Premier Member Spotlight
Bob Garbark: An Amazing Journey
Bob Garbark has had an amazing journey. The 47 year-old Cleveland-area native seems to have cheated death repeatedly. The first time was when, as a 16 year-old high school football player, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Six months of 1984 were spent undergoing radiation treatment and dealing with losing weight and hair. Bob was reportedly in remission, but in another six months, a lump in his armpit signaled a reoccurrence. This led to more chemo and radiation and loss of more hair and weight.
Working out—specifically weight training—has always been a big part of Bob’s life. Ironically, he discovered a swollen lymph node while working out in high school. The first thing he did in 1988 upon moving to Tallahassee was find a gym and start lifting. It was a way for him to recover his strength following lymphoma treatment. Bob said, “My workout is my way of judging how I’m feeling, by how my workout goes.” This would be proven true several times in the future.
One of the side effects of the radiation was pre-cancerous changes to the lining of Bob’s esophagus. This led to surgery on his stomach and esophagus. Once again, another life-threatening situation was dealt with. Once again, as soon as possible, Bob was back in the gym.
In between health crises, Bob graduated from Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy, worked for the Leon County Sheriff’s Office for 10 years and the Department of Homeland Security nearly as long. He’s been married for 24 years and has two kids, 16 and 21. He’s a devoted son to his mom, and brother to his six siblings, as well as a favorite uncle to his nieces and nephews.
In 2010, while preparing for shoulder surgery, heart problems were discover—more residual effects of the lymphoma treatment. Instead of shoulder surgery, Bob had his aortic and mitral valves replaced. For a while he thought his problems were finally behind him. He returned to Premier and resumed his workouts. Extreme fatigue, shortness of breath and the inability to recover from exercise sent Bob back to his cardiologist. Extensive heart muscle damage led him to Shands Hospital at the University of Florida for evaluation for heart transplant. Heart failure was deemed too advanced for Bob to leave the transplant center and he spent all-but three weeks of 14 months there awaiting a new heart. In the early hours of March 14, 2014, Bob received the heart of a 20-year-old young man, killed in a traffic accident. One more time Bob Garbark and his family were relieved that his life had been spared. That relief was short-lived.
An infection in his sternum or breast bone kept Bob at Shands with his chest remaining open. Anxious months of treatment with powerful antibiotics and the hyperbaric chamber followed. Reflecting on yet another brush with death, Bob says, “I was right on the edge.” In late-May he returned home, central IV line and wound vac still in place, for another 5 weeks of treatment.
Finally, in January 2016, Bob was cleared to return to Premier and to work part time. One of his sisters, Premier Health & Fitness Center Aerobics Coordinator, Beth Cully visited during his recovery. “When you get better, I’ll get you back to Premier,” she promised. In a barley audible voice, Bob said, “I wan’na lift.” While glad to be back in the weight room, early workouts were rough. “I had no strength and still don’t have much stamina,” he said. Beth’s promise to get Bob in Premier went even further when he was hired as a part time Fitness Monitor.
Weekday mornings find a happy, healthy and very grateful Bob Garbark working around the center where he’s a favorite of colleagues and members alike. He beams when talking about Premier Health & Fitness Center, “I love it here. Premier has been like a second family to me. Everyone’s been so friendly and supportive.” Every shift is followed by a workout. “Before I started working here, my workouts were hit and miss. Now, I don’t think I’ve missed one.”
Susan reached a point in her life where she realized she was missing out on things she enjoyed because she had no stamina. She struggled to step up onto curbs. She had low self esteem. She realized it was time to get help. She started her journey to live well through therapy, gastric bypass surgery and other key life changes. Her gastric bypass surgery took place in 2010. Within the first year and a half Susan lost over 100 pounds. Exercise and a healthy diet helped her to lose more and more weight. However, medical issues including surgery arose and that got her off track. She noticed her weight beginning to fluctuate again.
In 2013 Susan moved to Tallahassee and got a great new supporter in her weight loss journey: Simone, the poodle. As a puppy, Simone needed to be trained and walked often which allowed Susan more opportunities to exercise regularly. Simone was also a great companion and soon Susan relied on her wonderful new friend for comfort instead of turning to food. She began losing weight again.
