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October 18, 2019

This place, these people have helped change my life

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Veterans arrive early, some at 5:30 a.m. when the automatic sliding doors open each weekday.

With quiet determination, they go about the business of extending their lives while closed-captioned NBC, Fox and MSNBC share and interpret news on three muted flat screens along the south wall.

Out the second-story windows, they catch glimpses of parking lot trees and the Holiday Inn Express & Suites as the sun rises and the rest of Warrenton comes to life.

Here, one rarely sees Spandex, tank tops or yoga pants. Baggy and sensible workout clothing dominates. Nobody flexes, preens or seems to care what anybody else thinks.

Some use canes or walkers to make their way among 55 devices designed to raise heartbeats and tone muscles — treadmills, bikes, elliptical contraptions, cross trainers, rowing machines and weight-lifting stations.

Although the adjacent exercise class studio has a wall of mirrors, the main room has none. Even as the group grows to a couple dozen with the sun’s ascent, the decibel level seldom rises above that of quiet conversation.

With occasional breaks to greet a fellow member or to grab a drink of water, they focus intently on the metal, rubber and vinyl machinery.

Some started in physician-prescribed rehabilitation programs; others simply chose this among the area’s many fine gyms.

For me, this place presented a fork in the road of life.

Two months after minimally-invasive heart valve repair surgery, I for the first time walked into the Fauquier Health Wellness Center off Walker Drive in Warrenton.

Kim, one of six registered nurses who would provide counsel and supervision through 36 cardiac rehab workouts, conducted my intake interview in mid-July.

I “graduated” just after 8 a.m. Thursday.

Along the way, thousands of calories burned and my abused body regained some of the tone lost to decades of keyboard work and abundant food and drink.

Even as my metabolism slowed and my weight rose in recent years, I remained physically very active. But, as I again have learned, 25 years after abandoning 6 a.m. cross-training classes, nothing replaces intensely-focused exercise. For me, the two-mile walk each morning and frequent outdoor work, including firewood cutting, failed to keep up with what feels like the Earth’s increasing gravitational pull.

So, approaching 63, I began to focus on nothing more than attempting to survive and then to defeat 11 different machines each morning, three days a week:

• 15 minutes of interval walking on a treadmill, with grade and speed building to a peak and then declining.

• 10 minutes standing at “The Beast,” an arm cycle.

• 10 minutes on a “standing elliptical,” the most challenging part of my workout.

• 10 minutes on a Nu Step cross trainer, again pumping arms and legs.

• 10 minutes on a rowing machine.

• A brisk pass through six weight-lifting stations.

A fourth screen hangs on that south wall — displaying each cardiac rehab patient’s electrocardiograph, delivered by portable transmitters hung from our necks or tucked into t-shirt pockets, with three leads connected to each of our torsos.

“The Scoreboard,” I call it.

Before starting at 7 a.m. (when the building’s physician arrives downstairs), a nurse checks blood pressure. That happens again amid intense exercise and at the workout’s end. Readings too high or too low mean you sit, drink more water and relax.

These people know their stuff. They counsel, cajole, joke and motivate in ways that leave no marks, but their methods work.

So, for more than an hour each time, I’ve attempted to block out the world and to focus on nothing more than my breathing, my pulse and the sweat-soaked physical challenge of the moment.

Around me, therapists and nurses work individually with people recovering from a range of physical challenges. Some tote oxygen tanks. Some wear headbands with electrodes attached. Some, wearing leg braces, work to climb one step. Some stretch and use free weights. All focus and, to me, seem courageous, determined.

Linda Costello, who manages the center, and the five other nurses who worked with me — Hank, Kim, Laurie, Ruth and Scott — have my deepest gratitude. I’ll never forget how they have helped me take greater control of my health.

So, I will join those other white-haired warriors Monday morning, with a plan to return well before dawn three mornings a week for as long as I can.

This won’t work for me as a casual thing. The last few months have taught me that I must exercise intensely to battle the forces of nature and bad habits that I refuse to abandon.

Extemely grateful, I have a chance.

Down about 20 pounds since surgery in May, do I have the discipline?

Contact Editor “Lou” Emerson at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-1845.

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To comment, please log in or register. · October 25, 2019 at 11:27 am
Well done. I share this experience. At 31, I was the youngest in there. They helped me escape fear. To fight and recover. 33 percent chance of resolving cardiomyopathy. We did. This team is outstanding. Now, Lou, you are an inspiration to me! Thank you for sharing.
Truepat · October 21, 2019 at 10:03 am
I'm glad you are doing well, stay strong....
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