Circle Studio Pilates instructor Leslie Vanden Bos is also a terrific interviewer and freelance journalist. She shares client Linda Fitzgerald's encouraging story with us: “The biggest change for Linda has been the work we've been doing on her feet. As her flexibility and awareness has increased in her feet she's gained strength in her legs, and her low back is no longer bothering her. I think that's been the most inspiring thing about her work.”- Stacy Cohen, Circle Studio instructor
Ever since she was young, Linda Fitzgerald has faced physical challenges with her body. Linda describes her childhood as “kind of sickly,” and not at all physically active. She has always had trouble with her “terrible” feet. She has: “hammer toes, very large bunions, big toes that point towards the little toes, toes crossed over each other, dead feet – there was just no movement, they were rigid.” Linda started wearing foot orthotics in elementary school. She has chronic sprained ankle, and her knees and hips have bothered her throughout her adult life. At the age of 12, Linda had an appendectomy; the surgeon botched the procedure (in which her abdominal muscles were cut right across the middle), and she was bedridden for about six months. She lost all of her muscle tone, which she never gained back.
Despite these challenges, Linda came to Gyrotonic at Circle for another reason. Several years ago, Linda’s husband, who has Parkinson’s, attended the Pilates for Parkinson’s class at Circle Studio. Linda is her husband’s primary caregiver, and the mental and physical stress of the job was starting to take a toll. Linda says she came to Circle Studio in April of 2011, “hitting a brick wall – emotionally and physically, and I was desperate, I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I had to find something.” Gyro fit in with her limited window of time that she could leave the house, and offered her “more core strength and more upper body strength to be able to deal with caregiving.” Linda came to the Studio once a week, with a partner, for several months, and saw immediate benefits. However, just two months ago, her workout partner had to leave. Unable to find a new partner (and not willing to give up gyro), Linda began taking private sessions from Stacy. As Linda says, “that’s when we really started doing the work. Every little nuance of a movement Stacy could make about me – it makes all the difference in the world. So I think I’ve been doing privates for two months, and it’s been like six months of a duet or more.”
Having just completed a foot and ankle workshop, Stacy began introducing a new set of exercises to help Linda improve her feet. Linda says, “Stacy finally encouraged me to take off my socks, so we’ve been doing the foot exercises and leg exercises and I must say, I’m religious about them, I do them every day – usually more than once a day.” Linda’s works on her exercises at home, too, and while the routine isn’t lengthy – the exercises take her about 5-10 minutes – she says, “homework is hard. If I didn’t see that I was making progress I wouldn’t keep it up. Once I started with the feet I was so motivated that after a week I could see a difference and so that really motivated me to keep up with it.”
Linda has been steadily making progress and working towards the goals that originally brought her to Gyro, but the benefits she has seen have been even further reaching than she originally hoped. Her posture is better. Her knees don’t hurt. When she gardens, her lower back pain is no longer debilitating. When she walks her dog, she feels “more fluid.” In fact, she feels this benefit the most “close to the time I’ve had my session – it goes downhill as the week goes on.” The physical aspect of caregiving has improved: “I’m certainly able to lift my husband a lot more efficiently and safely – it seems like he’s gotten lighter.” Linda has also seen a connection between her Gyro practice and her mental well-being. She has “been trying to be a regular meditator all my adult life, with no luck, but since January – about eight months after I started gyro – I’ve been meditating almost every day. And that affects, of course, my total well-being.”
Linda’s feet have also seen a remarkable improvement. She says, “I now have flexibility where I didn’t have it before. I have periods of time when my toes are relatively straight. I’m getting more space between my toes and I’ve got more range of motion in them. For the most part I don’t have hammer toes anymore. I could never go barefooted, but now I’ve noticed that I’m taking my shoes off and walking around the house.”
Linda is very appreciative of all of the hard work that Stacy has put into helping her achieve her goals. Of Stacy, Linda says, “I can’t understand how she can notice the minutest nuances in how I am using my body. I mean, I guess it’s good training, but it’s also powers of perception. She’s personable, she’s fun to be with, she’s a hard taskmaster, and she doesn’t give up if I whine a little bit. She has an amazing knowledge of the muscular-skeletal system. One of my problems with my ankles is that I’ve somehow lost my stabilization muscles on one ankle, and although someone else diagnosed it, she was able to do a better job of working out specific things to do that were more helpful.”
Linda’s successes have not come easily – they have been the result of hard work, commitment, and patience. But, she says, “I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t done it.” And as if Linda’s story were not already inspiring enough, towards the end of our interview, Linda turned to me and said, “maybe I should mention that I’m not young, I’m 72.” Linda is determined to overcome the obstacles that she has faced throughout her life. “It’s never to late to start,” she says.