When Susan learned about the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital’s Bariatric Program she was eager to meet with Dr. Kelley Lang for an evaluation and assessment of her progress. Dr. Lang as well as the dieticians on staff at the TMH Bariatric Center reviewed and revised Susan’s food choices and caloric intake. They discussed a plan for Susan to begin more formal exercise.
Since the TMH Bariatric Center offered a special membership at Premier Health and Fitness Center, Susan decided to join the gym and work with certified personal trainer, Christine Morse. “Christine is very knowledgeable and experienced,” Susan observes. “Working with Christine is making a big difference in my metabolism and mental well being.” In addition to working with a trainer, Susan avails herself of Premier’s many amenities. “I enjoy working out on my own and swimming as well as using the steam room, sauna, and hot tub,” she says. “Premier Health is the first gym I’ve ever enjoyed going to. It is a place [where] I want to exercise…rather than a place I dread.”
These days Susan is still very active with Simone. She takes Simone to the dog park almost daily. Walking is easier and more enjoyable for her now. So far she has lost an additional 50 pounds since moving to Tallahassee. That brings her grand total to over 150 pounds lost! Susan is encouraged by the fact that she is fitting into smaller clothes. She went from a size 28 to a size 16. She is also noticing increased muscle and overall strength. Most importantly, Susan notices that she just feels better. From dog walks to sessions with her trainer to her own workouts in the gym, Susan has found that exercise has a tremendously positive effect on her life. And that, more than anything is what makes her feel so successful. Way to go, Susan!
If you are a member at Premier Health and Fitness, chances are you know Steve Sullivan. He is the one who goes up and down the stairs saying hello to everyone he meets. You may think he is on his way somewhere, but Steve’s secret to success is that Premier staircase. He goes up and down and up and down and this is his workout!
Steve joined Premier Health and Fitness Center in December 2014 after Legends Fitness Center closed down. Prior to working out at Premier, Steve had worked out at Legends for over 20 years. When he started at Premier his primary exercise was walking quickly on the treadmill for 1.5 to 2 hours, seven days a week. Over time he started to realize that climbing stairs and walking on the track provided much needed variety to his regular routine. He began a regimen that included hundreds of flights of stairs as well as a succinct weightlifting routine. Steve found that climbing actual stairs was more effective for him than using a cardio machine such as a Stairmaster. As a result he has lost about 40 pounds over the past year!
One of Steve’s primary motivators for exercising so dutifully is the data tracking of his beloved Fitbit. His daughter Debbie got him a Fitbit for Christmas in 2014 and he was hooked. Steve tracks his step count and calorie count and he is always thrilled to see his progress in black and white. In a day, Steve walks roughly 25,000 steps, most of that on the Premier stairs. That’s about 14 miles a day! According to his Fitbit he is burning over 4,000 calories and ascending over 200 flights of stairs daily. Over the course of a typical week Steve’s Fitbit reports over 150,000 steps, 80 miles, 800 flights of stairs and over 25,000 calories burned. Much to his delight, Steve recently got his one year Fitbit information and the totals are astounding: 8 MILLION steps and 1.2 MILLION calories burned! Over 24,000 flights of stairs were climbed and he walked over 4,100 miles. Those are some impressive stats, Steve!
For those who struggle with setting and achieving goals, Steve highly recommends the Fitbit. “It gives you badges that you earn,” he says. For example, Steve’s Fitbit recently indicated that he had walked enough miles to traverse the Nile River: 4,132 miles!
If you happen to pause to talk to Steve you’ll see how ecstatic he is about exercise and the positive impact it has had on his life. Since starting this daunting regimen, Steve has noticed several changes in his body and life in general. He has noticed that through a combination of climbing stairs and walking briskly he can maintain his weight easily. He also notes, “This type of exercise makes you feel better and is great for your heart health.”
Steve always has an encouraging word for all of us to get up and move a little more: "I think it is important that we exercise daily. I exercise daily even when I'm at Disney World. I find a set of stairs at Disney World and I do my exercises. I would encourage everybody to do a little bit every day." So when you pass by Steve Sullivan on the stairs at Premier be sure to congratulate him on all his hard work and success. He’ll have a friendly smile and a “How are ya?” waiting just for you. And just maybe you’ll feel a little more motivated to take an extra flight of stairs yourself.
