by Michelle Sutton-Kerchner
Always do your best. You never know when you are another’s inspiration. As we close 2010, we acknowledge some special members who transform our facility into a thriving wellness community …
Each of us has people in our lives we admire. Perhaps we’re influenced by their tenacity against all odds, their smarts, or their philosophy on life that allows them to achieve the unimaginable. They simply could be the person we need at the exact right moment in time.
Here, we share several individuals who have made great strides during 2010, as a member and as a person. Although these members are being set apart, there are many among us who undertake huge challenges with great success. It might be the woman next to you on the Exercise Floor who’s training for Race for the Cure. Or, it could be the elderly man who managed, for the first time, to dive into a pool at your Aquatics class. 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 motivate you to greater heights.
At 22 years old, member Margo is an aquatic champion. She’s competed nationally in the Special Olympics and won big time this past summer. She earned the gold in the 4×50 Medley Relay, the 50-yard freestyle, and the 50-yard backstroke. She came in fifth place for the 4×25-yard freestyle relay.
We’re all hoping her winning streak continues as she represents the United States in the World Special Olympics next summer in Athens, Greece. Margo is one of 40 members on the United States Aquatics Team, only two of whom are from New Jersey. This challenge is the direct result of Margo’s success in the Nationals with Team New Jersey. “I’m so excited about my trip with the team to Greece next year,” shares Margo who has never left the States.
After her victory in Team New Jersey, she began private swimming lessons at the Center. The Center’s Aquatics department was of particular interest for Margo who enjoys year-round swim practice here.“The private lessons with Trainer Evan Sharko allow me to compete more effectively. He pushes me to the next level. I really recommend Evan. For swimming, he’s your guy,” says Margo with a grin.Margo training with Evan at the Center.
A Special Olympic athlete for 14 years, Margo gave a memorable speech at Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day, a tribute to the Special Olympics founder. The underlying mission of the Special Olympics, and Eunice’s long-term vision, is to disband itself. Their dream is to create a single athletic community, in solidarity and without labels. Margo’s performance propels them in this direction. She represents skill and talent, which should be the only category considered in Olympic sports.
Margo manages three intense practices in the pool each week, including with her Special Olympics coach and teams. Her advice to others who are trying to accomplish fitness goals, both big and bigger: “Go out there and try your best.”
Follow the progress of our own Margo, and her team, at www.specialolympicsteamusa.org.
Brenda Cohen, Defying Her Fate
“I have watched this member train hard for the past six months, and had no idea of her condition,” reveals General Manager Tom Tocci.
It’s common to experience some apprehension about joining a fitness center. Or, maybe you’re a veteran to the exercise scene, but self-imposed limitations make you doubt your capabilities. Consider Brenda’s story.
“Joining a fitness club can be intimidating for the average person,” acknowledges Brenda. “For someone facing a life-altering challenge like Parkinson’s disease, that stress is considerably magnified. A member for three years now, Brenda has courageously taken advantage of every aspect of the Center. She challenges herself on the Exercise Floor and in Group Fitness classes, and teams with personal trainers to further her benefits.
Parkinson’s disease stresses the body’s nervous system, causing motor coordination issues. This results in tremors, muscle and joint stiffness, and multiple others symptoms that cause neuromuscular distress. “Even as a Center member, I found myself too embarrassed to work out for fear that others would notice my tremors,” admits Brenda. Depressed, overweight, and humiliated by her condition, she decided to take a chance. Brenda took an active role at changing her physical and emotional well-being.
She began by exercising in hidden corners of the Center so she wouldn’t be seen. Eventually, friends and neighbors noticed her and would try to elicit conversations. She continued to hide and further dedicate herself to her fitness routine. Fitness Manager Peter Sarni approached her. “I’ve seen you work out, and you’re strong, but you need to have a plan,” he advised.
It was this introduction to personal training that truly has gotten Brenda results. “And, of course, the constant encouragement and support from my husband, Scott,” she quickly adds.
“My trainers have gone so far as to research my condition in order to optimize my workouts,” shares Brenda. “This mentality and acceptance has allowed me to excel. I never feel like an outcast because of my disease.” By working through her diagnosis at the Center, Brenda has been able to embrace her situation. She strives to be her best self, despite it all. “And I enjoy every minute of it,” she attests.
“Simply sharing her story is a big step for Brenda. It shows great confidence, particularly by someone who previously exercised in secret for fear of embarrassment,” remarks Mike Sarni, one of Brenda’s personal trainers. “Brenda always finds a way to persevere. She never gives up, despite personal adversities.” Brenda has teamed with several personal trainers in addition to Mike, including Tina Colonna, Matt Strout, and Peter Sarni.
