Personal Stories

You Can Do It, Too

You Can Do It, Too!

50/50 Featured Member, Joe Jagiello

In 2015, my life was going great save one thing: I was approaching my 48th birthday in February 2016, I could no longer claim I was in my mid-forties, and I was in the worst shape of my life. At 5’10”, I was just shy of 240 pounds and almost 40% body fat.  I had asthma, my back and knees hurt, I was on cholesterol medications, snored and was generally unhappy with my appearance. Over the years, I had allowed the pressures of balancing work, the house, kids, and other responsibilities to contribute a couple pounds a year till I reached that state.

I played a few sports in high school, enjoyed club cycling in my 30’s, and had been an on and off (mostly off) runner for years. I considered myself an active person, but the evidence proved otherwise. So, I did as always, made a New Year’s resolution that this time I was going to get back in shape.

I started the year strong. Running on the treadmill five days a week, then four, oh, then a business trip broke the rhythm, then three, wait, start again five, oops missed, rats: business trip. Six weeks later I was facing my birthday. I weighed in at a historical high. Depressed and discouraged, I contemplated my situation and realized…

Wait, I was born in 1969; I am only turning 47 this year! I can still claim mid-forties for one more year!

I was being given a bonus year. I vowed there would be no way I would find myself in the same situation a year later when I actually turned 48.

This year, I entered my late forties almost sixty pounds lighter. My body fat percentage has been cut almost in half. I no longer need medication for cholesterol or asthma. I look good, feel great, sleep great and am in the best shape of my life. At 48, I have a resting heart rate in the 50’s and a VO2max in the high 40’s, both considered very good.

The best part is that my family, job, home and all those things important to me, but that I used as an excuse to not exercise and eat right, are all better for me being healthy. In fact, they were all enlisted in helping me create this change in my life.

The number one factor in my success has been my amazing wife, Angela. She recognized what this meant to us and vowed to embark on this mission alongside me. Even though I was shooting to drop seventy pounds and she was only shooting for eight, I knew she was with me every step of the way.

These are twelve things we learned that helped us achieve success.

You can find the time

For us, our first challenge was to determine how to consistently exercise with two kids, with jobs that required travel, and the daily distractions of life. If we didn’t exercise first thing, the day had a way of keeping us from it. We started going to bed an hour earlier. Angie took the tough shift and woke up at 4:45 A.M. to hit the treadmill. She got me at 5:45 and I ran next. That left just enough time to shower and get the kids off to school. By 8 A.M., we had accomplished our goals for the day. While it meant an early start, it was achievable and sustainable.

Don’t be discouraged by how hard it can be at first

In 2015, I could barely run two very slow miles in a row. I couldn’t do a sit up and very few push-ups. It gets easier. Come prepared to work and know the experience changes from difficult to enjoyable.

Don’t give up if you have a bad day, especially in the first months. Whether it was a bad food choice or a missed workout, we would examine what derailed us and redoubled our efforts to make tomorrow better. If it happened again, we tried again.

Plan ahead

Discuss the week with your partner and agree on when each of you will work out. We posted a schedule on the refrigerator so we were always sure what our commitments were. Lay your clothes out the night before. Set up your water bottles. Knock down any impediment before you go to bed. Take the same approach to grocery shopping; go into the week with a healthy meal plan to set yourself up to win.

It takes diet and exercise to get there

Who knew? I evaluated what I was eating and changed my diet. I have worked in the Organic and Natural product industry for over 25 years and thought I ate well. I uncovered amazing hidden calories in my diet (what? 220 calories in a tortilla!) and I also started learning more about sports nutrition. I substituted Vega One shakes for breakfast and lunch, and while it took some discipline, I immediately saw weight loss and increased motivation to continue. (Note: Vega is a brand owned by my employer)

I stopped stocking foods that I knew would derail me. If it wasn’t in the house, I wouldn’t eat it. It is far easier to have discipline around a shopping list than when snacks are in the pantry.

I also stopped thinking “I worked out today, so I can eat this” and started considering exercise as the way I keep my metabolism accelerated as I restrict calories. As I saw results, I became more reasonable with my food choices and more motivated to reinforce the hard work of my day. Fitness and strength became the rewards, not ice cream.