Juanita Andreu - The Poster Girl for Diabetes Management
When she was called, “the poster girl for diabetes management,” Juanita Andreu laughed and said, “Yes I am!” The 62-year-old public health nurse (who in no way looks her age) has been managing type I diabetes for 44 years. “I was 18 and in my first year of nursing school. I was practicing injecting an orange and practicing injecting myself.” Early on in her journey, she was told, “If you don’t take care of your diabetes, it’ll take care of you.” She got the message. “Everything revolves around it,” she said. “I test my blood sugar eight times a day and adjust my insulin pump according to what it says and what I’m doing. I count [carbohydrates] and practice portion control.”
Juanita’s diabetes, type I, is an autoimmune disorder, also known as juvenile diabetes, because it so often appears in children and teens. The cells in the pancreas that normally produce insulin fail to do so. Insulin is a hormone which allows all the body’s cells to take in blood sugar or glucose. Without enough insulin, blood glucose levels rise. This excess glucose can damage many tissues, including kidneys, which can lead to kidney failure; nerves (including the brain); and the lining of blood vessels, leading to heart and vascular disease; as well as damage to the eyes, that can lead to blindness. People with type I diabetes must monitor their blood glucose levels continually. Juanita does this by sticking a finger and using a glucose meter. Based on the blood glucose level, she may need to administer insulin. This has been done for decades by injection. In recent years, automatic insulin meters have been developed. Juanita uses one of these small, wearable devices to deliver insulin directly into her blood stream. She maintains a fairly constant glucose-insulin balance, which is critical. Hypoglycemia, or very low blood glucose, can result from too much insulin, not enough to eat or too much exercise. Hyperglycemia, or very high blood glucose, can be caused by not enough insulin, too much food, illness, inactivity or stress. If left untreated, both conditions can be life-threatening. All-the-more reason to manage this disease contentiously.
Juanita manages her diabetes very contentiously. A member of Premier Health & Fitness Center since 2007, she exercises daily. She enjoys water aerobics classes in the morning and walks for 30 minutes each evening. This dedication to exercise, along with frequent monitoring, insulin management and great nutrition, have allowed her to avoid complications, while remaining slim, fit and healthy.
Diane Cuccio thought she was just signing up for personal training. She wound up with much more. Diane read one of Certified Health/Fitness Specialist, David Wheeler’s blog posts on maintaining muscular strength and endurance in aging. Something in the article resonated with her. She called David and made an appointment for a complimentary consultation and workout. After purchasing some sessions, they set appointments and began meeting weekly.
Early in their work together, David noticed considerable difference in strength, particularly in the calf and hip flexors, on Diane’s right side. “My massage therapist says it’s because I’m out of alignment. I’ll be seeing her soon,” she said. “What does your physician say about it?” David asked. “I haven’t really discussed it with him,” Diane replied. David urged her to do so, saying, “I don’t want to frighten you. Still, when I was an exercise science major 30 years ago, I read an article about a group of pathologists who examined the brains of people without a history of diagnosed stroke. They found evidence of undiagnosed strokes in enough brains to think it a significant finding. The point of the article was, if you have signs of a stroke, such as weakness on one side of the body, get it checked. A previous stroke would put you at increased risk of more.”
“After I saw the massage therapist, I showed improvement as she was able to align femur and hip socket so that my foot pointed forward instead of out to right. That I had improvement kept me in denial,” Diane said. While doing overhead presses with dumbbells, David also observed the right arm lagging behind the left one. He kept after Diane to discuss the situation with her primary care doctor. ”I was also going to a Pilates class during the same time period I was working out with David and the Pilates instructor also encouraged me to see my doctor and get a MRI. Basically I had two people telling me the same thing during the month of January. I got the MRI results on February 3rd,” she added. About a week later, David got a call from her, “I won’t be working out for a while,” she said. “I had an MRI which found a benign brain tumor. I’ll be having surgery next week.” She had finally taken David’s and her Pilates instructor’s advice and talked to her physician, who referred her to a neurologist. He ordered the MRI, which found the tumor and referred her to the neurosurgeon.
