From Couch to 5K… and beyond!

— written by Club Fit Member and Guest Blogger Lisa Skelton

Club Fit Member Linda Adair goes from couch to 5K, and farther — losing 45 lbs and getting stronger in the process!

Linda before and after

Linda lost 45 lbs — gained speed, strength and fitness!

Change is good! But only if you make the right changes. Linda Adair decided that she wanted to get back into shape last summer, and 45 pounds later, she has achieved that goal.

Last June, Linda reached a point where she was tired of being overweight, and wanted to return to her former fit, energetic self. With the support of fellow Club Fit Briarcliff member and friend, Denyse, a marathon runner, she attempted the Couch to 5K program, and by August she was running 3 miles every other day. “The first day was tough, but then I got back up on day two and did it again,” she says.

In the fall she joined Club Fit, and she feels it made a huge difference in her fitness quest. “I had adjusted my diet and increased my exercise, but Club Fit pushed me over the top with the addition of Group Fitness classes and access to the Fitness Center,” she says. Linda, a paralegal (she graduated in March!), is a regular in the Spin Studio, and uses the treadmill, the women’s circuit and the free weight area. She completed her first 5K, slowly, last July, and now she has thirteen 5Ks and one 10K planned for 2015!

So the exercise increased, but what did she change in her diet? “I eat tons of fruit, cut out carbs and replaced white rice and potatoes with healthier starches like yams and brown rice.” She adds, “My diet is constantly evolving, and I continue to do research, but I definitely don’t starve myself. If I want something that doesn’t fall into my ‘healthy’ list, I don’t deprive myself.” The key is to become educated, and learn how to maintain a good balance, something she feels should also be stressed to young people, who today can so easily succumb to eating disorders.

Speaking of young people, two of the reasons Linda was motivated to regain her health were her daughters. Both girls are active and athletic, but her younger daughter also suffers from cystic fibrosis. Because of this, Linda and her family have become active supporters of Team Boomer, a program within the Boomer Esiason Foundation that encourages people with CF to incorporate exercise into their everyday lives, and supports athletes in raising money for CF through fundraising events. The Foundation, launched by former New York Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason, works to heighten awareness, education and quality of life for those affected by CF. “One hundred percent of the money they raise goes to research, so I am happy to support them!”

At this point, Linda has achieved what she set out to do… “I am healthy now!” She dropped from a size 16 to size 6, and feels much stronger and faster since her decision to commit to fitness last summer. Her husband and daughters also are benefitting from the adjustments she made to her diet, which of course impacted the foods she brings into their Pleasantville home. “There are always things you can work on at the gym, but at this point I am simply grateful to be healthy!”

For more information on the Couch to 5K program that started Linda on her way, visit www.fromcouchto5k.com, and if you want to give a philanthropic twist to your fitness plan and join the Adairs in their support of Team Boomer, visit www.teamboomer.org.

Diana Pernicano — Cancer Warrior and Club Fit Member

Diana Pernicano, Cancer Warrior and Club Fit Member

Cancer Warrior and Club Fit Member Diana Pernicano and her father, Club Fit Member Ted Pernicano

When you are a nineteen-year-old college student, the last thing you expect to hear are the words, “You have cancer.” But that’s exactly what happened to Diana Pernicano this past November, when she was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma. Luckily, Diana had a happy ending. On February 28, after three months of intense chemotherapy at Sloan-Kettering, Diana was declared cancer-free.

She decided to make a positive out of a negative by learning as much as she could about the disease, and devoting herself to educating others, kids in particular, about cancer. “Kids in middle school and high school need to understand that it’s important to go to the doctor and to stay healthy, that cancer doesn’t just happen to adults,” she said. But people of all ages also need to understand that cancer doesn’t always have to end badly. She said she was surprised by how many of her classmates assumed she would not survive. She’s happy to say, “Today, two out of three cancer patients will become a survivor.”

Diana has also devoted herself to fundraising, and is currently working with the American Cancer Society to raise awareness and funds. She had already been participating in the Yorktown Relay for Life event before her diagnosis, partly because her father also suffered through a cancer scare nine years ago. He was diagnosed with a cancer of the spine that was also treated successfully.  (Their cancers are not related.)

After her diagnosis and treatment, Diana was invited to speak at the Relay for Life kickoff event in February, and did so well that she was invited to help with the speakers in the New York City office. “Survivors who I heard speak would talk about the experiences they had, but not about specific programs that helped them get through the experience.”

