Over the last 3 weeks, I have read the below postings, which I wrote several years ago, at least once a day. There are times when I need to be reminded that there are inspirational stories out there of people overcoming situations not brought on by their choices.
Being overweight and out of shape, in my case, are not the result of a tragic accident, illness or act of God… I chose to respond to stress poorly. I then made very bad decisions about the food I fueled my body with, and I made the decision to stop working out. I could have responded differently; I should have responded differently — but I did NOT.
The young woman I wrote about below, didn’t have any choices concerning her physical condition, what she did have a choice in was how she would respond. She chose to not let anything stand in her way.
By: Joe Leonardi
As I am writing this the Thanksgiving holiday has just passed, it is time to get back on the workout wagon. A day of gorging and feasting is followed by a return to the track to run and the gym to lift weights.
The heating rays of our star Sol barely warms the northeast from November to March, but today’s cloud cover made for a particularly dank, dreary, desolate day. So gray were the skies that my usually high motivation to exercise was replaced by the blahs.
I completed my laps around the stadium oval and drove off to the second half of my daily, personal biathlon. I parked my car, hefted my bulk from the driver’s seat, opened the trunk and grabbed my gear. I slowly passed through the gym entrance closing the door to the dismal day behind me. I peered down the hallway and fought the urge to turn on my heel and exit. Eventually, I plodded my way down what felt like an unending corridor. A stop at my locker to put my clothes away lasted longer than usual. I finally progressed to the weight room trying to come up with any excuse not to.
I scanned around hoping that someone was using the leg press machine – no one was. I stared at the one hundred pound plates I would need to lug up and onto the machine and thought ‘maybe I’ll just use the forty-fives’. My mind and body were both in agreement, I was not in the mood, but I forced myself onward.
As I neared the equipment the sun caught my eye. It was not the center of our solar system, it was the rays emanating from a young girl pausing between sets of her routine. A broad smile dominated her face as she talked with her barking, bellicose personal trainer. She then turned her attention back to the cold, unyielding iron. A smile no longer was apparent, it was replaced by a look of ferocious intensity. It is a look I have seen before; in the eyes of the elite athletes I have trained with and treated over the years – it was the look of a champion.
Then I noticed something that should have been apparent, but I was so caught up in first her joy for what she was doing, then the intensity which she carried it out, I did not see that she was missing one arm and one leg. The inability to grip the bar with two hands did not deter this young person’s enthusiasm for her training. I smiled outwardly, but inwardly I was ashamed at my mental attempts to avoid exercise.
Inspiration is found in many forms, but on this day, inspiration was brought forth by another’s joy and passion; another’s delectation for an activity that I have had an on and off relationship with since my parents purchased my first barbell set from Sears when I was twelve. More inspirational though, was the way she was dealing with what was apparent adversity – seemingly she was ignoring it.
In the last Rocky movie, when junior was complaining about trying to live in his father’s large shadow, Stallone’s iconic character uttered the following statement. “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you!”
Sure it is a line from a movie, but the girl I watched today, she did not appear to cower. Now, I don’t know her story, I don’t know her name, I never saw her before today, I don’t know anything other than the following:
There are many excuses not to do, but there are few legitimate reasons. Life is not fair, it is not easy and no matter what our problems are, whether they appear trivial or extreme, they need to be handled and life needs to be more than just lived.
I was not the only one affected on this day. I chatted with another person who was equally inspired.
Finally, the word “can’t” should be abolished from my vocabulary. When I don’t feel like going to the gym or going to the track or facing a difficult situation I will forever remember what I saw today and will know what can be accomplished.
“Handicapped is a mental state!”
by: Joe Leonardi
Last December, I wrote a column describing a very inspirational moment. I saw a young person who was missing her left arm and leg ferociously training with the look and intensity of many champion athletes I have met over the years. At the time I didn’t know her story. I didn’t even know her name.
Since that column appeared, I have had many people tell me about the incredible Stephanie Jallen. During a meeting with Senator Ray Musto and his wife, Frances, I was encouraged to have a face to face with Stephanie. I made a phone call to the Senator’s Pittston office and within hours I received a return phone call from Stephanie’s proud and supportive mother Deborah Jallen.
In the course of my life, I have had the chance to train with champion bodybuilders and strength athletes, I have broken bread with multi-millionaires, talked politics with national and state elected politicos and I even had the chance to campaign with the great Lynn Swann. The people I have met are all impressive in their own right, however compared to Stephanie Jallen, well, there is no comparison — Stephanie is in a league all her own.
This impressive person will make you forget that she has just embarked on her teenage years. She answers questions and discusses her life with the poise and confidence of someone who has spent eternity in the limelight.
I asked Stephanie how I should refer to her in this column.
Should I say she is handicapped?
A special needs person?
I wasn’t sure what term to use.
She told me I should refer to her as normal and that is when she uttered the title of this column.
Prior to skiing, Stephanie had been involved in basketball and soccer. Then a little over four years ago, she received a letter inviting her to a PA Center for Adapted Sports Clinic. There she discovered skiing. Instructors wanted Stephanie to ski in the seated position, but the nine year old Miss Jallen would not hear of it. She insisted and obviously got her way — she would ski standing up.
A chance meeting, with personal trainer Ernie Baul, occurred at a fundraiser that would impact her future training. Stephanie’s congenital condition caused her left side to be underdeveloped, leaving her arm very short, tapering down to one digit. Her left leg had to be amputated when she was an infant. Ernie focuses her training on underused muscles and works especially hard on keeping her hip, leg, knee and ankle strong and stable.
Stephanie told me that Ernie’s training program has translated into a dramatic improvement in her performance.
In the last year, the fiercely competitive athlete entered her first international competition — the Huntsman Cup in Utah.
How did she do?
How does three gold medals and a bronze sound?
Stephanie is a talented skier who is on track for the 2014 Paralympics to be held in Russia. Her ability has led her to be competing above her age level.
She is not limited by her lack of a full left arm, nor by her lack of a left leg.
She can, however, be limited by funding.
It is not an inexpensive endeavor Stephanie has undertaken. Unlike the professionals, USOC and corporate sponsors that dominate the Olympic games, the Paralympics have no such financial backing in place. Several fundraisers have been held, but money can become a limiting factor.
In today’s sports environment, we glorify steroid bloated baseball bashers, but sometimes true sports heroes are here at home.
Stephanie is getting help with her training thanks to the generous spirits of the before mentioned Ernie Ball, who trains her at no charge. Larry Danko has shown his heart fills his massive chest by allowing Stephanie pro bono use of his first class facility. We are the valley with a heart and it is my hope that we adopt Stephanie’s journey as our own.
The news continues to give us many people to be ashamed of — Stephanie Jallen is someone of whom we can be very proud!
I do not think of Stephanie as a handicapped athlete.
I don’t think of her as a special needs person.
When she wins the gold at the Paralympics, I won’t think of her as a Paralympic Medalist.
She is — Stephanie Jallen, Athlete; Stephanie Jallen, Champion.
************The information contained herein is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or disorder. The posting and videos do not apply to those with an underlying medical or hormonal condition. I advise anyone embarking on a weight loss and fitness plan to have a thorough medical evaluation. You want to be sure that you are physically able to exercise and you don’t have any underlying medical conditions No guarantees are made or to be implied.************