Use a fitness tracker (if that’s your thing)

I wish I had more information on where I started from. While I know some numbers, I should have taken advantage of 50/50’s complementary fitness assessment.

If you are motivated by statistics, use it to your advantage. I track my exercise, weight, steps, BMI, % fat, etc. and have my history going back two years. I love to look at the graphs and revisit past workouts. I weigh in almost every day with the knowledge that I am looking for long term trends, and not getting discouraged by short term setbacks.

Enlist the help friends and co-workers

I shared my goals and was amazed at the support and encouragement I received. I became accountable to the people I spoke with daily and they checked in on my progress. I began running with co-workers during business trips, competed with Fitbit Challenges and even held plank-off sessions against each other. We now make sure that fitness is prioritized in our agendas when we meet, making time in the morning or between meetings.

Include your kids

Your journey to fitness is a positive influence for your kids. I have run with my four year old in a jog stroller, done wind sprints with him in the driveway, and jumping jacks in the airport. My teenager has come to core classes, spin classes and Spin & Strength. Even if they are too young or too cynical to make it part of their daily life now, it is a message they will carry through their lives.

Bring variety to your workouts

While I consider running my primary form of exercise, I also spin at 50/50 and try to take Spin & Strength a couple days a week.  I sampled a number of different classes and instructors and switch around with the ones I find most enjoyable.

As an added bonus, mixing it up not only keep its fun, it helps to keep you injury free. In my year plus since I started, I have not only avoided injury completely, the cross training has strengthened areas of my body I never addressed before. With that, my chronic back and knee pain are all but gone.

I also enjoy hunting, fishing, cycling hiking and other outdoor activities… and I am better at all of them now.

Set Audacious Goals (and smaller ones along the way)

Even though I had never run a race before, in June I decided I would run my first half marathon. I signed up for the Happy Valley Half Marathon. While I knew it was a big goal, I made sure there were smaller, more achievable goals along the way, such as my first 5K and reducing my pace from 14 minute miles to 9 minute miles. I exceeded my goal of running it in under two hours, finishing in 1:57!

Surround yourself with positive people

The staff at 50/50 makes this easy, they are ready and available to connect. Take advantage of that. Outside of my wife and the 50/50 team, my co-workers, my boss, and my friends offered a ton of encouragement and their energy was infectious. In the same way, know that your success is an inspiration to others. Share your message.

Steal inspiration from unlikely sources

The first time I ran ten miles, I found myself repeating Tom Brady’s, “We haven’t come this far to come this far.” During my eleven mile run, it was Dory from Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” There is encouragement everywhere if you look for it. No days off.

Treat yourself along the way

As I started slimming down I dragged my heels on replacing my wardrobe. Don’t do that. You are starting to look and feel better, allow yourself to reflect that. Buy new clothes as you need them and donate/sell them as you don’t.

Changing my perspective from “I need to exercise and eat well” to “I live to exercise and eat well” has created positive change across all aspects of my life. I have still not achieved all my goals, but I am in the best shape of my life and continue to improve. I am at 50/50 every week, I signed up for the Whately Mother’s Day Half and the Buffalo Half in May and will run the Happy Valley again this year. If you see me in the gym, say “hi.” 50/50 is a community and we can all achieve our goals with the positive support and encouragement of our 50/50 family.

Wish Joe luck in the Western Mass Mother’s Day Half, on May 14th!

The End of an Era

Energia 2012
The True Essence of Community.
In March of 2010, Energia opened it’s doors as a first of it’s kind fitness facility in Western Mass, focusing solely on Spinning and yoga. Jennifer Siddall, of Amherst, founded the studio with a strong passion for health & wellness. She carried this passion and vision for a true mind-body connection through, year-after-year, making consistent changes and ultimately building the foundation for a successful business. She showed everyone that in one small room, truly remarkable things could happen.

Early in 2012, a nervous, awkward 22-year old UMass graduate stumbled across the facility, while job searching in the area.