Brenda’s is a story of building mental strength through exercise. She managed to lose 40 pounds, improve her body mass index, and build muscle. “Most importantly, I managed to feel more comfortable with the person I am.”
“From the moment I walked through the Center’s doors, I knew I was in the right place,” continues Brenda. Not only is she here to be inspired, but to inspire. “And, she truly is an inspiration. Brenda is a shining example of what can be accomplished,” notes Tom.
Dennis Forde, Making a New Life
“I wish I took this step sooner,” shares member Dennis, referencing not only the figurative step to improve his health but the literal step from the wheelchair it helped him accomplish.
Dennis claims joining the Center saved his life. Acknowledging Dennis’ achievements, we recognize Dennis saved his own life. The Center was the catalyst he needed.
Suffering from a catastrophic fall left Dennis’ life permanently altered. He could no longer work at his successful career for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York City. His love of gardening with wife, Joan, was squelched. His children and friends remarked often, “What happened to you? How did you get in this place?” Dennis no longer had a zest for life. He was overcome by pain and fear from his accident. His injury defined him, leaving no trace of his former happy, active self.
For three years, Dennis remained a shut-in. He was unable to walk and spent over a year without seeing the outside of his home. “I didn’t even leave the house to get the daily paper or the mail,” he emphasizes. Depression enveloped the package that was his new body. A vicious circle ensued; the mental and physical anguish further paralyzed him.
Eventually, Dennis hit rock bottom. It took a near-death experience for him to acknowledge his total decline. Lack of exercise, absent of any movement really, caused major health problems to develop. Lying on the couch one evening, he found himself unable to breathe. Apparently, he developed a condition where lungs no longer function properly because of the body’s inactivity. After being rushed to the hospital in that life-threatening condition, Dennis realized the extent of his suffering. He could no longer deny the terrible spot in which he dwelled.
“Recognizing you have a problem is the first step to healing. The accident had triggered a terrible depression, and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy,” shares Dennis. Dennis reluctantly agreed to attend rehabilitation for his injury. This huge step took him away from home for eight months while he resided in a rehab facility. There, he managed to gain strength and make improvements. However, he still had much progress to make.
“I wanted to get back on my feet and improve my overall health, beyond rehabbing my injury,” he relates. After leaving rehab, he still suffered limited mobility and wanted to lose the weight gained throughout this crisis. “The transformation truly began when I discovered the Center’s therapeutic pool. Walking normally. Having balance. Surrounded by the pool’s warm buoyancy, it was all possible.”
Experiencing a piece of his former life, albeit in the pool, motivated Dennis to make great changes. Suddenly, improvement seemed possible to him. He embraced the support that surrounded him in the form of family, friends, trainers, and instructors. He allowed himself to be challenged, despite his fear.
“The fall left me with phobias that I’m still overcoming. I have a strong fear of falling,” confides Dennis, who has fallen three times since his initial accident. “I couldn’t make a leap until I dove into the pool.”
With increasing confidence, Dennis is determined to get his life back. His wife, Joan, is also a Center member. Dennis looks forward to the day when he’s able to be the one to drive them for their daily workout.
Dennis’ advice to others:
- If you find yourself not wanting to participate in activities, there is help. You don’t have to suffer depression alone. You can’t rehabilitate yourself unless you feel better emotionally.
- Get support, even if you have to be dragged or crawl there. Going to the Center provides the social interaction needed. Whether you’re exercising to become stronger or to recover from an injury, it’s more enjoyable when shared with a fitness community who truly cares.
With his depression under control and a renewed vigor, Dennis continues to overcome his injury. Once he is capable, he plans on volunteering to help others in any way possible. “I’m doing things I never would’ve done before. I gave away 20 bags of my lightly worn designer clothes. I want to visit shut-ins so they don’t feel isolated,” shares Dennis. “My wife put up with me through all of this. She has been an unrelenting force in helping me recover.”
“Five years ago, I would’ve thought it crazy to imagine myself as the person I’d become. Life can change in an instant, as it did for me,” Dennis says emphatically. With opened eyes, he now wants to live life in the service of others. He understands the dark place from which he emerged and wants this insight to benefit others.
“Dennis is an example of unfaltering determination. Although in a wheelchair, he has been slowly taking steps to walk on his own. He can walk, with the help of his walker, a few more steps every month,” provides General Manager Gina Kaufman.
As a statement that there’s no shame in struggling with an injury and ensued depression, Dennis was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show. On national television, he voluntarily showed himself and told the story of his impairment.
