To Keep You Inspired… Club Fit Member John Gillespie

by Lisa Olney, Club Fit guest blogger.

John before & after

Picture 1: Before: May 2014: John, 14 days into his stem cell transplant at 260 pounds from the impact of his treatment.
Picture 2: After: March 2016: John, healthy, fit and cancer-free at 190 pounds.

If you’re part of the 5:00 am exercise crowd, chances are you’ve met Club Fit Briarcliff member John Gillespie, 57, whose natural energy and captive smile is hard to forget. John’s early-morning workout includes cardio and weight lifting and gives him the energy and jump-start he needs to start his day as a health care public relations professional in the City. John, who recently moved to New York from his native St. Louis, had always led an active lifestyle filled with golf, running, and exercise. That is until two years ago on March 27, 2014, when a normal day at the office became anything but routine.

John was working at a St. Louis hospital in the health system that he worked for when excruciating abdominal pain sent him to the emergency room. John’s bloodwork showed a hemoglobin level of 8 (very low) and an iron level of 0 (non-existent). John was bleeding from his intestines, and his body was unable to stop it.

Diagnosed with a rare and advanced form of lymphoma, called peripheral T-cell lymphoma (PTCL), and four tumors in his small intestine, John’s treatment included a dangerously aggressive six-round, high-dose E-CHOP chemotherapy regimen followed by an autologous stem cell harvest. The E-CHOP began destroying the four tumors, however, two of the tumors burst, forcing emergency surgery to clean up the toxic contents spilling into John’s stomach and to sew his small intestine back together. “The good news was that the chemo worked,” said John, “and the bad news was that the chemo worked.”

Because of the damage to his small intestine and the proximity of one of the remaining tumors to his large intestine, an ileostomy was ordered rather than reattaching his small intestine to the large intestine. The ileostomy diverted the end of his small intestine through his lower abdominal wall where it was attached to an external waste bag for 18 months, a painful experience that made it difficult to exercise and get proper nutrition and hydration. Upon completing his chemo, the stem cells were transplanted and successfully grafted which regenerated his bone marrow. After being cancer- and chemo-free for one year, John was given the green light for an ileostomy reversal on November 4, 2015, to reattach his small intestine to his large intestine which would return his body to normal functionality.

John’s two-year battle with PTCL had been the most painful experience of his life, and he credits the love of his family and two children with helping him persevere. After the pain receded from the ileostomy reversal, John was cleared to begin an exercise program. Enter Club Fit’s HelpRx — a three-month, physician-referral, new-member program for $150 that offers support, guidance and motivation to help people successfully and safely integrate the benefits of regular exercise into their routine. For John, who had lost all muscle tone and a level of fitness and health that had always been a part of his identity, HelpRX was the answer, and he started on the Rx program the week before Thanksgiving.

Restricted from exercise involving abdominal strain for eight weeks, John began his routine with cardio and resistance training, transitioning to weight lifting in January. Under the guidance of Club Fit’s training staff, John’s fitness, strength, and energy quickly improved, and at the end of his three-month Rx membership he signed on to a regular membership because he did not want to go backward. “Exercising is not work anymore,” explains John. “It’s become a routine, a commitment.”

In his four months with Club Fit, John has lost 20 pounds, six inches, and his strength has increased dramatically. “I missed being fit,” said John. “The Club Fit staff has always been very supportive of my goals. I’ve never had to pay for training or classes to access their expertise.” John tries to exercise 5-6 days a week with 35-40 minutes of cardio exercise on the StrideClimber elliptical machines and 30 minutes of weight lifting, with bench pressing being a favorite activity. “Weight lifting has become my favorite,” says John. “Reaching new benchmarks is very rewarding.” John’s latest benchmark is seven reps at 190 pounds, and this month he may hit his next benchmark of 200 pounds.

“I’ve gone from not being able to lift a carton of milk to bench pressing 190 pounds,” said John. “So if I can leave anyone with just one thought, it would be that it is possible to feel healthy again — to recover from cancer or severe injury or just to get healthy.”

A 9 11 Survivor’s Story

Jean & Dan Potter

Jean & Dan Potter

It’s been nearly 14 years since the attack on the Twin Towers, but we can remember that day like it was just yesterday. This is especially true for those who were in the World Trade Centers and the surrounding buildings when they were hit, as well as their family and friends.

Club Fit member Jean Potter was working on the 81st floor of the North Tower that day, just below where the first plane hit, and walked down the stairs to safety. Her husband, Dan, a New York City firefighter, raced to the towers and, while looking for Jean, helped others find their way to safety. Jean and Dan were finally reunited at a Chinatown firehouse later that day.

