Getting Personal: Douglas Nelson

Getting Personal: Douglas Nelson

Each week, we offer an email Q&A with a local personality. Today, Melissa Merli chats with 56-year-old Champaign resident Douglas Nelson, a massage therapist, the owner of BodyWork Associates, a continuing neuromuscular therapy education provider for NMT Midwest and the author of "The Mystery of Pain."

What time do you typically get up?

I typically get up at 6 a.m.

What do you do the first hour of the morning?

As much as possible. I try to ease into the day. I listen to early choral music while checking email and having a cup of coffee.

What do you consider your greatest achievement or accomplishment?

Honestly, whether it is through my teaching, the clinic or my books, just knowing that I have helped so many people who are in pain gives me great satisfaction.

What do you regard as your most treasured possession?

I'd have to say my house. I so love being there and living in this amazing community.

Do you have a "guilty pleasure," and what is it?

Having a glass of really great wine would top that list.

What book are you reading now?

I am reading "The Invisible Gorilla," written by Dan Simons, who is here at the (University of Illinois) Beckman Institute.

What is your favorite book ever?

Ever? I absolutely loved "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell. But there are so many great books ...

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

My wife and I have never been to Italy. We'd would love to bicycle through Tuscany someday.

Tell me about your favorite pet.

I had a cat named Reebok who had quite the personality. He is the only cat I have ever met who enjoyed riding in a canoe.

What's your favorite sports team?

All teams Illini and, thanks to Shahid Khan, I am now a big Jacksonville Jaguars fan.

What would you order for your last meal?

I would like Ray Timpone to make a lamb dish with garlic mashed potatoes, and arugula salad with gorgonzola. Most importantly, I would like to eat it on the stage of the Foellinger Great Hall at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts while savoring a great glass of wine, thinking about all the wonderful performances I have seen there.

If you could be reincarnated after you die, what would you like to come back as?

Perhaps a tree that for many decades freely gives shade to anyone who needs a respite. Then, after being felled for the quality of my wood, a master luthier would use part of me to create cellos and violins, which, in the hands of multiple master musicians, would thrill audiences for centuries.

Who are your favorite musicians and why?

Probably Yo-Yo Ma, Gustavo Dudamel and Bobby McFerrin. Each of these musicians has so mastered his craft that he crosses boundaries and bridges with ease. Each has inspired millions with his passion for the power of the arts.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

My daughter (Natalie Ellis) was just married a couple weeks ago, and it was a joyous occasion that I will always treasure. Probably the only wedding that had a song and dance from "The Muppet Movie" and a reading from "The Velveteen Rabbit!"

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite?

I'd love to sit down with former President Bill Clinton, Yo-Yo Ma and the Dalai Lama. All are deep thinkers and thought leaders at the global level, redefining boundaries and using their voice to help others in need. It would be a fascinating evening.

What would you serve?

I am pretty sure that President Clinton and the Dalai Lama are vegetarians; not sure about Yo-Yo Ma. I am sure my wife, Janet, could make multiple small plate dishes that would please them.

Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?

I am a big Thomas Jefferson fan, as he personifies the Age of Enlightenment, an era that fascinates me. I admire people whose curiosity and sense of wonder about life lead them to explore multiple disciplines and fields of study.

What personality trait do you most hate in other people?

Lack of appreciation. I have worked with people who were dying, who would give anything for one more day, one more hour to appreciate the many miracles this amazing world has to offer. Don't wait: Savor every moment. Each one is a gift.

Most hate in yourself?

I've gotten myself into a fair bit of misery by choosing the best available option, when none of the above would have been a better choice. An early mentor once called me a great opportunist. After two days, I realized that this wasn't a compliment and called him to tell him so. He laughed uproariously and hung up on me. Tough lesson that I seem to learn over and over.

What's your best piece of advice?

Einstein said it so well: "That which holds us back isn't what we don't know; it is what we think we know."

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

I grew up on a farm in Ottawa, Ill., and walked soybeans (pulled weeds in the field) for my dad. I think I was paid about $30 — for the month!

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

There was a time I worked for The Chicago Bulls when they wanted me to move to Chicago and just work for them. Obviously, that was tempting. On one trip there, I had about 90 minutes for lunch, and it took almost 40 minutes to drive to a nearby restaurant. I decided I could not fight traffic every day. After saying no to them, I found myself appreciating Champaign even more than ever. I felt like I was here by design, not by default. I love this community.

Do you have any regrets in your life? What are they?

My academic experience in college was rather uninspiring; my passion for learning came later. In deep conversations with friends who teach here at the University of Illinois, I so wish that I could have had classes with professors of that caliber when I was young. Luckily, I get to learn from them now.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

I remind myself what is real and what is imagined. The creative capacity of the human brain can both dream up great things and drive us crazy. If I find myself ruminating about a stressful situation, I often find I imagined much of it. Removing the imagined stress gives me more energy to deal with what is real.


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