He strongly disliked his current job, especially after this happened:


But, he at least continued to keep himself entertained…

And, so the story continues:

Jennifer hired Justin as a personal trainer, and he got started with his first clients, a young couple from Granby, several weeks later. On the side, he began Pioneer Valley Fitness, an in-home personal training business, with a small office in Sunderland. Justin quickly quit his Raggedy Ann position, to focus solely on personal training. As Justin matured (many would say that’s debatable), he began to take on more responsibility…both within Energia, and his own business venture, as well.  Without the expertise, guidance, and wholehearted faith his clients continued to exude on him, the journey would have stopped there.

Several months later, while walking through the UMass Dining Commons, I received a phone call from Jennifer. Robert (shown below), was going to be traveling for work and she needed a new spin instructor. “Uhhhmm, let me think about it”, is all I remember. For days, I deliberated. Me, a spin instructor? I had barely gotten over the broccoli days, which damn near sent me to therapy. How could I get in front of a huge group (by huge, I mean 12) people? But, this was my chance. I needed to branch out, to make a name for myself. Shortly after my certification class, I was put on the schedule for a Saturday Spin class. Ironically, it’s the same class I teach to this day, now four years later. Anyways, Friday night rolled around and I went to Dick’s to buy a new outfit (awwww). I returned home to find that my roommate had invited about 15 people over, music blasting, drinks everywhere. Horrified, I left and rented a room at the hotel up the road. 6 hours later, I had crafted (what I believed to be) the perfect workout. By crafted, I mean I went to Michael’s to buy a poster board, Popsicle sticks, and markers (you can’t make this stuff up). My goal was to write the entire workout onto the poster board and bring it with me onto the bike. How could I screw up if I wrote down all of my lines on the sheet? Oh, and don’t worry, just in case the sheet were to bend, I bought the Popsicle sticks for extra security.

Within about 4 minutes on the bike, while I was introducing myself and going over the positions, my sweat must’ve continuously dripped down onto the poster board…because when I looked down to start my cueing, all I could see was a bigggg old smear of magic markers. At this point, all I could do was smile. “Really Justin? You buy yourself an outfit, you remember the damn Popsicle sticks that look ridiculous taped to the back of this page, but you couldn’t think to laminate the sheet”.

So there you have it Jennifer, there’s the true story of what happened that day!

Oh yeah, and here’s Robert, back in the old studio! If Robert didn’t go away, I wouldn’t be here today. I still don’t know where you went, but THANKS Robert!

Needless to say, I survived. My success was SO wild and apparent, the next day I bought the business. KIDDING!

Before that could happen, there was a whole lot of this:

And this:  

 
Don’t worry, don’t worry, that isn’t the true story either. The true story is… I, we, all of you, couldn’t be here without Katie. Her energy and passion, her raw and uncanny emotion, are truly second to none. With Katie, our second location came to light. And with Pat, Jay, Lindsay, Jamie, Ryan, Pam, Ali, Sarah, Mindy, Ashley, and Brittany, our third location now comes to light.  

So without further ado…
We are Moving!

251 Russell Street, about 3 minutes down the road from Energia

We expect to move early in July, once our renovation is complete. With this move, comes the end of an era. We’ll be saying goodbye to the Energia name and starting anew. Moving forward, we’ll represent one brand, one name, and one identity!

I know, I know, you guys are full of questions! Don’t worry, we are taking the same experience you have all grown to love, and improving it ten-fold! The new space will house a state of the art sound system, 14′ high ceilings with central air, two spacious bathrooms, one spacious shower room, permanent lockers for all monthly members, and much, much more.

The bikes will be adequately spaced, with brand new mats for Spin & Strength. We’ll have an information station with info on all of your favorite class offerings, and a retail room as well.

Lastly, we’ll have an incredible outdoor space with room for obstacle courses, killer boot camps, TRX and all of your favorite programming, all Summer long (and beyond!).

We’ll be keeping our original 50/50 space for Pilates, personal training, and some of your favorite nightly classes.

Stay tuned for further updates on schedule additions and our grand opening celebration, announced in the weeks to come.

If you have any questions at all, and I mean anything, please direct them to katie@5050fitnessnutrition.com. Okay, okay, I promise that was the last joke!

My email is info@5050fitnessnutrition.com

I would love to hear from you…questions, comments, suggestions…I’m here!