Both Jean and Dan firmly believe that their faith in God got them through that morning. “I felt that God was with me as I was walking down those stairs,” says Jean, and Dan agrees. “Before I found Jean, I prayed to God for the clarity to know what to do, and He got me through.” In the ensuing days, they reluctantly decided to leave their Battery Park apartment in New York City, just a few blocks from the World Trade Center site. “It was a war zone,” Jean said, and the memories were simply too overwhelming to ignore. They moved to Westchester and eventually began a new life in Northeastern Pennsylvania, where they had family, but it was not easy. “I’m a city girl!” says Jean. “ It took a lot for Dan and I to leave our city life and our friends.”

Both built new lives, Jean counseling inmates at a local facility. “I came to understand that incarceration is a second chance at life,” she says. Dan began working with local fire departments and devoted time to the local Red Cross. “Everything that has happened to us is part of God’s plan. This was our own second chance, and He put us where we needed to be.” In 2011, Jean published By the Grace of God: A 9/11 Survivor’s Story of Love, Hope, and Healing, chronicling their 9/11 experience and their subsequent spiritual journey. Jean says, “The book is our story, but is also meant to honor those who perished, and share our strong message of faith.”

In 2012, Jean and Dan felt the pull back to New York and decided to return to the area, settling in Shrub Oak. Both have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, in addition to Dan’s injuries from that fateful day, causing his retirement from the FDNY, but they have achieved a new feeling of peace. “As I keep saying, God puts us where we need to be, and everyone has embraced us here,” says Jean. “We’re home.”

Soon after settling in, Jean joined Club Fit Jefferson Valley. She had always incorporated fitness into her routine, and goes so far as to say that her good health and fitness helped her get down those 81 floors! Today, staying fit is just a healthy way to spend her newfound free time. “I just love it at the club, there’s such a positive energy there!” She is a particular fan of Zumba, and wants to get more into yoga. Dan is active with the planning and emergency committees of their condominium in Shrub Oak, and Jean has started journaling again. “It’s amazing how people continue to reach out to us,” Jean says, so despite her desire to slow down, she may have more work ahead of her!

The road that Jean and Dan Potter have traveled is truly inspirational. They may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but they took that negative experience and used it to help others, through their continued willingness to give to those in need as well as offer guidance through Jean’s book. If you are interested in reading more about the Potters’ experience, By the Grace of God: A 9/11 Survivor’s Story of Love, Hope, and Healing is available at www.amazon.com, as well as at most bookstores and libraries.

Jimmy McDonough Cancer Foundation

[written by Club Fit blogger Lisa Skelton]

Jimmy McDonough Foundation founder Suzi McDonough

Jimmy McDonough Foundation founder Suzi McDonough

It takes a special person to take a family tragedy and turn it into a positive, but that’s just what Suzi McDonough did. When her husband, Jimmy, a longtime member of Club Fit Jefferson Valley, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004 and passed away less than a year later, Suzi and her family didn’t turn inward. They founded the Jimmy McDonough Foundation, a nonprofit that supports cancer patients and their families in the local community, and makes a big impact despite keeping a low profile.

“Our goal is to relieve as much stress as possible for families going through a cancer diagnosis and treatment,” says Suzi. “My family and I know firsthand the importance of a good support system, and want to provide that to those who don’t have the support they need.”

Her husband’s diagnosis was a surprise to everyone. Father of five, Jimmy never smoked and was focused on his fitness routine, working out at Club Fit almost every day. He was an involved and enthusiastic supporter of his community and kids’ sports in Mahopac, continuing to coach even after his diagnosis. He was being treated for pneumonia when a CT scan and subsequent biopsy revealed Stage 3 lung cancer. He passed away in February 2005, after seven months of chemotherapy and alternative treatments, but he and his family remained optimistic and positive throughout.

Since its inception, the Jimmy McDonough Foundation has helped countless people in our community. From rides to appointments to financial assistance to family outings, the Foundation supports families through their cancer journey. Family members serve on the Foundation’s board, and their single fundraiser is a golf outing held every May at Mahopac Golf Club. “One hundred percent of our fundraising proceeds go to funding our services,” says Suzi.

An additional fundraiser was held last year at FDR Park in Yorktown, a 5K Run that involved Club Fit’s Jason Needle, who is also battling cancer. “Jason is so like Jimmy with his positive attitude, and he is such an inspiration,” says Suzi. “His enthusiasm during the 5K event reminded me of Jimmy’s optimism throughout our family’s ordeal.”

Suzi has kept herself busy in the years since Jimmy’s passing, not only with the Foundation, but as Town Councilwoman in Carmel. She also works for the State Senate, and enjoys spending time with her five now-grown children. “I have a choice,” says Suzi. “I can wilt away or look ahead.”

But the Jimmy McDonough Foundation is clearly her priority. “Through the work we do, Jimmy’s legacy will live on,” says Suzi. And Club Fit Jefferson Valley is jumping on the bandwagon, donating all proceeds raised at the club’s Open House on January 31 to the Foundation. With a $50 donation, attendees received raffle tickets for prizes including massages, tennis lessons, a week of summer camp, a big screen TV, etc. A win-win for everyone! If you couldn’t make it and would like to help Suzi and her family make a difference in the lives of cancer patients in your community, you can mail your donation to The Jimmy McDonough Foundation, 72 Lockwood Lane, Mahopac, NY 10541, and know that you helped brighten someone’s day!

