To Keep You Inspired… Jason Needle

June 28, 2016 by karen

photo collage, Jason and friends.
A photo collage of Jason Needle with his friends and peers at Club Fit, along with our newly redesigned name tags, inspired by and honoring Jason.

You may have noticed that we changed the design of the name tags that we proudly wear at work.  And it’s all for a very good reason — Jason Needle — our colleague and friend. Jason passed away on December 4, 2015.The new name tags will serve to remember Jason, and to encourage us to be supportive of others.  We have implemented Jason’s “I Can. I Will.” tag line on the new name tags as a reminder of who Jason was; a brave person who inspired others to live with a strong sense of community and commitment to live life to the fullest.

Jason Needle once described himself as an Iraq war veteran, a two-time cancer survivor, and a proud member of the Club Fit family. Beating cancer and defending our country are two things everyone can identify as substantial accomplishments. Although it may pale in comparison, Jay’s association with Club Fit would prove to be of paramount importance in his life story. Jay grew up coming to Club Fit and fell in love with the atmosphere. He enjoyed it so much that he went to college to pursue a degree in exercise sports science with the end goal of working at his favorite place.

Jay began working as a personal trainer in the fitness department in 2005. When he wasn’t working, he could still be found in the building working out, lifting weights, or playing basketball. Jay was outgoing, enthusiastic, friendly, and genuinely interested in other people. Because of this, it wasn’t long before everyone knew who Jay was – both staff and members alike. He was also one of the trainers who spearheaded the Parisi Speed School program when it was introduced. This is the area where Jay really shined. He had a passion for training young athletes; watching kids improve and achieve goals and, more importantly, gain confidence was everything to Jay. “Being able to help a child grow confident through fitness and performance is a beautiful thing to me,” he told the Briarcliff Daily Voice. He knew they looked up to him and never lost sight of that.

Jay was the picture of health and fitness when he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) in November 2010. He spent over 200 days in the hospital the first year of his treatment and achieved remission only to have the leukemia return less than a year later. He was then diagnosed with a rare gene mutation that made it difficult for treatments to be successful. During his five-year battle, he traveled all over New York City and Boston, spoke to countless doctors, went through over twenty different chemotherapy treatments, most of which were experimental trials, radiation and two bone marrow transplants.

Throughout his fight, Club Fit remained an important support system for him. A Facebook page was created entitled “Jason’s Army” which he posted on frequently to stay in touch with everyone. He used his Parisi clients as motivation for himself: “The excitement they show when they reach a new goal or do something they thought couldn’t be done is what drives me day in and day out. If these kids can do it, then so can I!”

And so Jay’s tagline was born. Jay coined the motto “I Can. I Will.” and believed with all of his heart that he would beat the odds against his disease. Again, Jay’s energy and sense of purpose was infectious. His positive and energetic posts more often than not served as motivation for its readers to work to make the world a caring, supportive place. His “I Can. I Will.” attitude exploded and the support was phenomenal as the page grew to over 1,100 followers.

Jay was able to use this following to help other people fighting against cancer as well. By hosting an annual 5k run/walk in 2013, 2014, and 2015, Jason’s Army raised over $40,000 for local charities that support cancer patients. For someone who was going through so much, all he wanted to do was give back and recognize others. He was so thankful for the support of staff, members, and clients from Club Fit that he wanted to help those who didn’t have the same support.

Jay died on December 4, 2015. As the legendary ESPN anchor Stuart Scott said, “When you die, that does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live.” He continued by saying, “So live. Live. Fight like hell. And when you get too tired to fight, lay down and rest and let somebody else fight for you.” The best way to honor Jason’s life and to keep his memory alive is to adopt his “I Can. I Will.” attitude and employ it in your own life.

Stroke Awareness and Recovery

July 28, 2015 by Joy Cain

— written by Club Fit Member and Guest Blogger Joy Cain

Club Fit’s Syd Berman shares her experience to promote stroke awareness.

Syd Berman promotes stroke awareness.
Syd having fun with friends from the Club Fit “Dance ‘N’ Funk” crew.

The morning of June 6, 2012 was like any other beautiful spring morning at Club Fit. Swim classes were going on in the program pool, treadmills and stair climbers were being used in the fitness area, and up in Studio I, Syd Berman was leading her Dance ‘n’ Funk class, just as she had done hundreds of times before. But about 15 minutes into this particular class, things went awry. And Syd Berman’s life was changed forever.

“I didn’t feel anything,” Syd responds when asked if she felt pain. “I was just teaching a dance, and I thought, ‘Wait a minute. I’m an instructor, and it’s almost like I’m stumbling.’ Then I said something over the microphone and two of my students recognized what was going on and stopped the class.”

What was going on was that Syd was having a stroke. The alert students who saw Syd’s unusual stance and heard her slurred speech reacted immediately. They notified the front desk, and 911 was called. Syd was whisked off by ambulance to Hudson Valley Hospital. A day later, she was transferred down to Columbia Presbyterian, where she remained in the ICU for a few days. When doctors determined that she wasn’t in imminent danger of having another stroke, Syd was transferred to Burke Rehabilitation Center in White Plains for what turned into a six-week stay.

For those in the Club Fit family, the overwhelming sentiment surrounding the entire episode was one of shock and incredulity. This wasn’t some weekend warrior, some wannabe jock who suffered the stroke — this was SYD! Syd… who had begun working here when the facility was known as the Jefferson Valley Racquet Club. Syd… who, since 1993, had been the Club’s dance coordinator and was later put in charge of all the group exercise programs. Syd… who ate all the right foods and slept the right number of hours and who, at the age of 59, was in better physical shape than most women half her age. The stroke had happened to Syd! And the underlying thought was this: If a stroke can happen to someone like Syd, what chance do the rest of us have?