FINALLY, thank you, thank you, thank you to all of the amazing people I’ve been so fortunate to meet along the way. I know I can speak on behalf of the entire 50/50 team when I say, you all have been more than any business, any staff could ever ask for. Change is scary, sad, and inspiring at the same time, but we’re in this together. Here’s to an exciting, fun and sweat-filled future. 

“All is connected … no one thing can change by itself.”

Checking in with Ryan

50/50 – Year 2

Ryan

In January I wrote a piece about my first year with 50/50 and my experience getting back to fit, losing 65 pounds, and becoming a spin instructor. It has been 7 months since then and here’s the thing: the second year is so much harder.

In January I shifted from actively trying to lose weight and build my fitness to trying to sustain my progress. To be totally honest, I haven’t done very well. I did all the things I said I wouldn’t: taking one day off and then another and another, avoiding working out, eating way too much. Each week I would try to regroup, and then I’d slip in some way and think: “It’s ok. I’ll do it right tomorrow.” Except that each tomorrow turned into a few days into a week into a month of tomorrows.

At the same time, I was looking around at all of the active, fit adults I know and thinking about the ways they have sustained health and fitness routines for decades. The thought of having to maintain a workout habit throughout my entire adult life got more and more overwhelming. I started thinking “maybe I can’t actually do this.”

I was telling this all to Katie a few weeks ago, and asked her what she’d think of me trying to write about it. Her first reaction was “Love it!” and then she said something like ” but here’s the thing Ryan. You can’t make it seem hopeless.”

So just to get it out of the way, I don’t think it’s hopeless. I just think that maintaining a healthy lifestyle for forever is hard. Really hard. REALLY. But there are a few things that make it a little easier.

The first is vulnerability. To me this means not hiding from the ways I’m struggling. Telling the truth about the 15 pounds I’ve gained in the last 7 months. Showing up and being seen, even when it feels embarrassing or uncomfortable. Sharing what is going on with the people who I see on the bike every day, because I know I am not the only one who has a hard time. Brene Brown says that “vulnerability is at the core, the center, of meaningful human experiences.” I agree.

The second is accountability. Tracking. Personal training. Signing up for classes and not letting myself cancel. Setting up my workout schedule with a friend. Putting checks in place that make it harder for me to avoid the gym or my health until the next day.

The last is community. When I joined 50/50, I definitely was not expecting to feel like a part of something, but that is exactly what happened. I love 50/50 not just because I like telling people what to do on a bike; I love it because of the energy and warmth I feel with all of you. The fact that we are working alongside each other is special. The way folks cheer and whistle at each other when I’m teaching makes me happy. I see the way members stand in the parking lot talking after class, sometimes for hours, before leaving. I feel pride when new people try their first class, because I know they are going to be welcomed and encouraged by anyone they talk to. And because we have such a strong community I want to challenge us to really show up and let ourselves be seen. To start a conversation with someone new about how things are going and be honest. To share our hopes and goals. To try, to mess up, to come back and try again. To sign up for a class right now if it has been a while. I’ll see you there.

Meet your Health & Fitness Specialist

Do you believe in second chances? Help me save a life…

Originally posted on July 23, 2014

Manslaughter has to be one of the most gruesome, chilling words in the English language. There’s no questioning its meaning, its unsettling nature, and it’s fierce impact. It takes on a connotation far more profound than even murder, killing, assassination. I mean, who could fathom “slaughtering” another human being? Okay, so maybe it wasn’t purposeful. Somehow, placing “involuntary” in front of it, doesn’t seem to diminish the intensity of the word. So when is justice finally served in an involuntary manslaughter? Unfortunately, in this case, it isn’t. And it’s something I’ve been struggling with, almost hiding behind, for quite some time. I had been afraid to talk about it, to ask for help, and to finally find the answers that I so desperately needed…until now. And I need your help. I’ll try and make this as quick as I can…

In January of 1994, my biological father, Randy Matthews, was leaving a bar in Texas after having more than his share of beer (he later blew a .2x). He decided to head to his brother’s house, just down the road, for a place to crash for the rest of the night. He had just recently made his way back down to Eastern Texas from Massachusetts, and wasn’t entirely familiar with his surroundings. Nevertheless, he started off on his way in a brand new 4 x 4 Ram, lifted, with over-sized tires and a custom exhaust (loud!). With the radio blaring, he paid little attention to his surroundings. He knew he’d find good ol’ Hardy Road one way or another…or so he thought. He never did make it to his brother’s that night. In fact, he never saw his brother (my uncle) again.

