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Gina’s Journey to Overcome Disease (Part 3 of a 3 Part Series)

I’m a busy mother of a 10 and a 15 year old. I help run a successful Insurance Brokerage Firm in Downtown Boston. When I was young and single I thought business travel was fun, and as a result, the majority of my clients require me to travel to other states. Additionally, I travel out of state for four conferences per year. In August of 2003 I was diagnosed with Crones Disease and Colitis, and this year in July, I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can affect various parts of the body, including the skin, joints, heart, lungs, blood, kidneys and brain. Normally the body’s immune system makes proteins called antibodies, to protect the body against viruses, bacteria, and other foreign materials. These foreign materials are called antigens. In an autoimmune disorder like lupus, the immune system cannot tell the difference between foreign substances and its own cells and tissues. As a result, the immune system makes antibodies that fight against itself. These antibodies — called “auto-antibodies” (auto means ‘self’) cause inflammation, pain and damage in various parts of the body.

Systemic lupus is usually more severe than discoid lupus, and can affect almost any organ or organ system of the body. For some people, only the skin and joints will be involved. In others, the joints, lungs, kidneys, blood, or other organs and/or tissues may be affected. Generally, no two people with systemic lupus will have identical symptoms. At times, very few symptoms may occur (remission), and at other times, the disease becomes more active (flare). Most often when people mention “lupus,” they are referring to the systemic form of the disease.

In July 2007, a particularly bad flare caused me to start an arduous journey. The flare was so bad, that I could not get the disease under control. I was able to work but was so weak that I had to send my 9 year old upstairs to get my pajamas. I would eat something and lay on the couch until it was time for bed. In the morning, I would wake up at 6:00 a.m., go down for coffee and lay on the couch until 8:00, at which time I would get ready for work. The havoc the disease played on my body wore me out. I was taking tons of medication per day and had a couple of intermittent steroid treatments. At this point, my daughter asked, “Mom, are you every going to get better?” At that moment, I promised that if I ever did recover, I would do whatever it took to make my body strong. In October, I was finally okay.

And so began my journey in November of 2007. I knew that all of the traditional methods I had used in the past – walking, Curves for Women, working out at home, and working out at the gym in my office – were not going to work. There were a couple of things that I needed in order to accomplish my goal: the location had to be convenient, it had to be a group environment and classes had to be in the morning so that I couldn’t make excuses later in the day.

I found John Wayman like most people find services today. I searched the internet for “Bootcamp” and the first ad to appear was for Beantown Bootcamp. John Wayman held a Bootcamp Class in the North End of Boston at 6:30 a.m. I also found out that John did personal training. I contacted John and that November, I attended my first indoor Bootcamp.

Looking back now, it is hard to imagine that I actually went back after that first day. Perhaps it was the kind words John offered as I struggled to run around the gym a third time or the encouragement from the other participants. There was a sense of camaraderie from the “veterans” of the group. They showed compassion and empathy, which made the experience feel different.

Class members would say, “Walk Gina, if you can’t run! You’ll get there.” They knew this because John had gotten them there as well: they were ALL success stories. The first day was so hard but when I was done it felt as though I had accomplished something. I remember calling my husband to tell him how hard it was, and his response was “Great! Keep going! Eventually, it will get better.” I never felt embarrassed about not jumping rope as long as the others or sprinting as fast. John always made a point to encourage me and the other newbies. He had an approach that really worked. The classes were so much fun and every day the routine was different. You never knew what to expect.

During the early months, John was cautious in setting expectations for me and I for myself. I think it took John a little time to figure out whether I was really committed. I assume he knew the journey would be difficult and that there would be significant sacrifice on his part to take me on as a client. It was always my feeling that someone younger and more athletic would have been much more fun to train and would obtain great results. John, however, didn’t shy away from the challenge.

Almost every day, John gently suggested that I begin a running program if I wanted to continue Bootcamp outdoors. I wasn’t quite ready, however. Eventually, I started to work out with John with weights. This felt like a reward for doing the Bootcamp. I started to see real results in February. And in an annual physical, for the first time, there was little to no sign of inflammation in my blood work. The Bone Density Test showed an uptick and my Percentage of Body Fat decreased by 1.4%, even though I weighed 7 pounds more than when the prior test was taken (all muscle!). In May, my body fat would drop another 3.5%.

After that visit, I decided that I would take my commitment to the next level. I told John and we made a plan. The most important component to the plan was honesty. John told me to be honest with myself. Was I really giving it my all? How was my nutrition this weekend, really? Did anything hurt when I ran? Why did I stop?

John started me on a running program and urged me to enter a race. I registered for one, but I kept it a secret for a few months. When I finally did tell him, he looked me straight in the eye and told me that he would run the race with me. I knew then, that I would definitely run AND finish. I couldn’t disappoint him. It was as if I were taking a Mid-Term and needed to get an A. We ran the race together, and I won first place for the 50 year old category. My time was an average of 9:48 minute miles.

The months since February have gone so fast its hard to recall all the milestones that John helped me reach. We work out with weights 3-4 times per week and I look forward to that time. John makes it difficult some days but always manages to get me back the next day. John also agreed to start a simpler version of a Bootcamp in my office, which has shown tremendous corporate benefit. 15-20 people from different departments in the company now come together twice a week to workout together. Before, many of the employees barely spoke to each other, and now, Wednesday and Thursday night workouts are a fun topic of conversation. The group has diverse interests and ages, but John is able to create a workout environment that works for everyone.

My friends and colleagues say my progress has been impressive. They say running eleven, 9 minute miles is no joke. What they don’t know is that I am only half way to the end. I am planning on running the Boston Marathon. I am not sure I will get there but I know that if I continue to work with John, I just might. I work hard not only myself, but for John, who pushes me to limits I never imagined possible.

I haven’t had any type of ‘flare’ – since last November. I used to get a small flare once a month and would pray that it would go into remission. It has never been this long in between flares. However, as I write this article, I am waiting for test results that will hopefully rule out breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Whatever the results are, I know that I am both physically and mentally ready. The secret to a successful journey is having the courage to admit that you probably can’t get there alone. It is important to know that up front and to make sure that you respect and care about the people helping you reach your goals.

I have tremendous respect and admiration for the work that John does. It must be truly rewarding to have a job that allows you to shape the life of another for the better. I don’t take John’s time for granted and would never want to disappoint him by not exceeding his and my expectations. So, I am going to try and do this thing for me, and for my coach who had the faith to teach a conventional 50 year old how to make her body stronger in the most unconventional ways.

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