Breast Cancer Wellness

— written by Club Fit Member and Guest Blogger Lisa Skelton

 

Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s Dr. Sandra Brennan supports utilizing physical activity to help combat breast cancer.

Dr. Sandra Brennan, radiologist & breast cancer specialist

Club Fit member Dr. Sandra Brennan, Director of Breast Imaging and Interim Director of Radiology at the West Harrison outpost of New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Dr. Sandra Brennan may be new to Club Fit, but the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, for both her patients and herself, is not new at all. Dr. Brennan is Director of Breast Imaging and Interim Director of Radiology at the new West Harrison outpost of New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, a long-anticipated and welcomed resource for Westchester County’s cancer patients.

Hailing from Ireland, where she attended University College Dublin and completed her residency at Mater Misericordiae Hospital, also in Dublin, Dr. Brennan came to the United States in 2005 to complete a fellowship at Sloan-Kettering’s Breast and Body Imaging Center, and the rest was history. During the fellowship, she sharpened her expertise in imaging of tumors in the chest, abdomen and pelvis, as well as in breast imaging and intervention, and upon completion of the fellowship she was invited to join the faculty in Sloan-Kettering’s Department of Radiology.

Currently, her focus is on breast imaging, which involves interpretation of screening and diagnostic mammograms, ultrasound examinations and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Her clinical work includes state-of-the-art procedures such as image-guided biopsy under stereotactic, ultrasound and MRI guidance, and breast localization procedures with both radioactive seed and wire localizations. Radioactive seed localizations are a relatively new approach that she says will be put into practice in MSK West Harrison in the new year. “The field is constantly evolving, and the number of options available to our patients continues to grow,” she says.

The opening of the West Harrison facility was a great opportunity for Dr. Brennan, who is also mom to six-year-old Samuel and four-year-old Leah, to get out of the city and into the more family-friendly suburbs. The family recently moved to Chappaqua and joined Club Fit Briarcliff, where they enjoy the Aquatics Center on weekends, and Samuel has been playing basketball. Dr. Brennan is no stranger to health clubs, and staying fit has been a lifelong practice. “I run, cycle, hike, swim…I’ve even completed some half-marathons!” she said. Since joining Club Fit, she gets in two to three visits per week, and has been spending her time in the Fitness Center. She’s looking forward to exploring other areas of the club with her children in the coming months.

One program that piqued her interest was the Cancer Wellness Program, which has been a part of Club Fit’s programming for a number of years. Free to cancer patients, both members and non-members, this strength and cardio conditioning program is designed to meet the special needs of people undergoing and recovering from cancer treatment. “There is growing evidence to suggest that maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active may reduce your risk of getting certain types of cancer such as breast, colon, endometrial and prostate,” says Dr. Brennan. “Patients who exercise and pay attention to their overall wellness tolerate treatment better, and in many cases experience a faster recovery.”

With the opening of the West Harrison facility, Sloan-Kettering has expanded its presence in Westchester County, which it has served since 1995 through its facility at Phelps Memorial Hospital in Sleepy Hollow. The facility’s staff includes more than 100 professionals, including cancer surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists and radiologists. “What we’ve done is bring all the services of the main campus in Manhattan to Westchester, allowing patients access to the same high-quality services without the commute into the city,” says Dr. Brennan. Add that to the plethora of support groups and other resources available to cancer patients in our area, and a cancer diagnosis becomes a much easier burden to bear, for both patient and caregiver.

Click here for more information on Sloan-Kettering’s West Harrison facility, as well as Dr. Brennan and her colleagues. You can also click here to find out more about Club Fit’s Cancer Wellness Program, a valuable resource to anyone fighting the battle against cancer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parisi Director Jack Werther gives back.

Jack-werther-web

Parisi Director Jack Werther

Giving back is something that heightens the spirit and cleanses the soul. It is a good feeling to be able to do something that you are passionate about, and at the same time, help someone in need, or brighten their day – or week, for that matter!

In steps Jack Werther, Club Fit employee / Parisi Speed School Director. On a typical day, you can find Jack managing his speed trainers or heading up a local sports team’s training on the Parisi turf. His passion is working with kids… helping them to become stronger, faster, ultimately better athletes. This is a far cry from his college days, where he attended Western New England College and graduated with a degree in Finance. His love for personal training, pushed him to pursue his certification as a personal trainer in 2011, and in 2013 joined Club Fit and became a certified Parisi Performance Coach.