The MRI showed the tumor to be about the size of a golf ball and was pressing on the motor cortex (which controls voluntary movement) on the left side of her brain, thus affecting the right side of her body. The tumor was actually more the size of a racquetball (about 2¼ inches in diameter) and had likely been growing for 15 years. Diane learned that if the tumor had been allowed to continue to grow, it could have caused permanent paralysis. As it is, she will likely regain most, if not all strength on the affected side. Now, she’s eager to warn others, “The type of tumor I had is a meningioma. They are most often benign, slow growing and rarely diagnosed before causing symptoms which can include headaches, seizures, loss of peripheral vision, and weakness in arms and/or legs. If you have any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor and not be in denial like I was." The surgery went well. Six weeks after surgery, Diane returned to Premier to reactivate her membership. She found David in the weight room. He was amazed to see her looking so well. “Aside from the scarf covering her head, she looked just like she did the last time I saw her. It’s not what I’d expect for someone who recently had a brain tumor removed.” Diane said, “I am so appreciative for David's persistence in urging me to see my doctor quickly. As it turned out my symptoms worsened during the month after I was diagnosed and the date of surgery. Acting quickly really was the key to having a good outcome.”
Premier Member Cathy Levenson leads an amazingly full and inspiring life. In her roles as an FSU Professor of Biomedical Science and Neuroscience, and Course Director in Biochemistry and Genetics at the FSU Medical School, she has plenty of work on her plate. Amazingly, Cathy is a committed fitness enthusiast and manages to fit in multiple and varied workouts at the gym every single week.
Cathy has been interested in physical fitness her entire life. Her early participation in fitness and sports included playing varsity tennis in high school. She has continued in her love for that sport, playing tennis while in graduate school and now playing tennis at the Killearn Country Club. She is also an avid golfer, playing with her husband at Killearn.
Cathy studied for her PhD at the University of Chicago, spent time as a post-doctoral fellow in Gainesville, Florida and landed in Tallahassee about 1993. She joined Premier a few years ago and has stuck with it ever since.
No matter how committed we may be, we all do sometimes not quite feel like going in for a workout. When Cathy is not feeling motivated to go to the gym, she tells herself to go in anyway, and at least do half an hour to stay in the rhythm of getting in a regular exercise session. If she is very short on time, she may just do a 20 minute HIIT routine (high intensity cardio interval training). But, she says, once she gets to the gym, just being there in the gym environment often motivates her to work out longer.
Her vital research at FSU is likely to benefit many who need help. She is currently active in the study of the use of adult stem cells, from adult volunteers, to reduce a type of depression often associated with traumatic brain injury.
When asked what advice she might pass on to her fellow gym-goers, Cathy says, “Get a trainer!” She has worked with personal trainer Ann Ford Tyson at Premier since last fall. Cathy explains that working out effectively involves a continual learning process, and that a trainer can help. There is always something new to learn, and Premier has an enormous variety of equipment and possibilities. She also says that without the regular personal training sessions, she would be less likely to come to the gym on the days when she does not have an appointment scheduled.
One section of the gym which Cathy has explored with her trainer is the Hammer strength training area on the first floor. Many times, women are reluctant to even go into this section, as the machines look a bit different, the weight loads are set up in a different way than on many other machines, and it may not be as obvious how to use them as it can be with some of the other types. This can be a bit intimidating. Cathy says that without a trainer, she would probably never have even gone into the Hammer strength section. Now she uses that area all the time! Her favorite machine in that group is currently the T-bar row.
Cathy also values her family’s support in her fitness efforts. Her husband plays golf and tennis with her regularly and encourages her working out at Premier. Her daughter, age 9, is already active in ballet and loves to dance. Interestingly, her husband played on the Princeton University golf team, so he also has experience in the value of sports and fitness in his own life.
Cathy’s current fitness goals include building muscle and increasing lean body mass. She is truly a great role model for any of us here at Premier.
Contributed by Ann Ford Tyson
Her Life Transformed, She Now Helps Others Transform Theirs
Three years ago, Wanda Kane-Harris was a very unhappy lady. She had just moved to Tallahassee from Georgia and had no family or friends here. "I was depressed," she said, "and 40 pounds overweight." Two years ago, she joined Premier Health & Fitness Center. That's when the remarkable transformation began. "I've always been an outdoor person, not a gym person," she said, "but Premier has been so much help."