She impressed enough people with her story and attitude to be featured in an ACS video distributed to colleges across the country educating college students about the disease, as well as the importance of sharing stories about experiences with cancer and reaching out to others. Visit YouTube to see it for yourself! “It’s such a different perspective when you go through this at my age,” she says. “It’s also so hard, no matter what your age, to really understand what a patient goes through, unless you have cancer yourself.” Diana also invites everyone to read more about her experience on her blog, at dianapernicano.wordpress.com.

Diana will continue her studies in nursing at Mount St. Mary College in the Fall, where she was attending school when she was diagnosed. Her focus will be on oncology nursing, which she was already pursuing because of her father’s experience with cancer. But now she feels she can contribute so much more to cancer patients, because she has the unique perspective of knowing exactly how they feel.

Diana has a good role model in her father, a Club Fit member who was a runner before his diagnosis and used Club Fit to help him get back on track. He is still at Club Fit almost every day. Diana became a full member three years ago. She uses the Fitness Center, plays racquetball, shoots hoops in the gym and enjoys Zumba — an all-around member! She also attended a Cancer Wellness session or two, and although she was too sick to participate more, she thinks it’s a great resource for others going through what she did. Diana is on the cross-country team at Mount St. Mary, and intends to return to the team in the fall.

Diana will have her own team for the first time at this year’s Relay for Life, “Diana’s Lymphomaniacs,” and has already raised more than $10,000. Part of that number includes funds raised on May 18 with a foul-shooting competition for Mildred E. Strang Middle School teachers and students at Club Fit Jefferson Valley. Forty students and 17 MESMS teachers participated! The actual Relay for Life event will take place on June 13th at Jack DeVito Memorial Field in Yorktown, and the Lymphomaniacs are happy to accept donations at her Relay for Life page! For more information on how you can join the fight against cancer, visit www.cancer.org.

Meet Mary Wu

Good health has always been a priority in my life due to my congenital and complex medical history of renal agenesis and left hip dysplasia, osteoarthritis, and avascular necrosis. Both diagnoses resulted in peritoneal dialysis, two kidney transplants from deceased donors at 5-years-old and then 12-years-old, left hip replacement, a lifetime of immunosuppressant/anti-rejection medications and its multiple side effects, and sporadic muscle spasms.

For years, I kept my medical challenges a secret out of fear and a desire to just belong and be “normal.” However, my life was forever changed in the best of ways in 2010 when I signed up as a spectator at the Transplant Games held in Madison, Wisconsin. The experience of seeing transplant recipients competing to showcase the power of organ donation and transplantation and honoring organ donor families in this extraordinary, biannual Olympic-style event completely transformed my life.  This one experience ignited my organ donation and transplant advocacy work. I began to open up and share with the public through speaking events, volunteer work with various organ donation and transplant organizations, and written articles about my organ donation and transplant story and the REAL facts of organ donation and transplantation as a way to encourage anyone and everyone to become a life-saving and registered organ donor just by visiting “Donate Life America” at www.donatelife.net– please do register as a life-saving organ donor!

In 2012, the Transplant Games of America were held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I decided to finally participate as a competitive athlete in the swimming division, specifically in 100 free and 50 free. Swimming had always been ‘my sport’ to alleviate my arthritic body pain and fulfill the water lover in me. At that time, I had only been a “Club Fit” member for roughly a year, and I primarily kept to myself. I was very serious about my athletic participation in the Transplant Games of America, and so I contacted Club Fit to locate any personal trainers who understood my medical challenges in relation to improving my physical stamina and strength for competitive swimming. Club Fit immediately, enthusiastically, and happily stepped up to my request and assigned me two outstanding personal trainers: Beth Kear for the swim competition portion and Leslie Kesselman for building up my very weak core and muscle tone. I can only shower both of them with the utmost praise for the patience, personal fitness, encouragement, and techniques that they gave me during training!! I learned from my weekly and diligent sessions with them that athletic competing contains the strongest link and connection between both physical and mental health! Thanks to them and Club Fit, I gained the mental and physical confidence and strength that I needed! They were so supportive of my personal advocacy endeavors and goals that I ended up doing two team relays for the first time at the Transplant Games of America AND I also ended up winning two bronze medals and a silver medal!! Competing for the first time in my life and winning medals was one of the highest and most exhilarating points of my life!

In April 2013, I finally underwent my twenty-year delayed left hip replacement surgery.  After two months of a very challenging and rough rehabilitation to learn to walk all over again, I was finally able to return to my comfort: Club Fit. I was back to my love for swimming, but my physical therapist instructed me to build up my very weak muscles and core. I turned to Club Fit for inspiration and innovation yet again, and discovered such strength training classes as TRX and Kinesis and core classes as the Abs Class. I fully lucked out when I met personal trainer, Nancy Esposito! Her enthusiasm and methodical teaching methods in Kinesis and TRX had my unused muscles incredibly sore, yet grateful for trying to move and groove again. Again, Club Fit struck again with its uplifting and wondrous ways of building up and bringing my body and health to new leaps and bounds that I never even thought possible!

