by Michelle Sutton-Kerchner
Reach for the stars. The energy you radiate is another’s inspiration. As we close 2011, we celebrate some special members whose accomplishments offer out-of-this-world motivation to be our very best …
Who is your go-to person? When things get rough, when you’re laid-up with an injury, heartsick, or stuck in a rut, where do you turn? Each of us has a form of support network in our lives. This helps us remain tenacious against odds, think positive, and sometimes achieve the unimaginable (even when the unimaginable is simply getting out of bed on a bad day).
Here, we introduce several individuals who have made great strides as a Center member and as a person. Include their accomplishments in your support system. Use their journey as a reminder of the goodness that can be achieved with courage and determination.
Although these members are being set apart, there are many among us who undertake huge challenges with great success. It might be the man in the swim lane next to you who is training for his first triathlon. Or, it could be the new person in your Gentle Pilates class who managed to stand without a cane for the first time in months. We all continue to evolve as we journey closer to being our best, and giving our best.
As we begin a New Year, we’d like to congratulate these extraordinary members. Let their stories inspire you to greater heights.
Blanche Pepitone, The Abandoned Wheelchair
Too depleted for even a wheelchair ride, Blanche’s entire being was drained from lymphoma and subsequent chemotherapy treatments. Her other health issues, such as lymphedema (a condition that causes swelling), were worsened by the lymphoma. In addition to swollen extremities, chemo caused abdomen swelling. This water retention increased Blanche’s weight by 26 pounds in only one week. Swelling hindered her breathing, which was already strained by a nodule in her lung from the lymphoma. With a deficit of physical and mental energy, Blanche was in crisis mode.
“I was spiraling downward. I didn’t know which issue to deal with first,” shares Blanche. A conference for lymphedema patients suggested aquatic therapy for Blanche. Her health insurance didn’t cover aquatic therapy, so she was happily relieved to discover the Center’s therapy pool.
Blanche began with aquatic classes three times a week. “I started to feel so much better that I increased to five times a week with weekends off. Missing those two days set me back, so now I aim to go daily,” Blanche informs. Thus, the negative cycle turned positive with one good step leading to another.
Blanche added a variety of classes to her routine. In addition to aquatics, she participates in Zumba, line dancing, and the occasional cycling class.”I got rid of the wheelchair. I can do so much more now,” she notes with confidence.
One year later, Blanche found herself tackling Disney World on foot. The vacation was a whirlwind of activity. Each day began with an early morning workout in the hotel pool, followed by a day park-hopping from Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Magic Kingdom. Blanche notes her teenage nephew and son, and son’s friend, all had to break for a nap while Blanche and her husband toured Animal Kingdom.
Another year passed, and Blanche found herself in Disney again. Unable to match Blanche’s stamina, they rented Segways (two-wheeled, self-balancing electric vehicles that transport standing individuals) for some of the trip.
“All of this progress is thanks to the Center,” Blanche insists. “I love you all. Thank you for caring so much.” Ultimately, we know Blanche did the work. She seized the opportunity to heal herself and made it happen. For her, the results were magical.
Working with what you have was a predominant theme in Blanches success. She emphasizes Center staff continuously advised her: “Move at whatever level you can.” “Work at your personal comfort level.” “Work with the body you came in.”
Gina Ruggerio, Mom on a Mission
Tears streaked Gina’s face as she explained her fitness goals. Although many exercise for personal reasons with the goal of self-care and personal achievement, Gina’s motivation is unique.
“Working out has been my way to help my 21-year-old son survive cancer. The Center has helped me improve my life so I can be strong and healthy for my son,” shares Gina.
A lengthy absence from the Center ended this year. Gina was on the verge of confronting some serious physical limitations. Her knees, calves, and ankles were swollen, her blood pressure and cholesterol were high, and she was physically and emotionally exhausted from battling cancer on her son’s behalf since October 2009. A compassionate conversation transpired between Center staff and Gina, resulting in a scholarship to help Gina’s financial plight. With the newfound means, she had the emotional and financial support needed to return to a healthy state so she could be there for her son.
“My son is the perfect role model. He inspires me to get well enough to endure whatever life brings. If he could fight hard to get through so many setbacks, I could use that same determination to become healthier for him.”