“Don’t deny yourself the life you deserve. Sometimes you have to seek help to overcome the challenges life throws your way,” concludes Dennis.
Michelle Solsky, 100 pounds lighter
“For the first time in my life, I feel I have accomplished my goals,” vehemently exclaims member Michelle. She proceeds to share that she’s exceeded her own expectations. How did she do it? Michelle provides some facts that have contributed to her success.
“It takes me to be successful. Not dieting, not surgery, and not even exercise. If I choose to lose weight, I will.” Michelle made a personal decision: She did not want to be overweight. Then, she made it happen, one pound at a time.
Once she set her goal, she needed to make health her priority. She recognized the responsibilities in her life–husband, family, and career. However, she chose to make the most of each day. She assigned exercise, nutrition, and calorie-counting a priority level equal to breathing.
“I realize I have to prioritize my health for life. It takes diligence, determination, and willingness to continue. But, I can do it. I have decided to lose weight and be healthy, and I’m making it happen,” states Michelle, who claims to feel better now than any time in her life. The benefits Michelle has experienced are apparent and motivating.
Michelle emphasizes the importance of healthy competition (literally). As fourth place winner of the Biggest Center Loser competition, Michelle gave it her all. One day, she even logged in seven hours at the Center! She worked with Personal Trainer William Wallis, who propelled her along this journey.
“I want everyone out there to know that it is possible [to reach your goals].” Michelle assures other members, “You will get there, and I will be alongside you, with many others. Keep going! I’ll see you at the finish line.”
“She sure will,” remarks General Manager Linda Daly. “Michelle looks great!”
John Roloff, Conquering Cancer
“My idealistic youth slipped into a complacent, and often self-destructive, adulthood. The “I will never” fill-in-the-blank slipped into smoking, bad eating habits, and consuming alcohol as well as other recreational substances,” admits member John Roloff. He readily confesses to living a very unhealthy lifestyle.
Six years ago, a diagnosis of leukemia overwhelmed John. He was expected to live only five to eight years longer, having been sick unknowingly for some time. After a six-month pity party, including some serious angst over his fate, John decided to fight this disease by making life-altering changes.
However, the path to wellness was not without more detours.
One year later, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Thanks to a more health-conscious lifestyle, this was caught in early stages. Nine months after that, John underwent a prostatectomy. He remained undeterred. He devoured self-help books like The Way of the Superior Man by David Deida and Defy Gravity – Healing beyond the Bounds of Reason by Caroline Myss. John rallied his courage and lit a spark within himself.
“A paradigm shift in my thinking, as well as some serious lifestyle changes, has allowed me a positive attitude. I eat healthy and go to the Center regularly. I work very hard on managing my mental and physical health,” shares John. The Center is an integral part of his new lifestyle, where he has been boosted by support from fitness professionals and encouragement from all. “You are what you surround yourself with. I look and feel great,” he attests. No one would guess this tenacious man is dealing with multiple cancers.
In April 2010, John began a rigid chemotherapy regimen. Aside from some short-term memory loss, he had little side-effects. “I continued my workout routine throughout therapy. I credit my fit physical and mental condition for how well my body handled the poisons that killed my cancers,” informs John.
“John has used exercise to help strengthen his mind, body, and spirit. His determination to defeat cancer has served as an inspiration to members and staff,” shares Scott Donaldson, John’s personal trainer.
After overcoming serious and multiple battles with cancer, John feels he’s been given a “new lease on life.” My physicians no longer throw numbers at me that predict my early demise. In fact, I’ve been told I’ll live long and prosper.”
General Manager Amanda McDonald states it best, “John has taken his unfortunate circumstances and turned them into a motivating force to strive for happiness and a better quality-of-life. When Amanda interviewed John for a membership, he conveyed: “My health is all I have. It means a lot to me to be in the safe and clean environment of the Center, with educated professionals surrounding me.”
John doesn’t know what cards life will deal next. However, he assures us, by the grace of God, he will play them with dignity.
“I truly believe John has been able to prolong his life through exercise. We are lucky to have him as a member,” remarks Amanda.
These highlighted members have their own unique story to share, complete with its set of challenges. In actuality, they are not very different from the rest of us. We are all attempting to overcome life’s issues—some big, some small—at any given point in our journey. The important aspect is how you travel through it.
Be inspired by these members. Their advice contains a common thread: Free your mind, body, and spirit from setbacks. Use the Center, its supportive community, stellar programs, and extensive tools.
Consider yourself challenged. Go make it happen.