I learned at a young age that there is nothing more precious and treasured than health, to always live life to the fullest, to always stay positive and have a good attitude, and to never take what I have for granted because anything could be gone in a blink of an eye. I often reflect upon my life and how awesome and awe-inspiring of a journey it has been so far as an organ donation and transplant advocate and with such major milestones as participating and winning medals in the Transplant Games, being a Donate Life Float Rider at the 123rd Rose Bowl Parade in California, and, most recently, the final completion of my website “The Wu Way” at www.thewuway.com and personal autobiography “Confessions of a Kidney Transplant” that was published as a hard copy book in Spring 2013.

To me, “Health” contains physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects. “Club Fit” encapsulates all of these aspects, and has been my greatest inspiration, motivator, supporter, and advocator in my life and so many others. Joining Club Fit was the best decision I ever made to enhance my overall health of mind, body, and spirit! Thank You, Club Fit, for making such a positive difference in so many lives and especially mine!

Taking Control

My personal health philosophy, which has worked for me for about 60 years of more or less conscious life, has been to treat all aches and pains the same way: don’t say anything about them to anyone until they go away.

This has for the most part been a highly successful method. Okay, that blood clot in my leg a few years ago that I was hoping would disappear didn’t, and I won’t bore you with that whole thing. Hospitals, embolism, a little lung damage. It was an outlier for God’s sake. I’m healthy.

The second outlier arose last year. My brother, a year older than me, had a heart attack resulting in angioplasty, a stent and a pacemaker. It sent shock waves through my family (I’m one of six), especially since I had been waiting for about a year and a half for some chest pain behind my own sternum to resolve. It had gone from occasional to persistent and had me worried. I had opted as I always do, not to tell Louise, my wife. She would just make a big deal of it.

The diagnosis from the cardiologist came in and it wasn’t good. Dangerously high cholesterol, bad family history (at my age my mom had a bypass, later a stent, and a little later she passed away).”You are in trouble”, the doctor asserted, “you have Coronary Heart Disease. You are at the highest risk of having a heart attack. You have to lower your cholesterol right now, and ultimately we need to think about rearranging your plumbing”.

This happened a year ago, so I’ll just say that I went online and learned about the possibilities of reversing heart disease with diet and lifestyle, and am lucky enough to have found Dr. Rob Ostfeld, a cardiologist at Montefiore-Einstein, who, with my wife Louise, has helped me to change my life.

The diet is the same as Bill Clinton’s, actually. No meat, no fish, no chicken, no dairy, no oil of any kind, no exceptions. That’s it. “What do you do for protein? Why don’t you eat olive oil, isn’t it heart-healthy?” If you google Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic, you’ll see why Bill and I did it. Scientists have proven that this diet is a powerful tool and can repair the arteries and heart – blockages can actually disappear.

So, that’s it. A month later, my cholesterol was down 100 points. My blood pressure – oh yeah, that had been borderline – was way down, heart rate down. I sleep better, rarely get sick, no more heartburn, etc. I’m historically a skinny guy but middle age had hung a 30 pound gut on me which 4 months later was gone. My 36″ waist Levi’s which were too tight went down to a roomy 32″. I feel great.

All of this happened through major pantry and diet changes. And the best part was – I did it without exercising! No running! No stretching!

Ostfeld said “Nice work” but your LDL should be a little lower, and that only comes through exercise. This is why you hate doctors. I had to start working out.

I don’t really believe in exercise, laughing cruelly at runner friends with foot and knee problems, secure that I am a 1951 Human with some body damage but very, very low mileage. That, Louise and Ostfeld said, needs to change.

And so here we are, in the present. I found Club Fit, went through the doors a couple of times, looked around and thought – No, I don’t think I can do this. These are not my people. I’m pretty sure Norwegians and their descendants like me shouldn’t exercise. We are genetically calm, slow, stiff, and we try not to lift heavy things. Change my diet, yes. Start to treat my body like a temple, no.

I mean yes. I have 3 great kids in their twenties who need my continuous oversight (although they have been pretending to ignore me for years). I’m still paying college bills and a mortgage, so the banks need me. Great friends and family – I guess I’m not done yet. Oh, and a business making and restoring violins that still makes me happy.

And although I’ve gone a good distance in the fight to repair my heart and arteries, I know there’s more to do. I get it. And I’m going to try to do it with those exercise fanatics at Club Fit.