"When I first joined, I trained with (Fitness Coordinator) Angela Glenn. She set me up with an exercise plan." Weight training and classes, along with running and practicing good nutrition helped her lose those 40 pounds. Wanda wasn't through setting and reaching goals. A little over a year ago, at age forty, she completed her first half marathon. This year, she completed her first full marathon. "I realized I was the first female member of my family to run a marathon," said the youngest of 16 children. "It's significant too that I ran it just before my mother's 80th birthday. She has always encouraged me."
She's also found encouragement in what she calls her gym family. "The instructors really inspire me. So do all the friends I've made here." All this transformation and encouragement has led to a new career. Wanda has started edifyME, llc, offering life coaching and, as she says, "Empowering People to Empower Themselves."
Wanda's not the only member of the family who loves Premier. Her five- and seven-year-old children love our Play Care. "They also took swimming lessons last summer and they did so well, they're going to do it again this summer," she said. "They love Coach Angie (Fitness Coordinator, Angela Glenn)!" Her husband also works out at Premier, making it a true family affair. Her advice to other members, "Take advantage of all the resources there are here for you and your family."
Contributed by David Wheeler
Marcia Ryan is a very busy and athletic Premier member. An avid runner, she is also a teacher at Chiles High School here in Tallahassee, teaching special needs students. Marcia first became interested in fitness years ago, after her daughter was born. She first joined Plantation Club which later became Premier Health and Fitness as we know it today.
In her beginning workouts at Plantation, Marcia was working out but like many just starting out in fitness, without a plan. She watched the trainers in the gym, saw one that seemed like a good fit, and hired that trainer for personal training sessions. At this point Marcia learned how to lift weights effectively and began to truly learn how to run. One of the achievements she remembers with a great deal of joy is when she ran a full marathon in 4 hours and 16 minutes, only eight months after she started running! She now runs half marathons and is actively working on training for triathlons.
Marcia cites her first trainer as a wonderful mentor and friend, teaching her proper technique as well as explaining the hows and whys of exercise and how it affects the body.
Motivation to get to the gym and train can be hard for all of us. Marcia says that when she does not feel like going to the gym, she just looks in the mirror! That is enough to get her going. Marcia notes that she feels better both mentally and physically after every workout. While very busy, she puts physical activity among the top spots on her to do list.
Like many of us, Marcia experienced challenges in fitting workouts into a busy life. When her children were very young, fitting in gym workouts and runs was difficult. In addition her spouse was not always on board. Instead of giving up, Marcia met these challenges by working out most days at 5 am, and she continues to do so to this day.
Marcia’s current workout program comprises 6 days a week, with 2 days of weight lifting, swimming 3 times per week, and running 2 mornings before work. She also does a long run of 10 or more miles on the weekend. Other days she may ride a spin bike or bike outdoors, but she does try to take one day of the week off as a rest day.
Marcia is currently training to participate in triathlons, and loves the cross training the sport demands. She says her fitness level has improved dramatically with this type of training routine.
She also credits her training with improving her energy level at work. As a teacher of special needs students, Marcia does not have time to be tired! She takes her passion for fitness right into her classroom. Her students work out with weights and run up to 6 miles per week on the track. She and her students participated recently in Premier’s Walk for Remembrance and are getting ready now for the upcoming Special Olympic Torch Run in April. Premier has partnered with Marcia’s class and has them come in several times a year for fun and fit activities.
Marcia likes this quote to sum up the passion she has for both her fitness training and for her work with her students: “Do what you love, and love what you do.”
Contributed by Ann Ford Tyson
Psychotherapist Finds Her Own Therapy in Running
After a particularly stressful day at work, Merisha Johnson decided to go for a run. She found it to be the best stress reliever. Twenty years later the Licensed Mental Health Counselor still finds running her place of peace. Born in Homestead, Florida, she grew up "all over," depending on where the Air Force sent her father. Since 2009, Merisha has been a member of Premier Health & Fitness Center. "Oh, I love this place!" she said. "With all the amenities, from the pools to the basketball court to all the great classes, there's just so much to do."