At about the same time, Jack was introduced by a friend to an organization based out of White Plains — Family Services of Westchester. FSW offers a broad range of innovative programs designed to meet the needs of children, teens, and the elderly through several family centers. What interested Jack the most was a program called “Camp Viva”. Camp Viva’s mission is simple — to serve HIV affected children, families and care partners in Westchester County, who are living with or affected by HIV and/or Aids.

For the past 3 years, Jack has been volunteering as a camp counselor there. Every August for the past 3 years, he has packed up his bags, and spends a full week at Camp Viva, a sleep away camp, located at the Ramapo Anchorage Camp for Children in Rhinebeck, NY.. “Making a difference in these kids’ lives has made me a better person. One of the things that I reflect back on is that kids are kids…they all want to be accepted, they all want to be “cool”, they all want to have friends. At the start of the week, their defenses are up. They come in with a “too cool for school” attitude. By Tuesday, their defenses are down, and they just want to be accepted…they just want to be kids”.

Jack spends the majority of his seven days as a Sports Specialist there, planning activities and running sports programs for these kids. Very similar to his job at Parisi. It’s the love that he has for kids and the love that he has for sports that makes him the perfect person for both jobs.

Inspired by Jack, we will be doing a give back to benefit Family Services of Westchester — a “Mitten, Scarf and Hat Drive” from November 28th through December 13th. New or gently worn items can be dropped off at the Club, and the proceeds will go to families in need throughout Westchester County.

During the month of November, we give thanks and share thanks. A big thanks to Jack Werther — for his unselfishness and the time that he gives back to Family Services of Westchester. If anyone is interested in learning more about Camp Viva, click here.

Superhero Update: 50 pounds gone and STILL cancer-free!

Whoo-hoo!

Whoo-hoo!

I am thrilled to be able to celebrate a special milestone today. So far, on my journey of health and recovery, I have lost a total of FIFTY pounds, and after two and a half years, I am STILL cancer-free!!

When I started out on my fitness journey, weight loss was not my primary goal. I didn’t even buy a scale until a year ago (check out this post from last year about my scale-buying experience.) I just wanted to be healthy, and to be able to do some of the physical activities that I did before I fell ill. More than anything, I wanted to be in fighting shape, so if cancer came knocking again, I could knock it down with one punch. At the time, I certainly didn’t feel like a fighter – but now I do.

Being plagued by health problems for so long led me to have serious doubts that I could ever become a “healthy person” again. I thought I was stuck being a “sick person”, because I really didn’t believe that my body could recover from everything it had been through. It breaks my heart, even as I type these words, that I could ever think or feel that way about myself – but I did. I do not exaggerate when I tell you that Club Fit saved me.

In addition to the incredible support of my family and friends, I am so grateful to have had the support of Club Fit and its stellar staff. Every group fitness instructor who shouted a motivating phrase, every trainer I have worked with who helped me get a little bit better every day, and every staff member who flashes me a thumbs-up when I’m sunk down on a bench, totally exhausted, has helped me on my way to being a healthier, happier me! I still have a long way to go, but now I know that it’s possible.

Celebrating this milestone gives me the opportunity to look back and see how far I’ve come. It reminds me that fitness and good health are within my grasp, and that I am empowered with the tools to obtain them! Taking the first step towards better health and fitness is the greatest gift I have ever given myself, and I’m so glad I did it.

superhero

 

 

Support Connection Director Kathy Quinn

 

Support Connection Executive Director and Club Fit Member Kathy Quinn

Support Connection Executive Director and Club Fit Member Kathy Quinn

In this day and age, turning a negative into a positive is definitely a reason to celebrate. This October, local nonprofit Support Connection is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its first Support-A-Walk for Breast & Ovarian Cancer. This grassroots event today draws close to 10,000 participants, and laid the foundation for the organization itself, which opened its doors in the Roma Building in Yorktown Heights in September of 1996.

One of the driving forces behind Support Connection is Executive Director and Club Fit member Kathy Quinn, who was inspired to get involved after attending that first walk in 1995 in support of a close friend who was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. She found out about the walk while researching support services for her friend, and was moved by the turnout, which quadrupled the expected numbers from 200 to 800. She reached out to walk organizers Nancy Heller and Rich Adamski, and together with other supporters came up with the idea to use the funds raised to start up Support Connection as an educational and emotional resource for breast and ovarian cancer patients. The rest is history. “The unique thing about our organization’s model is that all of our professional Peer Counselors are cancer survivors,” says Kathy. “When we began, our idea was to give patients access to others who had gone through the same experience, and could truly understand their situation.” Support Connection has stayed true to that model to this day.

“Because we work very hard to operate within a very modest budget and use volunteers to assist with fundraising and outreach, nearly 90 percent of all funds raised goes directly to funding our free, confidential programs and services. I am blessed every day to see what a difference is being made, how a difficult situation can be helped by offering an anchor to someone in need.” Today, the number of support groups has grown to twelve, and services are offered nationwide. What started as a local resource is now an educational and emotional support system for thousands, with well over 5,000 people benefitting from the services offered to date. In our area, many take advantage of the one-on-one and group counseling, wellness seminars, toll-free educational teleconferences, and social workshops offered, including a yoga class held on Saturdays at Club Fit Jefferson Valley, for which Club Fit donates space.