“I had none of the precursors,” Syd says. “I’m just happy I was here when it happened because our emergency response was excellent.” What Syd had was an ischemic stroke, which means that a blood clot interfered with the flow of blood to her brain. Doctors told her that the clot probably formed after she made a sudden movement with her head. “When I do the warm up, I get very high energy, so I might have just twisted too hard or something,” she says. “My doctor told me that was it. I said, ‘Well why hasn’t Beyonce stroked out ?’ and he said it’s just the luck of the draw. My GP told me that sh*t happens — so I said, ‘Thanks a lot — that really helps me out.’ But you know what? I’m still here and I feel very lucky because everyone has a story. Everybody has a tragedy in their life and I’m lucky I survived, because stroke is the No 4 killer in the country.”

Syd is speaking from the bridge area overlooking the pool at Jefferson Valley, waiting for a chair yoga class to begin. She has gained weight in the three years since her stroke, which is to be expected given that she is so much less mobile than she used to be. She needs a cane to get around, and her left arm is virtually useless. But her speech is back to normal and the smile on her face is real. She’s wearing a black Club Fit shirt with the words Live, Laugh, Love on it, and around her neck is a rhinestone turtle, a gift someone sent to her when she was rehabbing at Burke. The turtle is her reminder that recovery from stroke is a slow process — but the idea is to keep moving forward.

When she arrived at Burke, Syd had absolutely no movement in her left arm or her left toes, and her left leg felt like it was in a bucket of cement. The left side of her face drooped slightly. She was riding on an emotional roller coaster, going from a place of initially joking about her predicament in the hospital (“little did I realize the joke was on me,”) to a place of feeling no emotions at all. It wasn’t until some instructors from Club Fit sent 100 red roses to her room at Burke that Syd finally broke down and cried.

She knew that she would do whatever she could to restore her health.“Any testing they had at Burke, I volunteered for it,” she says. “Electrical stimuli (I felt like Frankenstein), a low carb diet that was supposed to help the brain — I was game to try anything I could.“ She went to physical therapy three times a week and eventually made such amazing progress that, in 2014, she was asked to return to Burke to share her story at a clinical conference.

Which brings us to today.

“I’m good. It’s a struggle everyday to live with a disability — boy, do I have appreciation now for people that have disabilities! — but I get along. I still have a good arm, a good leg, and my husband (Howie) is so good at taking care of me!

“I can do pretty much everything myself — except I can’t cook on the stove because that’s dangerous. I’m left-handed, so I try to write, but I can’t write too well — I sort of scribble with my right hand.

“I feel very lucky. I get to take care of my grandkids, I see my friends, I get out and about. I joined a singing group — we’recalled the Sweet Seasons — and we have such a good time! Everything I read says that the more you do for your brain, even without a stroke, the better it is for you.”With that in mind, Syd tries to keep mentally busy. One of her goals is to learn Spanish. Also, Syd recently took the written test to recertify herself as a group instructor; perhaps one day she’ll be able to lead a fitness class for those with special needs.

Still, she fatigues easily. An occupational therapist regularly visits Syd at home, and, among other things, makes Syd get down on her hands and knees to try and do push ups. That, along with trying to lift her left arm by itself, are two of her most challenging physical tasks. Although doctors have told her that her disabilities are permanent, Syd refuses to accept that. “I’m not gonna stop working,” she says. “I’m never gonna give up hope.”

Life has a way of teaching us everything we need to know. Prior to the stroke, Syd says that she was super critical of her looks. “I was very self conscious and didn’t think I was good enough. Now, of course, I look at pictures and say, wow, I was pretty good,” she says. The lesson here? “Appreciate your body — no matter how big it is, how thin it is. Embrace yourself — don’t let society tell you that you have to be perfect. Embrace yourself and just make the best out of it.

“A lot of people just don’t want to go out when they’re like this [with physical challenges] — but you know what? I’m here and I’m gonna live my life the best I can.”

She’s also doing what she can to make a difference. Syd’s proud of the fact that Club Fit partnered with her to raise funds for the National Stroke Association (NSA). Among other things, the NSA seeks to educate people about strokes, help stroke victims receive extended therapy, and advise hospitals on how to become better equipped to deal with stroke victims. In May, this Club Fit fundraiser was held in conjunction with the So You Think You Can Choreograph contest and raised over $4,000 for the NSA. Last year’s fundraiser raised over $3,500.

Syd is also proud of the fact that so many of the women she taught in Dance ‘N’ Funk contributed in some way to the fundraiser, and that they are still there for her — and for each other. Says Syd: “The dance girls are unbelievable. It makes me so happy to see them bonding and being friends.”

More than 30 years have passed since Syd Berman and Club Fit first crossed paths, a path that has seen its share of twists and turns. And as Syd looks back over what’s transpired these last three years, some more of life’s lessons are revealed.

“Family is more important than anything — and keeping your spirits up, no matter what happens, is important.,” Syd says. “I’ve discovered that I have so many wonderful friends at the club, it’s like my second home. And I also discovered that I am strong. I used to wonder what would I do if something happened [to me],

Breast Cancer Wellness

November 26, 2014 by karen

— 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Support Connection Director Kathy Quinn

August 28, 2014 by karen

 

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.”