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From Rock Bottom to Front of the Class

March 3, 2022
Debbie enjoys group exercise classes and making new members feel welcomeIf you have spent any time at the OrthoIndy Foundation YMCA, then you have most likely met Debbie. You can find her anywhere from group exercise classes to volunteering and everywhere in between at least five days a week. Debbie wasn’t always this involved, though. The sense of community she found at the Y is what grew her passion.

Grief Strikes

In January of 2019, Debbie’s daughter passed away, just hours after they had talked on the phone.
“Nothing prepares a parent for the loss of a child, but suddenly, my life was no longer ordinary,” says Debbie. “No warning – just an overwhelming shock.”
The grief hit Debbie hard. Her health and well-being hit rock bottom.
“My blood pressure was over stroke level,” says Debbie. "My blood sugar was so high that I required multiple daily insulin injections and my weight had ballooned to the point that I was told I needed to make drastic lifestyle changes or be prepared to face the consequences.”
Debbie knew her doctors were right about needing to exercise, but she describes herself as “the gal who did everything possible to get out of gym classes throughout school…” so the idea of going to a gym as an adult was intimidating.
“I told myself I could do it on my own, but found I would make excuses for not trying,” she says. “I was too tired. I was too sad. I would do it tomorrow. Any excuse I could make up would do.”

Debbie Finding the Courage to Make a Change

Debbie knew that she couldn’t continue this way. She needed to make a change.
“I would drive by, but it took several months before I cautiously walked in the Y doors here (at the OrthoIndy Foundation YMCA) for the first time,” she says. “I was surprised with what I saw. It wasn’t at all what I expected.”
She joined the Y that day, but it took several more trips through those front doors to break down the walls she had built around herself and find the confidence to try.
“I peeked into the classroom doors, looked at the exercise machines and even the walking track all the time thinking that I just couldn’t do that,” says Debbie. “I was wrong. Friendly, caring faces encouraged me to just try it, but I would quietly leave the building with my head down and lost in my own troubled thoughts. Something pulled me to come back, and each time I was greeted with smiles and warm welcomes. One day, I felt strong enough to try the walking track. There was nobody in sight. As I rounded the second corner of the track, I saw a group of walkers coming towards me. I realized I was doing it wrong. I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me, but they gently turned me around and welcomed me into their group. I walked several more laps with them talking all the way. I came back the next day and once again stood by the classroom door. The instructor saw me looking and waved to me to come in. They still smiled at me even when I was on the wrong foot or moving left when I should have stepped to the right. Soon I felt embraced by the Y family.”
The friendly, gentle encouragement of members and staff gave Debbie the confidence to get started.
“That’s the way it is here – we help each other, teach each other and strengthen each other,” she says.

Choosing an Active Lifestyle

Over the past couple of years, Debbie has drastically improved her overall health and well-being. She has now lost over 50 lbs. since joining and is off all of her medications due to her improved health.
“I smile now more than I cry,” she says. “I am thankful for the many blessings I have received in the short time I have been coming here. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to become a member of the Y family and I wish I had understood that the Y is so much more than just a gym. Some days the grief still overwhelms me and I need a shoulder to cry on or a hug of comfort. I get that support here too.”
Debbie completed the Heroes Health Hope 5K and encouraged friends along the wayNow, you can find Debbie in multiple group exercise classes daily, from Active Older Adult classes to her favorites - Hip Hop Step Aerobics and Zumba. Debbie doesn’t just take the classes, now, you can find her in the front row of some of the most difficult classes. She also completed the Heroes Health Hope 5K in the fall. But Debbie doesn’t stop there. You can find her welcoming new members to class and taking them under her wing.
“I hope to reach out and try to help that person who hasn’t walked through the doors yet, but needs us,” says Debbie. “Everyone needs friends and companionship and a safe place to find themselves in a better way. If you need a helping hand, a smile or a workout buddy – don’t be afraid. We are here for you!”

Giving Back

Now, Debbie has a mission to give back to the Y community that gave her so much. She volunteers regularly helping fold cleaning towels and keeping the wellness center picked up. She also has become instrumental in the annual Christmas food drive – helping with the collection, sorting and preparation of food boxes and gift cards for Pike Township and veteran families in need. The staff at the OrthoIndy Foundation YMCA have grown close to Debbie as she volunteers regularly.
“Ms. Debbie is not only here to better her health, but she is an amazing volunteer and part of our YMCA family,” says Leah, membership specialist at the Y. “She goes out of her way to help everyone and anyone. She is the absolute best! She also has more energy than anyone I know, taking multiple classes a day and nobody can hardly keep up with her. I want to be her when I grow up.”
Darian, the associate wellness director, describes Debbie as reliable, hardworking and determined to learn and go above and beyond the call of duty. The staff and members share a combined thank you to a valuable part of the Y family.

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