“Club Fit has been a staunch supporter for many years, also sponsoring our golf outing,” says Kathy. “It’s really wonderful how they promote good overall health throughout our community, to all populations and age groups. Our survival is based on the support we get from local individuals and businesses like Club Fit.” Kathy, a Shrub Oak resident, is passionate about Support Connection’s mission, often working nights and weekends. “It’s so rewarding to see the end product of the work we do,” she says. “I come back every day for that reason.” She also devotes time to her husband, four children and two grandchildren, and tries to take time to take care of herself, using the Fitness Center and Aquatics Center at Club Fit. “I now understand the value of places like Club Fit, not just for the cancer patient, but also for the entire family,” she says. “Going to the gym is a step in the right direction for anyone physically, but it’s also a great stress reliever for those either going through or supporting a family member or friend going through cancer treatments.”

As successful as Support Connection has been, there is still much work to be done. “Our ongoing challenge is that while people value the support we provide, they don’t put a dollar amount on it,” says Kathy. “So much of the money that is raised in other nonprofits is used to fund research, but the emotional support our programs provide is also so critical in a cancer patient’s journey.” Kathy’s friend Isabel, who was the reason for Kathy attending that first walk, passed away not long after Support Connection was established, but Kathy considers her the inspiration that keeps her going. “Every day I work in loving memory of Isabel,” she says. And at every walk, the thousands of participants and volunteers are working and walking to honor those who have won as well as those who have lost the battle against breast and ovarian cancer.

For more information on how you can get involved or how you can access the services offered by Support Connection, visit www.supportconnection.org, or call the Support and Information Hotline at 1-800-532-4290. You can also register for or make a donation to this year’s Support-A-Walk, to be held at FDR State Park in Yorktown Heights on Sunday, October 5th, on the website. If you have never attended, Kathy highly recommends that you come, if just to experience the camaraderie. “As big as our event has become, the wonderful thing about it is that we are all there as one big family, celebrating and paying tribute to loved ones and letting people dealing with cancer know we are walking right beside them.”

Meet Marc Quintiliani, Master Swim Instructor, Assistant Swim Coach and Lifeguard

Lifeguard Marc Quintiliani

Club Fit Master Water Safety Instructor, Assistant Swim Coach and Lifeguard Marc Quintiliani

“One step at a time” is a common sense approach, but not everyone practices it. For a child with special needs, it’s a recipe for success. So says Club Fit Master Water Safety Instructor, Assistant Swim Coach and Lifeguard Marc Quintiliani, who teaches students of every age and skill level, but has a definite connection with this particular group of students.

Marc, a former mechanic who has been with Club Fit for five years and has been a swimming instructor for close to fifteen years, loves to see his students realize they can accomplish what once seemed out of reach. “I like breaking down their walls,” he says of his special needs students. “It’s especially rewarding when I hear parents say they can’t believe what their child is doing, milestones they couldn’t imagine reaching,” he says.

Most parents opt for private lessons, which is helpful because Marc can focus on a child’s particular needs. And “one step at a time” is key. “The first thing I focus on is getting them to be comfortable with me,” he says. He tries to schedule these lessons when the Aquatics Center is quiet, so the student doesn’t have to deal with sensory overload. On the other hand, a certain amount of distraction can sometimes be helpful with children who are nervous about being in the water. “One of my students had a previous bad experience, so I gave him things to do like counting drills to take his mind off of being in the pool.” Another boy would get in the water but actual swimming was a particular challenge…today he is comfortable swimming in all areas of the pool. “I try to get the kids to let their guard down and just relax,” says Marc.

Kaleb is a current student whose grandmother Linda Schulman can’t say enough about the strides he’s made. Kaleb, who turns three on August 2, had a stroke at a very early age, leaving him with motor issues, and one side of his body weak and less functional. Hoping swim lessons would strengthen him, but not completely optimistic, Linda turned to Marc, and has seen improvement in the short amount of time that Marc has worked with her grandson. “Kaleb has a great attitude, and our sessions got even better after I realized that he sometimes uses sign language to communicate,” said Marc, who now supplements his vocal praise with encouraging signs. “We focus a lot on getting him to use his left side more, since that is his weaker side.” Linda is extremely happy with his progress. “Kaleb is almost fearless in the water now,” she says.

Marc’s experience includes more than 10 years of competitive swimming, including Junior Olympic, County and State meets. He currently has a diverse clientele at the club, including everyone from his special needs kids, to triathletes, to seniors. He also serves as Assistant Coach for the Club Fit Swim Team under Head Coach Bill Walsh, and has seen a great improvement with the team. “We had some work to do, but the kids are starting to come together and I’m excited about the upcoming season,” he says, which begins in September.