In 2010, Merisha participated in a health screening at Premier. Wellness Coordinator, David Wheeler was amazed at the results of her lipid profile. "The screening device we used only measures high density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C; the so-called good cholesterol) up to 100 mg/dL. Hers was off the scale. I asked her, 'Are you a runner?' Whenever I see numbers like that, it's usually in someone who does a huge volume of cardiorespiratory exercise. And Merisha really looks like a runner." So, what is her actual HDL-C score? "I just had lab work for my annual physical and it was 126," she said. By way of reference, 40 is considered good and 60 is considered desirable. High HDL-C actually helps lower the risk for cardiovascular disease. It removes low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) that can stick to artery walls and transports it to the liver where it's reprocessed. It also cleans the artery walls and helps keep them healthy. "We're not sure how but cardiorespiratory or aerobic exercise can really drive up HDL, especially in high volume," said David. Volume of exercise is a function of intensity, duration and frequency. Her diet also contributes to her healthy lipid profile. "I've been a pescetarian (a vegetarian that only eats fish) since the age of 15," said Merisha.
Certified to teach indoor cycling, Merisha was recently hired to teach the 6 AM Keiser Kardio class on Mondays. "The class is very high-energy and lots of fun," she said. "It's great cross training for my running." So, is she a competitive runner? "I used to be," she said. "Now, running is really just my sanctuary. The only event I do now is an annual run across Georgia to raise money for House of Heroes, an organization that does home repair and remodeling for veterans and their families. I'm part of an eight-person relay team. We each run about 30 miles to cover the 260-mile route." Premier Health & Fitness Center is proud of Merisha's involvement with this great cause and we're thrilled to have her on our team.
Contributed by David Wheeler
Premier Member Spotlight : Devaun Koski
Devaun Koski is an amazing 17 year old. Originally from Tallahassee but spending many of his early years in Calgary, Canada, where hockey is practically a lifestyle, he was playing hockey by 2nd grade. Devaun played hockey avidly in Calgary until 6th grade, when his family then moved back to Tallahassee, Florida. While Tallahassee is filled with beautiful live oaks and Spanish moss, as we know, it has a dearth of that which is vital to any hockey player, ICE. As time went on Devaun's passion for hockey led him to pursue playing in the nearest possible venue, Jacksonville, Florida. At this time, Devaun often commutes to Jacksonville several times a week and practices when the rink at the Jacksonville Ice and Sportsplex is available.
Hockey is a physically demanding sport, requiring both muscular strength and agility. Devaun typically must wear equipment weighing 25-30 pounds while playing. Since Devaun is a goalie, his role also demands lightning fast reflexes and flexibility. In order to gain strength, gain muscular weight, practice agility, and find the ideal trainer to help him pursue his passion for this sport, Devaun joined Premier in early 2014. He soon connected with Premier trainer Howell Tucker, known by many as "Tuck." One of Tuck's major fitness training specialties is sports training and conditioning for young athletes.
Devaun is enthusiastic about both Premier and his personal fitness trainer Tuck for his off-ice training. He is a fan of Premier's extended hours, which enable him to potentially practice both before and after school. One huge benefit, he says, is that fact that Premier provides him with basically every type of strength training equipment he could possibly need. He also uses
the sauna for stress relief as he is a busy high-school student and budding athlete whose time is filled with many demanding activities. The hot tub is effective in helping him with muscle flexibility. The Tropical Smoothie Cafe even plays a role, providing nourishing protein shakes for post-workout replenishment. Devaun says he is enjoying and benefiting from all of the varied amenities that Premier offers him.
In addition to training at Premier, Devaun makes the frequent treks to Jacksonville to practice reaction ball training and agility training, sometimes as early as 4 am. The Jacksonville facility also provides specialized stretching machines which are of unique benefit to hockey players. Goalies must not only react extremely fast, but often have to do nearly a full split in order to block an incoming puck.
Devaun credits his parents and family for a great deal of support and encouragement. He is also grateful to his Calgary hockey mentor, Coach Lindblad. His mentor here at Premier of course, is his personal fitness trainer, Tuck.
Devaun's favorite professional hockey team is the Boston Bruins. He wants to pursue his passion for hockey next as a college student, and has applied to multiple universities with active hockey programs seeking an athletic scholarship in the sport.
Devaun has a great career ahead, with what we hope will be many more sports and fitness achievements to come. We at Premier wish him all the best as he pursues his future goals.
Contributed by Ann Ford Tyson