Working Out Together and Getting Stuff Done

Alone, humans often fail.  But teamed up with a friend or a loved one, beautiful things can happen.  This is one of those beautiful stories.

“My sister [Peggy Lawrence] has not only shown me what it means to be brave, but also has allowed me to love more deeply,” said Patti Biancardi Barth.  “What a privilege it is to be her friend, sister and exercise partner.” Doctors diagnosed Peggy with multiple sclerosis 23 years ago, when she was 37 years old. MS is an unpredictable, often disabling disease that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body – potentially affecting functions ranging from walking to thinking. In an effort to build up her strength and minimize the effects of the disease, Peggy began exercising with Patti on a regular basis.

“When Peggy was first diagnosed we were rollerblading, bike riding and enjoying speed walking,” Patti said. Despite their best efforts, over the past 10 years, Peggy’s symptoms progressed, altering her lifestyle substantially.  She is challenged with balance issues, spasticity, leg pain and stiffness.

“I am heartbroken as I watch her struggle with her daily activities,” Patti said. “We feel we are at a crossroads.”

Pictured from left to right, Coach Nate, Peggy, Patti, Coach Demetrius

Fortunately, in the past few years, two big developments have given Peggy and Patti good reasons to remain hopeful.  The first was their decision, three years ago, to begin working out together at the Anytime Fitness gym in Merrillville, Indiana.

“We love the increased effort and enthusiasm when we partner during workouts,” Peggy said.  My growth in strength and stamina has increased greatly.” The owner of the gym, Feras Musleh, impressed both Peggy and Patti with his “compassion, acceptance and enthusiasm.”  And the sisters give credit to personal trainer Kevin Torok for dramatically changing their approach to exercise.

“He took the time to casually observe Peggy, to get to know us and to show us better techniques while working out, focusing on her challenges and targeting specific muscle exercises for her,” Patti said.  “Kevin’s humor, expertise and his genuine interest in our increased fitness level lit a fire in us.  We then scheduled three personal training sessions with him where he broke down three different workouts and was very detailed as to how – and why – we were doing these exercises.” Under Kevin’s guidance, Peggy and Patti learned how to maximize the efficacy of their workouts by pushing themselves out of their comfort zone.

“We currently rotate the three different workouts on a weekly basis,” said Peggy.  “Then Kevin convinced us to participate in group training.  It was at these sessions, we met personal trainers Demetrius Jackson and Nate Fowler.  D and Nate bring their game to the group workouts.  It is so much fun to work out in a group.  We love it.  D and Nate review exercise adaptions with me before class to ensure successful group participation.  The group atmosphere brings energy, competitiveness and comradery to our workouts.  Enthusiastic, educated personal trainers, music, and people who love working out together is the perfect recipe for success.”

The second big development that’s given Patti and her sister reason to be hopeful about Peggy’s future is a promising new treatment for multiple sclerosis:  a stem cell transplant procedure which has demonstrated impressive results in halting the progression of MS and, in many cases, reducing many symptoms related to the disease.

“What I know is that the progression of this disease needs to stop,” said Patti.  “We need this treatment to keep Peggy mobile and healthy.  I love my sister dearly.” Peggy is scheduled to begin the treatment in a few months, but it’s not cheap – $60,000 – and not covered by insurance.  More information about Peggy and the procedure that she’ll be undergoing is available on her YouCaring page.

Meanwhile, to prepare herself for the fight of her life, Peggy and Patti will continue to work out – together – three times a week at Anytime Fitness and once a week at a local swimming pool.

“Our weekly schedule fluctuates with family and work responsibilities, but we are committed to our health,” said Peggy.  “I like exercising with medicine balls, kettle balls, TRX ropes – any exercise, really, as long as the music is loud.  Our trainers have taught us a variety of workout strategies, targeting specific muscles repeatedly, to increase cardio and overall fitness.  We are definitely stronger.”

Patti concedes that she and her sister are both tired at the end of a workout, but it’s “a very good tired.”