After several minutes of cruising along, his heart dropped when he caught a glimpse of one of those bright red “WRONG WAY” street signs. You know, one of the signs that always makes you second guess yourself when driving onto the on-ramp of a new highway for the first time? So it all started with one small mistake. He had made a wrong left-hand turn at the previous intersection and suddenly was forced into a decision. We all know that drunk driving and quick, spur of the moment decisions don’t tend to turn out well. You can see where this is going. So here’s the scenario: He was at the base of a short, somewhat steep hill, travelling approximately 40 MPH. It was just after 2 AM and there was hardly any traffic to speak of. Up ahead, just as the hill began to crest, he noticed a familiar landmark – a rusty, old train station that he associated with Hardy Road, about 30 seconds off. In his mind, he had two choices. He could either a) make himself more vulnerable to potential oncoming traffic by attempting to swing the big diesel truck around, or b) speed up and take a quick left up at the top of the hill. He chose the latter and stepped on it. So now, travelling faster and faster and beginning to lose control, the truck shot up the hill, peaked, and the suspension coils begin to lift, raising the entire front end, and making the truck even more of a monstrosity as it tore up and over the once distant horizon. At this point, it was too late. By the time the truck evened out, it was already powering its way up and over an oncoming car, causing massive destruction. Two of the passengers, a little girl and her father, were pronounced dead on the scene.

My father was given 20 years for involuntary manslaughter. There’s that word again. I was 4 at the time. It took another 14 years for me to find out the truth about that night and my father’s whereabouts. He’d been locked away all that time, missing my entire childhood. For a long time I really wasn’t sure how I felt about it and how to really process it. So, I left it alone. I had (have) two brothers that I’d never even met, a dad in prison, and I was just starting college. It was all so overwhelming, you know? Finally, it was that second Summer home from school that I worked up the courage to write him. That first letter took me hours and hours to compose. It was my first impression, after all, it meant everything to me. I was so terrified that I wouldn’t get a response, that I’d find someone who really didn’t care about me after all, and what I’d become. I would have been devastated.
So let’s fast forward to the start of this year… 19 years from the date of the accident and I’m finally starting to form a relationship with my biological father. By then, he’d written hundreds of times, called weekly, and we met for the first time face-to-face (even though it was behind a glass). As the end of the sentence drew (draws) nearer, things were really looking up. I felt like I had someone to talk to about everything, a pen pal in a way… Until three weeks ago when he stopped writing.

Last Thursday, I received a phone call from a prison hospital in Galveston that my dad had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. They couldn’t give me any more details.He had apparently gone in for a routine check-up on some chest tightness. Just like that – a death sentence. I flew out later that evening, a mess, wondering if I’d even get the chance to say goodbye. Upon landing, I confirmed his location and drove 5 hours south from Dallas, down to the hospital to find that he had been transferred 5 hours back north. As it turns out, after they had just finished several highly invasive procedures just several hours before, they decided that someone else needed his bed more than him. So, they shipped him out at midnight, in the back of a transfer van, chained hands and feet to the floor, forced to sit on a metal bench. With all of the transfers and stops along the way, his trip ended up being 10 hours long, no bathroom breaks; The same trip, mind you, that he’s going to have to make to and from the hospital for chemotherapy every single week… fighting for his life in the back of a van.