Evan’s setbacks were many and severe. A multitalented individual, Evan was on an impressive path to a Broadway career. He completed a successful first year in the musical theatre program at Montclair State University. Evan was also a professional tap dancer with the New Jersey Tap Ensemble since age 10, and an accomplished musician, singer, actor, and dance instructor.
Pain in his right knee resulted in a life-alerting diagnosis of osteosarcoma. His treatment program has been aggressive over the past two years, resulting in an amputated leg and deterioration of his strong, handsome persona.
While Evan fought hard, Gina attacked her fitness plan with admirable vigor. Despite –and because of– the trauma in her life, she remained steadfast to her goals. During the last eight months, she stayed committed to regular exercise and healthy eating habits. She lost over 30 pounds, dropped three sizes, and achieved normal blood pressure and cholesterol readings.
“I have the energy and emotional well-being needed to continue to care for my son and entire family. I never could have accomplished these goals without the support from everyone at the Center,” attests Gina.
As for Gina’s son, he continues to thrive on giving back to the community that helps him through. He spoke to 400 children at a local school about remaining committed to dreams despite adversity. He performed in countless fundraising events for pediatric cancer. His latest endeavor: to have his adopted dog certified as a therapy dog to aid children undergoing chemotherapy.
Evan also worked with a prosthetic company to develop a way to tap dance with his artificial limb. Be amazed by his latest tap dancing on a self-made YouTube video:
The video earned quite a worldwide response. Gina may also appear in the public eye. She was approached by the TV series “Jersey Couture” to tell her story and share her experiences at the Center.
February 2012 marks the one-year anniversary of Evan’s most difficult time during this battle. Along with her fifty-third birthday, Gina will have much to celebrate. Her goal remains to look and feel strong and determined by caring for herself and her family. We would all be wise to reflect on Evan’s journey and make his determination and resounding spirit our own.
Alexis Saccoccio, Beaming Bride
Exercise empowers us. It takes the body and mind to great heights, perhaps previously thought impossible. The outcome is an improved inner and outer appearance. So attests Alexis on her dream wedding day. After joining the Center with one goal– to get in the best shape for her wedding day– she accomplished something even more life-changing along the way.
“I wanted to experience something I never knew before: to feel beautiful and confident in my own skin,” confides Alexis. At 24 years old, Alexis never felt comfortable as the focus of anyone’s attention. She was never comfortable with herself. This lack of self-esteem acts as any other negative condition. It debilitates one’s chance for success in life. Just as a broken leg can prevent a good run, self-doubt can prevent even the attempt at accomplishing goals.
Propelled by an impending wedding date, Alexis teamed with a personal trainer on a journey to self-improvement. “I never thought personal training would work for me. I’m very stubborn and don’t respond well to being told what to do,” she admits. However, with only six months until the Big Day, and the added stress of being diabetic, she knew she needed guidance.
A trainer, with a professional insight, can often better gauge how far we can go. For someone like Alexis, who can be hindered by confidence issues, it’s difficult to realize one’s true potential. “My trainer never allowed me to exercise half-way. He pushed me and I appreciated every minute of it,” indicates Alexis. She mentions her trainer knew when she truly had enough, perhaps better than she did. Sometimes, we surprise ourselves at how far we can go. We reach for what is deep within and pull out a bundle of strength we never imagined.
Over the months, Alexis watched her body transform. She remained realistic, knowing she couldn’t become her fittest self in the time and circumstances allotted. Regardless, she enjoyed a tremendous boost when her wedding dress hung loosely on her at her fitting. That swimming silky white fabric demonstrated progress, which sparked her confidence to forge ahead.
Self-image is often more relevant than the amount of weight lost or the type of exercises performed. Improvements transcend this. Suddenly, the spirit within becomes truly self-satisfied. The person reflected in the mirror shines from the inside out. After experiencing exercise’s benefits, you begin to feel more worthy of investing the precious time and energy necessary to continue with a healthy lifestyle. And you accomplish fitness goals along the way.
