SIDNEY — Members of the Sidney-Shelby County YMCA LIVESTRONG class are now graduates of the program. They met Tuesday for their graduation ceremony, celebrating both their progress and the tight-knit community they formed during the 12-week program.
LIVESTRONG is a research-based program at the Y for adult cancer survivors. The program focuses on the person, not the disease, promoting physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. Members can join the program free of charge and are given a complimentary three-month membership to the YMCA for them and their family.
Aside from physical exercise, the group dedicates time to talking about their experience. “The support is unreal,” Deb Rothgeb said as she accepted her graduation certificate. “Everyone is fighting the same battle.”
While anyone can empathize with these survivors, only they can truly understand each other’s struggles. The relationships formed over the course of the program are equally important to the physical improvements.
The physical progress made by the graduates is impressive. When Roy Gibson joined the program, chemotherapy had left him unable to tie his own shoes or button his Sunday shirt. At graduation, however, he’s not only able to tie his shoes and do his buttons again, but far more.
“Five minutes (on the treadmill) and I was sucking air, but I can walk for a half hour now,” Gibson said. “I can walk for miles.”
Gibson said he went from spending 16 hours on the couch prior to the program to mowing the lawn and helping neighbors without problem.
The strength, flexibility, and balance training are supplemented by the personal connections the members made as they persevered together to create powerful bonds that go beyond the 12-weeks the program runs for. The graduates plan to meet once a week after the program to continue their support.
“We did it, guys,” said program instructor Sally Barker as “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor played in the background. Barker is a cncer survivor, and she said it makes it easier for her to understand the others who she leads in the course. She said that of all the improvements she’s seen, the biggest is their self-esteem.
“They have met people and bonded with people so quickly. It’s amazing,” Barker said.
The first graduating class of LIVESTRONG showed the potential of the program. The group of friends dancing and laughing together at their graduation were complete strangers at the beginning of the course just three months earlier. They don’t let their disease define or control them. The LIVESTRONG program is now available in 42 states and has helped 62,446 survivors across the country improve their lives.
“I’m making progress through the help of the Y,” Gibson said, “And I’m very grateful. Very grateful.”
The writer is a summer intern for the Sidney Daily News.