Dozens of phone calls later, my visit was finally approved. He wasn’t well enough to make the visitation room, so they had to clear the unit of all other inmates, and walk me straight through the prison and into the “infirmary”. I wasn’t allowed into his room per prison policy. I was told I’d be allowed to speak with him through a small opening in the door. At this point, he still didn’t know I was coming and he, himself had just arrived. As I approached the cell, the nurse greeted me and asked me about my Master’s Degree. He had already told her all about me :/ I completely broke down and couldn’t get any words out. It all hit me like a ton of bricks, right then and there. He’d been there an hour and had already started talking about how proud he was. The accompanying officer didn’t hesitate, unlocked the door, and told me to go and give him a hug. It was the first time I’d ever hugged him.
On his discharge papers, his condition was listed as “fair”. “Oh gee, thanks” he said with a chuckle. The cancer has spread from his liver into his lungs, and into most of his other organs. He remains strong physically, aside from the occasional bouts of nausea and shortness of breath. Mentally, he’s depleted. Four days elapsed before someone decided to give him a tooth brush. No paste, so he’s forced to use soap to wash the taste of vomit out of his mouth on a daily basis. Off to the left of the room is a stack of several brown paper bags, each with a half-eaten peanut butter sandwich. The menu doesn’t change much in there. No books, no TV, no friends or family left to visit him. It’s just me and his oxygen tank. He calls it his “little buddy”. We’re about all that’s keeping him alive right now. I’ve decided that I can’t do it alone. I’m not going to get the help of the prison staff and I desperately need your help! Please help me keep my father alive. He was just brought back into my life and I know it has for a reason. I’m just not ready to let him go. I know that together, in prayer, with powerful thoughts and well-wishes, we can give him a glimmer of hope. There’s not much left in that dark, lonely cell.

The prison has stripped away every ounce of dignity and virtually eliminated any preservation of self-worth . He truly had nothing to live for until two years ago. Now, he’s on the fight of his life. And, he’s doing it for me…to show me that he can be an incredible person.So please, regardless of whether or not you believe in second chances, I just want to be able to help my dad to feel loved, like he matters, just one more time. If I have to lose him, I want him to be able to go out on top, like he wasn’t a waste, and he didn’t let me down. Here’s how you can help…

1) Please pray for him. He needs all the help he can get. All he has is God right now.

2) I’ve set up an account to electronically send messages (at no cost), directly to him. Here’s how to access it.

Go to JPay.com
The login name is LettersForRandy@Gmail.com
The password is keephopealive
Next to email, click compose. Feel free to write messages, send articles, success stories, songs, pictures, etc. You can keep them anonymous if you’d like.
Click send and he’ll receive the message within 24-48 hours.

3) Alternatively, you can email any notes to me directly at LettersForRandy@Gmail.com. I’ll be sure to forward them anonymously.

4) You can mail him letters directly using the following address…

Randy Matthews #719515
Estelle Unit
264 FM 3478, Huntsville, TX 77320-3320
*Please note that he can’t receive any packages… just letters and some pictures. All letters are pre-screened, so nothing derogatory towards the prison please. It’s not necessarily the people that are at fault, but the system.

Thank you so much for your support, this has been a very difficult time for me.

~Justin

UPDATE: Randy passed away on 10/27 at 11:58AM. Thanks again everyone for your support..

Living with Alzheimer’s: a personal story by Katie Lipsmeyer

Since I was a little girl, my mom and I would tell each other that we love one another “the muches in the world past infinity.” See, she is a single mother, and I am an only child, and our bond has been steadfast for the entirety of our relationship.

Momma, as I affectionately call her, gave birth to me when she was 38 years old, and while I was a welcome gift to her, she lived a full life before I took my first breath. Carol Lipsmeyer, as the rest of the world knows her, is the second of five children. She was—and still is—a devout Catholic, was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, and she essentially raised her brothers since her mother was rarely around and her father worked three jobs to support his family. She never married. Apparently, she was proposed to a whopping three times, but she said no to each, telling me, “I never found anyone good enough for me.” This speaks to her high standards and feisty nature, for sure!

She went to nursing school directly after high school and worked many years as a Registered Nurse. In fact, she scrubbed in on the very first heart transplant! And still, Momma wanted to challenge herself further and make a good comfortable living for herself. She was one of the first females in the state of Arkansas to become a Nurse Anesthetist, a profession typically reserved for men. She did over 5,000 cases, mostly for open heart surgery, over a span of 40 years. Momma is truly respected for her dedication to the health care system.

