Former USC therapist found dead

Columbia massage clinic owner dead after apparent suicide in California

A Columbia massage therapist who worked extensively with current and former USC athletes died last week in his native California of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to authorities in El Dorado, Calif.

Aaron Aviani was at his father’s house east of Sacramento when he took his life Friday. He was 34.

In addition to operating his own massage clinic, Aviani worked with Gamecocks’ athletes since graduating from USC in 2000.

“Whenever you lose a young person at this stage, you’re always surprised, shocked, devastated,” USC track coach Curtis Frye said Monday. “All of us go through struggles and battles that we don’t understand. We love him and hope that everything is well with his family.”

Frye had grief counselors available Monday to members of the Gamecocks’ track team, several of whom knew Aviani well. As a licensed massage therapist and certified athletics trainer, Aviani had a reputation for helping athletes recover quickly from injuries.

Allen Johnson, an Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler who lives in Irmo, paid for Aviani to travel to international meets with him to help him with nagging injuries.

“My body feels better now than when I was 26, 27 years old,” said the 36-year-old Johnson. “There were times that he saved me ... when I was injured and he worked his magic and got me ready to run.”

Besides their professional relationship, Johnson regarded Aviani as a good friend. Johnson said he was aware Aviani was dealing with personal issues.

“I knew he was going through a hard time, but never thought it was this bad or would something like this,” Johnson said. “He’s an amazing guy. He was never malicious to anybody for (any) reason.”

Besides the track team, Aviani also worked with Gamecocks’ football players such as Cory Boyd, Syvelle Newton and Ryan Brewer over the years. USC athletics spokesperson Michelle Schmitt said Aviani was popular among all athletes.

Funeral arrangements in California are pending. The Gamecocks’ track team also is planning a memorial service, according to Schmitt.

“The kids absolutely loved him. You never heard anyone say anything bad about him,” Schmitt said. “I hope he’s in a better place, that’s all I can say. But he’s a great guy.”