“Our physical and mental strength is increasing with every workout,” Patti said.  “Peggy’s upcoming stem cell transplant is getting closer.  Her fitness level will soar once she is wiped clean of MS.  And that’s when she’s really going to shine.  I can feel it.”

Teamwork.  It’s a beautiful thing – and a powerful force.

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How One Man Lost 130lbs And Now Coaches Others

My story may sound familiar. I started off like so many others. I had been a big guy my whole life. On the day my fitness journey started, I was 23 years old, and honestly, couldn’t remember a time where I wasn’t big. Heck, the smallest pair of jeans I owned were 36″ waist—which didn’t fit, and hadn’t since 8th grade. But that was my reality, and I had come to accept it. Or rather, I was resigned to my fate.

Efforts to succeed… didn’t.

Throughout my adult life I tried and failed a number of times to lose weight. Nothing really stuck. There were so many factors I could attribute to my lack of progress. There was little health and fitness knowledge and direction, for one, which was an unstable foundation to build my hopes on. Then there was my general laziness and constant procrastination from going after what I really wanted! And of course, there was the ever-pervasive sense of discomfort, inadequacy, and embarrassment I felt when I set foot in a gym, which led to my general lack of motivation to actually do it.

Motivation is a funny thing, though.

I learned, one day, that motivation is not the same thing as needing to do a thing or wanting to do a thing. Motivation is not “I want to lose weight.” It’s what drives that feeling and your actual action. Motivation is different for everyone. For me, it was a deep, powerful inability to remain as I was for another moment. One day—at work—I wore through the inner thigh of yet another pair of pants due to my thighs rubbing as I walked, and something snapped. I simply could no longer be like this anymore—overweight, unhappy in my own skin, uncomfortable, and embarrassed with myself. I had to do something.

And so it began.

My wife (my girlfriend at the time) and I  began working out together. We started at home, in the basement or spare bedroom, with one of those at-home workout DVDs I borrowed from a friend. At the time, I was too embarrassed, intimidated, and overwhelmed to go to an actual gym. So, we did it on our own. We had each other, and we made it work, but I look back now and realize how we made it pretty hard on ourselves. Why didn’t we ask for help? A year later, I found myself 130 lbs. lighter, significantly more confident and comfortable in my body, and I had even become a runner! So the work was definitely worth it. But I learned a lot along the way.

What did we do? What can YOU do?

We did strength training workouts, high-intensity interval training workouts, we ran, and we even did yoga. A balance of ALL these things kept things interesting and helped support our success. We used dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, and even bodyweight to power our workouts.

It wasn’t just workouts though. The other key component was nutrition. We completely changed not just what we ate, but how we thought about food. Food became a fuel source, not a way to pass time or deal with emotions. We cut out things like soda, weaned ourselves off some not-so-great choices, and focused on healthy, whole foods. We didn’t do a crash-course 30, 60, or 90-day challenge, or fad diet. We made small, progressive, lifestyle changes. And ultimately, that’s why we succeeded and why the weight has stayed off over lots more time.

Life is very different today than it was Day 1.

As a result of my transformation, I found a new passion for fitness. I became a runner, and used it as an outlet to push myself, to see just how far I could go. I’ve completed not just marathons, but ultramarathons. I’ve even completed a 100-mile endurance run (yes, all in one shot—29 hours)! I also discovered a newfound passion for helping others navigate their own health and fitness journey. Having been there myself, I knew how hard it could be. I think back to my own fitness journey, and wish it didn’t have to be so hard. All the work, the research, the trial and error, the struggles—it was a lot. And I’ve realized it didn’t have to be that hard. Not if we had reached out to more experienced people along the way. So now, I share my story, and even work as a personal trainer at Anytime Fitness, to do just that. People often feel (or are) alone, but don’t need to be! If I can help ease the journey and answer a few questions for even one person, I know I’ve made my day and theirs.

You have to believe.

There are going to be days it feels like “too much,” “too hard,” or altogether like an insurmountable challenge. In those moments, know that you can do it. I’ve come out the other side successful and can tell you, you can win. Lean on your friends, your family, and a coach to see you through to victory. You’ll get there—in time, with work, and belief.

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