As for kids like Kaleb, Marc will continue to work his magic and help them achieve what once seemed impossible. “It’s great to see the kids succeed,” he says. “They come in thinking they have so many limitations, and realize that it’s not so hard to overcome them.” For more information on programs available, contact braquatics@clubfit.com.

Alzheimer’s and dementia education — “Sharp Again Naturally”

Jacqui Bishop - Sharp Again Naturally - Alzheimer’s and dementia education - Club Fit

Jacqui Bishop, founder of Sharp Again Naturally, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit formed to educate the public about causes of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Jacqui Bishop’s “Sharp Again Naturally” promotes Alzheimer’s and dementia education.

Here’s something you don’t hear every day… we have some really good news about Alzheimer’s and dementia! No, unfortunately no one has come up with the magic pill, and traditional medicine has yet to post a single turnaround. However there are people who’ve been diagnosed with the disease by highly respected researchers and physicians who have reversed their symptoms and are now living normal lives again. And there’s documentary footage available to prove it.

This news comes from Jacqui Bishop, Club Fit Briarcliff member and founder of Sharp Again Naturally, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit formed to educate the public about causes of dementia that are reversible but little known and rarely tested for or treated. The Sharp Again vision is a world free of unnecessary pain from reversible causes of dementia, and they are working to make comprehensive testing and treatment of those reversible causes part of the standard of care for all dementia patients.

Jacqui herself was directly impacted by Alzheimer’s disease, which took her mother in 2010 after an 18-year slide. At that time, even with all the money and time that could have been poured into effective treatment, it was assumed that nothing could be done. Jacqui was helpless to make more than a palliative difference for her mother.

Then, in November 2011, Jacqui saw footage from an unfinished documentary film that changed—and may even have saved—her life. Two filmmakers had discovered cases of Alzheimer’s being reversed, resolved to make a documentary, and traveled across the country filming interviews with researchers, physicians, and Alzheimer’s patients who had gotten their minds back. Upon seeing this stunning footage, Jacqui and several others from the Westchester Holistic Network decided to help the filmmakers complete the documentary. That day, Sharp Again Naturally was born.

The research is astounding, and makes clear that diagnoses of dementia, even Alzheimer’s, can be successfully treated. What percentage of cases can be arrested or reversed? Nobody knows because no one’s ever done the research. But it’s a significant number. And if it’s just 20 percent, which is a conservative estimate, that’s a million people in the U.S. alone.

The organization’s web site, www.sharpagain.org, outlines seven causes of dementia, including nutritional factors, hormonal imbalances, and stress. Another cause, which has not been officially added pending additional research, Jacqui calls stagnation. “We are finding many correlations between healthy brain function and activity—intellectual, social/emotional to be sure, but especially physical,” she says. “As a matter of fact, my mother was an athlete, a swimmer, hiker, and competitive skier, well into her sixties. It was when she could no longer exercise that her functioning went downhill really fast.”

She recommends reading Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, by John J. Ratey, MD, which explores comprehensively the connection between exercise and the brain. It includes amazing case studies, including the revolutionary fitness program in Naperville, IL, that is credited with putting the children in the local school district fifth in the world in math and first in the world in science test scores. Jacqui also says that research has shown that people with the APOE-4 gene, often referred to as the “Alzheimer’s gene,” have generated especially impressive improvements through physical exercise.

Jacqui’s passion isn’t only about saving the rest of the world: She herself started noticing symptoms. “I was losing words, having trouble following conversations and experiencing memory loss.” After being tested by a physician trained in functional medicine, she learned she was pre-diabetic and suffering from a mild version of hypothyroidism, two factors strongly associated with cognitive decline. Based on those and other indicators, she has been practicing the following “treatments”: taking natural desiccated thyroid supplements, cutting out sugar, increasing sleep, increasing her intake of omega-3s and taking large quantities of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), an alternative fuel for starving brain cells. MCTs are most readily (and cheaply!) available from coconut oil, which has been documented as turning around a significant number of cases.

Exercise is also a big part of Jacqui’s quest for wellness. It wasn’t so hard for her as she had always been active and came from an athletic family, but she had never included regular workouts in her schedule. Club Fit entered her life when her best friend encouraged her to come in and check it out, and the rest was history. “We’d make workout dates, and we both looked forward to them. I loved laughing with my great friend—30 minutes went by on the elliptical like no time at all. To anyone who wants to get into fitness, I’d suggest buddying up with a friend!” says Jacqui. “It changed my life.”

Jacqui now gets to the gym 2 to 3 times a week and spends most of her time in the Fitness Center on the machines and in the stretching area. She also spends about 20 minutes in the pool each visit as she’s an avid swimmer and “the pool is top-notch—no chlorine.” When she doesn’t make it to the Club, she walks at least 30 minutes every day. “Carving out the time is the challenge, but my mind is so much clearer when I do.” The work at Sharp Again, she says, has become a “time-and-a-half job.” But it’s a job worth doing, and an exciting one—so many discoveries are being made every day and Alzheimer’s affects so many people and families, not just here but worldwide.

