Member Spotlight: Tom Y.

This week, we caught up with AHWC member Tom Yaeger! Read on to learn more about his inspiring story.

I started working at the University of Colorado in 1998, back when it was located at Colorado Boulevard and 9th Avenue. I became a member of the Wellness Center as soon as it opened. Still, for years, I went without taking full advantage of the gym; you know, the occasional visit, with no real direction. I kept telling myself that I needed to change, but I never saw what was to come, and change it did.

Tom LiftingI started to feel noticeably sick in August 2017; at that time, my weight was 239 lbs. I smoked daily and drank way too often. My blood pressure was extremely high and I was a borderline type 2 diabetic. As I started to feel sicker every day, I figured I needed to quit smoking and return to the gym. I managed to quit smoking and I began to get to the gym, but I just had no energy. Then things got progressively worse, which ended with a diagnosis of chronic kidney disease (CKD). Needless to say, this kind of news is life changing, but was I too late? After all, I was already chronically ill, so what difference would it make now? But then I thought, I am only in my mid 50s and I am already this sick; yeah, things can and will only worsen. I knew I had to try to quit all my bad habits, change my diet and most of all, start working out again. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I had to commit to doing whatever it took to change.

I decided to try personal training at AHWC. I was paired with Emily and she was great. She took the time to discuss my fitness level, was sensitive to my condition and planned our workouts accordingly. Looking back from where I am now, I had no idea how sick I was. In the beginning, my workouts were light and slow, and sometimes I would get lightheaded and dizzy from doing an exercise and then would have difficulty walking back to my office after training, but I refused to quit. Those early sessions were not about improving my fitness, they were about slowing down my rate of decline. I worked with Emily throughout my disease progression and treatments. When I started dialysis, my energy level rose and our sessions got a little easier. My health was no longer in sharp decline and I was better able to maintain my workouts. My determination and weekly sessions with Emily gave me the strength to complete the medical requirements to get on the kidney transplant list. This process was challenging; just don’t quit, light, slow and consistent, I would tell myself. I continued my sessions with Emily every week when I was on dialysis. Then, in late September 2020, I got lucky and was notified that I was selected for a kidney transplant.

After a successful surgery, I had a three-month recovery period, but as soon as I got clearance from my doctor, I was back at the gym. I continued working with Emily, but this time things were noticeably different. I started making progress in my conditioning, and relatively quickly, it was as if my body remembered all the hard work I put in prior, but now was able to build on it. But just as things were going well, I had a freak accident and broke my hip, resulting in a hip replacement. And just like that, I had to go through yet another 12-week recovery, and this one proved to be much more difficult. Again, as soon as I was approved, I was back at the gym. Emily looked at me, shook her head, smiled and said, “I guess we are just going to have to work on rebuilding strength and mobility back into that hip.” Back to the slow and light, this time with pain, stay consistent and just don’t quit, I said to myself.

Tom PTWorking with Emily through all my crazy ups and downs over the last three years kept me focused and on track as I slowly progress at my own pace. Working with a personal trainer also taught me to look at fitness differently. I realized it’s not about getting fit, it is learning how to be fit, which can be learned, just like any other life skill. After all, if you think about it, your fitness level is just a measurement of how consistent you are at practicing the skill of being fit. Through thoughtful training and repetition, Emily showed me how to improve that skill. Once I realized this, goals became much more meaningful and achievable. I realized they are not an endpoint, but just an activity in which I improved on, or in my case, walking normally again after a hip surgery.

Being a member of the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center (AHWC) continues to have a tangible impact on my life. I am a firm believer in having a personal trainer. Sure, I could have tried to do it all by myself, but Emily keeps me consistent and progressing. Now over three years later, and just in the last month, I’ve achieved three personal bests: I ran four miles, did a 20-mile bicycle ride and dead-lifted 220 lbs. But by far, the most important: I lost 65 pounds, my A1c is back to normal without a statin drug, and I was able to get off all my blood pressure meds. I guess it wasn’t too late after all. I just turned 59 years old and I am still surprised of my transformation. I encourage people to go to the gym (don’t wait until you get sick). AHWC is a great gym, I cannot speak highly enough about it – a game-changer for me. Take advantage of all the great services they offer; I started a spin class, and I am loving it. Remember, fitness is not an endpoint; it’s a lifestyle, light, slow and consistent. Just don’t quit.

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