by Constance Garcia-Barrio
Harried holiday shoppers helped push Pete Gerold from stellar salesman to super-sensitive healer whose clients range from humans to horses. “The holidays seemed to bring out people who felt obliged to buy lots of things, but they had little money,” says Pete, a licensed massage therapist at Community Acupuncture of Mt. Airy (CAMA), 6782 Germantown Ave. “They were angry, and I faced them every December.” Those surly shoppers have become ghosts of Christmases past for Pete, who has 30 different massage techniques literally at his fingertips.
The transition was a while aborning. “I grew up in Fox Chase, an old German community then,” Pete said. “It was a great place for kids. My friends and I would ride our bikes to Burholme Park.” Pete, a sports enthusiast, played baseball in what were once open fields near Jeanes Hospital.
He ran the bases, yet slowed down to immerse himself in nature. “I was into my critters,” he said. “Thirty percent of the basement was for my fish, bugs and reptiles. We also had dogs, cats, turtles, snakes, frogs and toads. I fed everybody out of my allowance.” Now and then, he could con his father into buying a little extra fish food.
By the time Pete graduated from Cardinal Dougherty High School, he had decided to become a veterinarian. At St. Joseph’s University on a full academic scholarship, Pete majored in medieval history. On one hand he pored over church history, and on the other he plunged into retail sales. “I worked at Food Fair and Pantry Pride Stores all through college. I learned about cash flow, customer relations, sales projections and other parts of the business.” He graduated in 1973 with a 3.7 grade point average despite juggling work and school.
With the lure of good money, Pete set aside plans for veterinary school and fast-tracked in retail. He moved from Pantry Pride to a busy Shop ‘N’ Bag market where, as manager, he oversaw work schedules of more than 60 employees, but tragedy struck when Pete’s father, a master welder with the Budd Company, developed malignant melanoma. “He went from a 225-pound muscle man to little more than half that weight,” Pete said. “I had to carry him from the car into the doctor’s office.” His father died in 1979 just five months after the diagnosis.
In Pete’s next retail move, to Drug Emporium Stores, he glimpsed a new possibility. “My cosmetics manager told me about massage lessons she was taking.” It seemed a way to renew his original intention of becoming a healer that veterinary school would have afforded him.
In the early ‘90s a friend told him about a superb massage school. Pete realized that he could tailor his work schedule and use sick days in order to attend school, but an obstacle still remained. He had to come up with a $3,000 non-refundable fee in 48 hours. His mother stepped in. “She said, ‘I would rather you use what I have now than wait until I die,’” Pete recalled.
From 1995, Pete, who requested that his age not be mentioned, launched his company, Kneading You Therapy, while still working in sales. Between both jobs, he put in 68-hour weeks. Though still successful on the retail front, that work began to sour for him. Desperate Christmas shoppers hammered him on the one hand while top management squeezed him on the other. “I would get messages like, ‘Could you cut your payroll a little more?’ It seemed more and more sterile, more hollow.”
In 1998, Pete took the plunge into full-time massage. While he uses many techniques, one of his specialties is myofascial release for chronic and acute pain. Kneading You has given Pete enormous satisfaction, all the more because he’s found a way to combine it with an old love: his critters. Pete, who has birds, reptiles, fish and special-needs dogs, does therapy with animals. “Pets can have significant trauma, too,” he said.
A product demonstrator for a premium pet food company, Pete emphasizes the importance of species-appropriate food. “I feed my birds shelled nuts and dried and fresh fruits and vegetables, and I raise Dubai cockroaches to feed my bearded dragons, a kind of reptile.” At one point, when Pete was rescuing bearded dragons who’d been injured or abandoned, he had more than 50 of them but eventually found good homes for them.
“You have to attend to the emotional needs of animals too,” he said. “Birds have far greater emotional needs that do reptiles. Dogs require still more attention than birds.” One of Pete’s dogs, a Pekingese named Belle, came to him after failed back surgery. “She was in poor shape and incontinent,” he said. Now she lords it over his other dogs. “She wears a diaper, but she’s thriving and is about to turn 14.”
When treating people or animals, Pete applies the same principle. “It’s all about being attuned to another being, about being attentive to life.”