Sharp Again is making great strides, but they need help to continue their mission. “We welcome anyone who wants to help us spread the word!” says Jacqui. There’s a volunteer information meeting on March 27th in White Plains, and donations are welcomed to help fund educational materials, community presentations, website work, and additional research. Sharp Again is also building an information clearinghouse, which will include a database of holistic practitioners. Do you know a great holistic physician? Let them know!

To find out more about Sharp Again or to sign up for their informative newsletter, visit www.sharpagain.org, which contains videos, educational data, and links to associated organizations. You can also find a schedule of Sharp Again’s free presentations at libraries, churches, and other organizations at sharpagain.org/category/calendar. They are presenting next at the Awaken Fair on March 30 in Tarrytown (see AwakenFair.com).

If you or someone you know is being affected by a diagnosis of dementia, Jacqui urges you to visit the web site. “I would have gone halfway ’round the world for this information when my mother was in decline.” Or, if you want to talk to an actual human being, feel free to write Jacqui herself at jacquibishop@sharpagain.org to set up a date, or call her at (914) 997-9611. She’ll be glad to hear from you!

Why I bought a scale.

Me, one year after starting my fitness journey.

For a long time, I refused to own a scale.  Not because I was in denial about being overweight, or refusing to change, but because I associated my weight with very complicated feelings of self-worth.  Just the sight of a scale brought immediate flare-ups of guilt, and sometimes shame.  For years, I have excused myself from the practice of weighing myself regularly by rationalizing that those feelings could not possibly be healthy.  As long as I was in good health, why did I need to lose weight?

I have been overweight for my entire life.  As a child, I was among the tallest and the strongest in my age group, and always a bit on the heavy side.  My extraordinarily tall friends laugh when I tell them that I understand how they feel being a head taller than the rest of the world, but the truth is, I have never known what it’s like to feel small, even after all my classmates grew taller than me.  I was an athlete – a strong and fast swimmer – and I ate like one, especially on meet days.  My dietary habits formed at a time in my life when I exercised for hours a day – and later on, when my pursuits changed from athletic to artistic, my weight ballooned, and I didn’t see it – all because I was no stranger to being “big.”  So when my weight was criticized, I took it very personally because I thought it was just the way that I was.

When I started my health and fitness journey, around this time last year, I had to do some serious soul searching before I could even set foot in the gym.  I had to remind myself that it wasn’t about getting thin, it was about being healthy.  I didn’t start with a goal of losing weight, I only focused on improving my health by getting more exercise.  Of course, weight loss came in short order, especially after I made healthier changes to my diet.  When I felt my body changing, I got on a scale out of curiosity, and I saw that I had lost ten pounds since the last time I had been weighed at the doctor’s office.  For the first time, I realized that it is totally within my power to shed every pound of extra weight that’s keeping me from being as healthy as possible – but I couldn’t do that without a scale to measure my progress.  I had to face my fear head-on.

So I bought one.  My husband came with me, not knowing that he was accompanying me to a simultaneously painful and triumphant event.  I made it not a big deal.  We stopped at the store on our way to do something else, picked out one we liked, tossed it in the trunk, and went on our way.  Even while I was driving away, I was aware of that scale sitting in the trunk of my car, and what it meant for me: that there is no turning back.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I realized that just because it’s always been sunny, doesn’t mean it will never rain.  Obviously, being heavy did not cause my cancer, and I can’t control it by losing weight, but doing everything in my power to get as healthy as possible means that I’ll be stronger to fight it if it comes back.  While my cancer diagnosis has taken many things away from me, it has actually given me an incredibly powerful gift.  It has allowed me to move forward on my journey to good health, free from the guilt and shame that I associated with my body, my weight, and how I got to this point.  I have lost 30 pounds so far, and I’m still have at least 100 pounds to go.  It will not be fast, and it will not be easy, but it will be worth it.

The Superhero Returns!

Back in action!

Hey, everybody!  I’M BACK!

I haven’t posted for a few months because I haven’t been well, but I’m happy to say that I am now fully recovered.  This spring, I developed some benign but painful complications from my hysterectomy last year, which required surgical intervention. While my incredible team of doctors took superb care of me (thank you, Sloan-Kettering), my recovery kept me in bed for a couple of weeks, and then even more time before I was cleared to exercise again.  Right when I was ready to get back in the game, I got sidelined again – this time by bad headaches and fatigue – and my doctor confirmed Lyme disease!  (I should really play the lottery – I’m due for some good luck by now, right?)

