“There’s something going on here,” Mark said, then in his mid 20s, to his neurologist. “We’ve got to start running some tests.”
His hands felt numb.
When Mark was 11 years old, he suffered a stroke, which caused him to lose mobility, strength and muscle tone on the right side of his body — which he never gained back.
Then, during his mid 20s, things started getting worse; he lost all dexterity in his hands.
Initially, Mark’s neurologist thought his troubles were to be expected with aging. His muscles were tightening up, which seemed logical given his medical history, so the doctor recommended exercise to help loosen him up.
A few years passed, Mark continued to exercise, but his condition seemed to be getting worse. When he insisted tests be run, doctors discovered his spinal chord flipped over, five inches of it flattened to nothing, and a tumor.
Now, 54 years old and tumor-free, Mark has residual nerve damage, which left him with poor coordination, balance, a slow right side, headaches and muscle tension. To ease the pain, Mark is giving his doctor’s old advice another try at the Duanesburg YMCA.
“My wife and I both go,” Mark said. “On the days that I don’t want to do it she drags me, and on the days that she [doesn’t] want to go, I drag her along. We do it as a group.”
In the beginning Mark liked to ride the stationary bike in the Wellness Center, which was easier for him than walking. Although tunes sounded from the group exercise room next-door, Mark didn’t feel confident, yet, to join a spinning class.
Now, over one year after joining the Y, Mark regularly takes spinning classes. “She [Spinning Instructor Jill Cullen] knows my condition,” Mark said. “She knows what I go through every day; she helps motivate me and keeps me doing different things to increase the strength in my body.”
It’s a huge change from his past, exercising in the basement of his home. “I found it tough being by myself just to get myself motivated to get on the bike.”
There’s no reversing the nerve damage, Mark explained, but staying active and exercising regularly helps him get through the day more comfortably. By taking spinning classes, stretching and lifting weights, Mark is helping the muscles in his body to relax and function as efficiently as possible.
“If I wasn’t a member of the club and exercising every day like I am,” Mark said, “I’d probably be sitting home[…]basically wasting away at this point.”
Still, there are moments of difficulty for Mark. On days when his body feels particularly tense, he uses the left side (the stronger side) of his body, on the spinning bike or arm machine, to get the right side moving.
After class, while spending a few minutes stretching his muscles (on camera for the purpose of this story), Mark notices his friend Bill Blance, 79, across the room.
“You should really be doing a story on that guy,” Mark said, pointing to a fellow ROMEO (retired old men eating out) member. “He’s quite the character.”
The Duanesburg Y is not just a gym for Mark and many others, it’s also a community center, where friendships are made and people with similar goals — to stay vibrant, active and healthy — are brought together.
“Because of the Y, I’m working on keeping my body from fading away and deteriorating,” Mark said. “If it wasn’t for the Y and meeting the ROMEOs, I’d probably be doing a lot of time sitting home by myself and for that, it gets me out, gets me active and keeps me moving.”