Never Surrender: Recovering From a Decade-Long Health Battle

Dec 17, 2015
Ashley Ann Lawrie

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The day Fiona Chalmers lifted more than her body weight at Free Form Fitness marked more than just a personal best.

It was a personal health triumph, over a medical condition that had ravaged the 47-year-old’s body during a decade-long battle.

In 2003, Fiona was diagnosed with Graves’ disease. This auto-immune disorder results in the over production of thyroid hormones (a.k.a. hyperthyroidism.)

Fiona suffered “pretty much every symptom,” including an accelerated metabolism that caused her heart to beat too fast, which made it difficult to even climb stairs. By the time she was diagnosed, she had suffered such weight loss she looked anorexic, despite eating extra meals. Medication to treat Graves then led her to pack the weight back on in the form of fat, while the condition stripped away much of her muscle mass.

An aggressive drug regimen that included radioactive iodine treatment to shut down part of her thyroid finally pushed the condition into remission in 2011.

It still took two more years of careful monitoring before her doctor gave Fiona permission to return to the gym in earnest.

Prior to 2003, Fiona had always been active, practicing aquafit, aerobics, Tai Chi and working out at a gym. During her battle with Graves, she was forced to scale all that back to only yoga. As she began to recover, Fiona eased herself back into a fitness routine, by continuing with yoga and trying to get her core strength back with ab attack classes.

But it was being able to start weight training in September 2013 that got her back on the road to recovery. Fiona began with a personal trainer at one of the big fitness chains and followed that trainer when he joined the team at FFF’s Glebe location.

Today, she trains at least three times a week at FFF in addition to other physical activities. Her primary trainer is David Maranger, backed up by trainer Joey Blais.

Not only has her fitness routine helped with her physical recovery, it’s a management tool for two other conditions that Fiona battles – anxiety and depression.

“I’ve been in remission (from Graves) for over four years and I’m the strongest I’ve ever been, physically and emotionally,” Fiona said. “I owe this success in part to David and Joey.”

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Her new creed

It’s become Fiona’s new creed. She is hyper-vigilant about keeping to a regular routine of fitness, eating healthy, taking the right kinds of supplements to fuel her body, and always making time to warm up and stretch to avoid injury.

“Health is everything,” she said. “When I retire, I don’t want to be crumpled up in a wheelchair – I want to be active and explore the world.”

She doesn’t let anything stop her, not even a torn Achilles tendon. When she started to develop arthritis in her hands, Fiona consulted with a physiotherapist to learn a taping technique so she could still lift weights.

Fiona recently lost her job as an IT project manager and is looking at where else she can apply her skill set for a career change. When he heard the news, Joey added a new stress-relieving element to her program – boxing.

“I absolutely love it,” Fiona said. “The gym has become my happy place. You can leave your troubles at the door. These are great people here and they have become an important part of my support system.”

That’s because, unlike that other gym where she used to train, Fiona has found that the FFF philosophy focuses on much more than just an exercise routine.

“You come here, they assess, develop a program, and then regularly reassess to tweak the program,” she said. “They coach you in nutrition, which I found little of in a big gym. FFF cares for the whole person, mind, body and spirit, which fits with my lifestyle.”

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