Anyway, after a month-long dose of tough antibiotics (and some extra rest) I was fully healed, and this Superhero was ready to throw on her cape again!  But I was surprised to find that my grand return was overshadowed by some shyness and trepidation.  I had been ill for so long, did I really remember what it felt like to be capable of vigorous exercise?  I had made Club Fit my second home for so many months, and coming back after a long absence felt strange – like visiting friends who live in an apartment that you used to rent.  It’s so familiar, but you don’t inhabit it like you used to. I was nervous about getting on a spin bike, lifting a weight, or taking a class.  My nerves were getting the better of me, big-time, and I felt like I was starting all over again and didn’t know where to begin.

My first trip back to Club Fit was for an appointment with my trainer (Jenn!), which I was really looking forward to. I knew that no amount of self-doubt would keep me from this appointment, and the safety net of having someone paying personal attention to me was very reassuring.  (Jenn would most certainly be able to identify if I was doing something wrong, or pushing myself too hard.)  We ended up having an amazing session where I did MORE than I thought I could, and the slight soreness I felt later on that week was a happy reminder that I had overcome my emotional setbacks and done something healthy for myself.

It feels so good to be back on the right track again. See you at the club!

When the going gets tough…literally.

I'm a big fan of the rowing machine, thanks to my trainer, Susie.

This week has been unusually frustrating for me.  A multitude of personal commitments outside of work, both morning and night, have kept me from visiting the gym for the last 3 days.  I won’t say that’s any kind of devastating fitness drought, but it is a big deviation from my recent 5-6 visits per week.  When I exercise, I feel better and sleep better, and when I don’t, I feel stiff and lethargic.  So, feeling “blah” instead of great on top of a busy week was really starting to grate on my nerves.  Once this thought crossed my mind, a shocking realization came to me: I have become one of those people!  A person who craves exercise!

I can’t even tell you when it happened.  It’s been about 6 months since I started working out regularly, and it feels like only yesterday that I was so concerned about my ability to commit and stay motivated enough to get to the gym every day.  But when scheduling is your obstacle, and not motivation, it can be especially irritating.  The feeling of not having enough time for yourself is not a good one.

We’re now in mid-March where the weather warms up, social calendars start filling up again, and New Year’s resolutions sometimes fall by the wayside.  I can see that this is a turning point where a person could be tempted to say “this isn’t working with my lifestyle anymore, I’ll take a break and get back to it when I have more time.”  I’ve even done it myself in years past, which only led to me shamefully cancelling my gym membership a few months later.  Not this time!  The gifts that exercise has given me are too wonderful to let go of now.

This week has taught me an important lesson: no matter what you’re doing (exercise or not), it’s important to always make time for yourself, or you may find yourself tempted to give up on the thing that keeps you going.  Thankfully, one thing that IS on my busy calendar today is an appointment with Susie, and she won’t put up with any of this giving up nonsense.

Never Giving Up

An Article by Lindsay Calleran


Every once in a while we hear a story that touches our hearts. The strength of an individual can be an empowering experience. Ryan Dowd is one of those people who can brighten your day with a smile or motivate you in a spin class. He has an all around positive attitude that makes you feel good. His story is a testament to his character.

Click here to read the article and view the photos by Lindsay Calleran!
(This picture is also a testament to his character) Thanks for being awesome Ryan!

Superhero Transformation, Part 1: Out of the Desert

Hi, Club Fitters! My name is Kendra, and I’m so glad to have been invited to share my fitness journey with you on the Club Fit blog. In many ways, I feel like I’m starting from square one – emerging from what I think of as a fitness desert. I’ll get right to it: for the past two years, I have struggled with major health issues, originally stemming from benign uterine fibroid tumors, and ending with a shocking diagnosis of a very rare uterine cancer. I endured multiple surgeries, lengthy hospital stays, severe pain, and even blood transfusions. I’m so glad to say that I’ve come through it, my strength is back, and I have more determination than ever to get (and stay) fit and healthy. I will call this journey my Superhero Transformation, because in my opinion, a superhero isn’t a smaller clothing size, or a shorter running time. A superhero knows that their personal best is being at their healthiest: preventing disease and health problems, and being ready to fight hard should it unexpectedly cross their path.

Here’s the problem: I have always hated “the gym.” The thought of getting on an elliptical machine for an hour and feeling like a hamster on a wheel truly makes me want to cry. Lucky for me (and for all of us), Club Fit is so much more. When I first took my tour, it was abundantly clear that Club Fit was not “the gym”, and that there isn’t just something for everyone; there’s plenty for everyone, no matter what your fitness interests are.

Somewhat overwhelmed with my options, I craved something familiar, and armed with my residual Olympic inspiration, I decided to hit the lap pool. I stuck to 30 minutes and took it pretty easy, but it felt so good! Supported by floating, and working through the water’s natural resistance helped me reawaken my muscles and feel totally invigorated. Just writing this now makes me want to dive back in! And I certainly will, but not before I try out some other new things and report back to all of you with another Superhero update.