When my mom had me, she completely devoted her life to me. She raised me to recognize the value in others and to be a strong, independent woman. She taught me to love deeply and to be vulnerable, in spite of what others may think. She taught me to take risks, to right my wrongs as best as I can, and to forgive others fully. I can go to her with any problem, and she consistently offers sound advice without forcing her opinions. Though she was a relatively strict parent when I was growing up, we have been best friends for all of my 31 years on this planet. She is my biggest advocate.

About five or six years ago, though, I noticed that Momma’s short-term memory was failing. She would get confused while driving in her hometown and would lose things on a consistent basis. In retrospect, I see all these happenings as red flags, but I was in denial at the time. I didn’t want to consider that the fate of the strongest woman I know would be rendered to a terrible disease called Alzheimer’s.

Three years ago, there was no more room for denial, and I had the most difficult talk of my life with her. Both of us sitting on her bed, I told her I knew that she had noticed her forgetfulness and lack of focus and that I had noticed it, too. “Momma, I’m pretty sure this is more than old-age forgetfulness. I think it’s a dementia of some sort, and I’d really like to go with you to a specialist who can assess what’s going on and provide you with treatment. This is heavy and a lot to take in, but I want to keep you healthy and safe. Most of all, I want you to know this is not your fault.”

There has been much stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s for decades now, even though an astounding 5 million people live with the disease today. Many mistakenly liken it to a major mental health disorder, such as schizophrenia or major depression, and those who are diagnosed search for answers as to why this happened to them. I think, though I’m not certain, that my mom believed her own mother got this disease as a karmic payback for being absent in her children’s and husband’s lives.

Thankfully, Momma agreed to see a specialist and has trusted me with her care ever since.

After many, many doctors’ visits over the past three years, Momma now has a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. We sold her house, and she currently lives in an assisted living community in Little Rock. She loves her friends and the staff there, but we have decided together it is time to move her closer to me and my family here in Western Massachusetts.

See, just after Thanksgiving, Momma had an abscess in her abdomen, and had to be admitted to the hospital. She subsequently got an infection and wound up with kidney failure, which put her total days in the hospital at sixteen, plus seven days in an unfamiliar rehab facility. She was supposed to spend Christmas with me, my partner, Dave, and my two “bonus sons” here in Northampton, but Dave, Momma, and I ended up spending Christmas Day in her rehab room in Little Rock.

If you’ve ever spent time in the hospital, you know what a drag it can be, but imagine being completely confused, not knowing where you are or really understanding the reason for being there. A stay in the hospital for a regular person can be exacerbated up to seven-fold for a person with Alzheimer’s, e.g. a two-week stay can seem like 2.5 months for an Alzheimer’s patient. Every day, Momma would tell me, “Katie, I just want to go home.”

It was a traumatic experience for her (and for me), and her brain is still recovering from it. Hopefully, she will regain the cognizance she had before this incident, but there is a chance she may not. Never again do I want to be this far away from her when she has an emergency. And so, Dave and I will move her up here in the near future.

I tell you my mother’s story in hopes to, first, bring awareness to the issue of Alzheimer’s, as hers is one of millions. The stories of these radiant human beings need to be told, as they are no longer able to tell their stories themselves. Second, we as prideful people rarely offer such vulnerable and personal pieces of ourselves to a wide audience. But I have found a wonderful community of people in Pioneer Valley Fitness and Energia Fitness over the past year, and I want you to know the struggles I deal with.

I wonder sometimes if I will get this disease. I wouldn’t wish this fate on anyone, but I have to consider, on some level, that I may too ultimately lose my memory, my identity. One of the many reasons I have committed my life to fitness is because I have a 40% less chance of getting Alzheimer’s if I do aerobic activity for 30 minutes, 2-3 times per week. (All of us do.) And if it does turn out to be my fate, then—in the wise words of Kurt Vonnegut—so it goes. But I’ll put up a hell of a fight before it takes me down.

I don’t know what the future holds for my mother. My wish is that she remains stable for a long time, enjoying precious time with me, Dave, her “bonus grandchildren,” and any other biological grandchildren she may have. Few things remain constant, and I have a great respect for that, but there is no doubt in my mind that we will always love each other the muches in the world past infinity.