus in the Terry and Sherrie Martin Health Careers Wing.

After twenty years focusing her time and energy on developing the Complementary Health programs at Kish, Leslie found herself not as healthy as she had been when she was a competitive swimmer. “I felt like, as the Coordinator of Complementary Health, I should model good health habits,” she said. She began to regulate her diet and exercise more in the Spring of 2015.

When summer came, she purchased a season pass to Hopkins Pool in DeKalb and began to swim over her lunch hour. She loved it. In Fall 2015, she joined the YMCA in Rockford where she lives and began swimming with the Masters Swim Team. One December weekend, she found that her swim times at a Masters swim meet in Evanston would have beat the previous year’s state championship times. She set a goal to qualify for the state meet, scheduled for April 2016.

She reached her goal. In mid-April, she was indeed competing in the 45 – 49 Year Old Group at the Illinois Masters Swim Association (ILMSA) 2016 Short Course State Championship. She basically owned the competition. She took First Place in the 50, 100, and 200 yard Breast Stroke; the 100 and 200 yard Individual Medley; the 50 and 1000 yard Freestyle; and the 50 yard Butterfly. She took Second Place in her one other competition, the 50 yard Backstroke. That’s eight First Place finishes out of nine races. Leslie found herself, less than one year after returning to the water, being named High Point Award Winner in her age group at the State meet.

Two weeks later on April 30, she was swimming in the U.S. Masters Swim Association Championships in Greensboro, NC.  She swam in five events taking Fourth Place in two events, Sixth Place, Tenth Place, and Eleventh Place in the others. “I am very happy with how I did,” she said. “I have always been a highly competitive swimmer.”

She is looking forward to the 2016 – 17 swimming season and hopes to build on her success in the fast lanes of the pool. But, for Leslie Ciaccio, although the ribbons and medals are wonderful, the return to a healthier self is her greatest victory!

Photo Caption: Leslie Ciaccio, Coordinator of the Complementary Health Programs at Kishwaukee College, returned to competitive swimming last fall and took First Place in eight of nine races she entered at the Illinois Masters Swim Association (ILMSA) 2016 Short Course State Championship in April.