It was the morning of Alexis’ wedding day. She slid into her wedding dress, the final step in her preparation. “I looked in the mirror and almost cried. Honestly, I never felt more beautiful or confident in my life,” she admits. After some mirror-front twirls to confirm overall approval, formerly camera-shy Alexis happily posed for pictures. She practically sprinted down the aisle with her confident demeanor. Although Alexis acknowledges marrying the man of her dreams, she notes it was her trainer that helped make her so happy that day.
Give yourself credit. Your trainer does. “I’ll continue with my training. I still need to reach my goal of being in the best shape of my life. My new attitude, and my trainer, will get me there.”
George Ulasevich, Coming Alive
George refers to himself as a “guy he once knew” when mentioning his previously unhealthy life. He was overweight, overworked, and suffered from chronic stress. His blood pressure was lingering near the danger zone, despite half-hearted attempts to work out.
“That guy,” he remarks about himself, “was like many others who struggle to find their way to good health and a better life. That guy was me. But, he certainly seems like a different person now.”
George made a life-changing choice. “The fitness facility to which I previously belonged cost less. However, if I stayed there, the ultimate cost would’ve been so much greater,” he comments, noting your health is priceless. George visits the Center six to seven days a week. On his rest days, he enjoys a relaxing soak in the Center’s whirlpool.
“I was in desperate need of help. At the Center, I got everything I needed,” he says. George maxes out his membership. He takes advantage of the free trainer orientation and follow-ups, the nursing evaluations, Group Fitness classes, and the aquatics program. He cycles, swims, practices yoga, participates in boot camps.
A huge accomplishment, George currently swims 80 laps nonstop. When he began using the pool, he could only swim one length before getting winded. “I was thrilled when I finally was able to swim only four laps nonstop!” he says, amazed at his achievement. His progress led him to the Master Swim program, which pushed him farther than he thought possible.
Others in the class encouraged George to try a sprint triathlon. He joined the local Central Jersey Tri Club and now shares triathlon and cycling events with his daughter Kacie. “Participating in fitness events with my daughter is one of the most rewarding experiences imaginable,” he shares.
Attending a health faire at the Center introduced him to Club West Nutrition and a new way of eating. He also occasionally enjoys a healthy meal at the on-site cafe, as well as cooking and wellness classes at the Center. “My improved diet, combined with all the Center offers, has made me 76 pounds lighter with a blood pressure reading of 120 over 70. I can honestly say becoming a Center member–and taking advantage of all that offers–has truly saved my life.”
“This new healthy lifestyle– proper diet, a commitment to exercise, and even de-stressing in the whirlpool– are habits that have helped me become truly alive.”
Al Santaniello, Heartfelt Results
A heart attack at age 32, and diagnosed heart failure, scared Al into wanting to transform his life. Yet, fear of another heart attack left him feeling paralyzed. “Although my cardiologist told me exercise would improve my condition, I didn’t know how much my body could take,” he admits.
Peace-of-mind came in the form of Center membership. Exercise physiologists and on-site medical intervention greeted Al after his cardiac rehabilitation ended. Working with this team allowed him the confidence needed to physically challenge himself. Every quarter, Al meets with Nurse Manager Margery Cottrell, RN, to review his progress. By knowing his health history, Center staff were able to better customize his fitness program to be simultaneously effective and safe.
A possible heart transplant lurked in the background of Al’s life. While on the heart-recipient waiting list, he continued to exercise and monitor his diet. He was even motivated to begin aquatic workouts. Currently, he swims halfway across the pool and back. This is progress from his former self who would never even venture into the pool. He also graduated from five minutes on the elliptical to 45 minutes.
Eight months past and Al’s new lifestyle earned him exciting news. “I’m too healthy for a heart transplant!” he announces. “I’m amazed at what exercise can do.”
What is your amazing feat? What can the upcoming New Year reveal about you?
Hold Your Peace
Each of us can relate to the struggles and triumphs shared here. We all are working to achieve, improve, and overcome. Consider what you can accomplish in this very moment. It may be a big dream or a mindful breath. Be at peace with that reality– and grow from it. In this state-of-mind, we become energized and inspired. Be content with who you are now. It will help you become a better person tomorrow.
Introductory Photo: Symbolically, Gina reaches the peak of Mt. Defiance, Adirondacks, with husband Tom.