Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Child of the YMCA: My Y Story

Log Rolling changes the lives of a group of 10 year-olds at the Madison West YMCA

I’ve had some extraordinarily amazing opportunities, experiences, and accomplishments in my life and today is a great day to give credit where credit is deserved.  On Saturday November 10th, many folks from around southern Wisconsin are gathering at Smart Motors for the YMCA Healthy Living Dinner, which supports the YMCA financial assistance program.

Time for Me
My first experience at the YMCA was at the age of 6 months attending the “mommy and me” swimming classes at the Madison West location.  Little did my mom know at this time she was already succumbing to the symptoms of Huntington’s Disease, a genetically inherited neurological brain disorder which over a fairly short period of time robs one of the ability to walk, talk, chew and swallow, and function independently.  Over the next several years my mother went through various tests, all while attending family swim with my dad and me.  When I was five years old, those tests and a location of her family history confirmed the devastating suspicions that Huntington’s Disease was in our family.

Rather than dwell on the negative, which included my mom’s grim future along with my 50 percent chance of also carrying the defective gene which causes Huntingotn’s Disease, both of my parents were determined to live life to the fullest and give me the most normal life possible.  This is where the YMCA came in.

Shortly after the diagnosis, my parents handed me a YMCA program guide and I was told I could choose anything I wanted to do after school.  With little hesitation I selected gymnastics, swimming, ballet, and log rolling.  Log rolling?  Yes, log rolling.
I thrived in gymnastics, stayed above water during swimming lessons, quickly learned grace and femininity were not my strongest traits in ballet, and found my passion in the unique lumberjack sport of log rolling.
YMCA Log Rolling coverage in the Wisconsin State Journal 1993

Everyday after school I had at least two or three hours packed full of activities.  This time was given to me intentionally by my parents: time to be me.  For when I returned home, I had to quickly transition into the roles of caregiver for my mother and homemaker for the house.  But these few hours everyday after school gave me the chance to cast my worries aside, laugh with friends, and thrive on what my body could accomplish.


After a few years of YMCA programming participation, it became clearer what I wanted to focus on as an athlete: gymnastics and lumberjack sports.  Given solid roots on the mats in the West YMCA gym, I transferred to Madtown Twisters Gymnastics for more serious competitive training.   However the YMCA still remained my home base for log rolling.  Many things in life were changing: things got harder at home and my mom had to move into a nursing home, I was a scared and confused pre-teen and teen, but my regular visits to the YMCA stayed the same and were a shining light on some very dark days.

In gymnastics I began to compete at the club level, followed by the high school level, which led to my collegiate pole vault scholarship for the University of Wisconsin Madison.  To this day I continue to flip and fly through the air while competing in various fitness competitions nationwide.

Through log rolling I was given the opportunity to travel all over the United States and Canada for competition.  Beginning at the age of twenty I was featured on the ESPN Great Outdoor Games and ESPN STIHL Timbersports Series for years to come.  I’ve taken home six lumberjack world titles and don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

Why did I do so well in these sports?  Both of my parents would agree it wasn’t natural talent, but the love for the sports, the people surrounding me, and the fun I had while training and competing.

A Profession

With the YMCA being my “comfort zone” it was no surprise I knew at a young age I wanted to stay in this fun environment for as long as possible.  On my way into the girl’s locker room I always passed a universal weight machine.  Finally one day I had my dad show me how to use it.  He soon saw my interest in muscles and fitness and began teaching me many things about becoming stronger and staying healthy.  The staff at the YMCA were also very helpful in answering my questions and letting me use the weight equipment.  The day my dad told me I could make a living helping other people exercise I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I stayed in this comfort zone and began working across the street at Supreme Health and Fitness; first as desk and playroom staff, and shortly after that as part of their fitness staff.  I continued coaching log rolling at the YMCA and working on fitness staff at Supreme throughout college.  I graduated with a degree in Kinesiology – Exercise Science and woke up smiling every day knowing my career was as a fitness professional and coach.  I thought I reached the stars after being hired as the Fitness Director for Supreme until in 2008 I was invited on as a Master Instructor for TRX Training.  This led to worldwide travel to present and educate other fitness professionals, writing, photo shoots, and more.  That lead to a position with the American Council on Exercise, and the growth continues.  On top of that, I started my own business with a fellow YMCA employee to add additional log rolling programs on Madison Lakes.  Every day of my professional career is a new adventure, and all of it maps back to my early days at the YMCA.

New Possibilities
But wait a minute.  If I’m the fitness director of another gym, why am I such a fan of the YMCA?  First of all, the YMCA is much more than a gym.  The YMCA brings communities together with its focus on healthy living, youth development, and social responsibility.   Whether it be through child care, volunteer programs, day camps, basketball, adapted fitness, or water safety training just about everybody has been involved with a YMCA.  Above and beyond all of this, the YMCA is always looking for new and unique programs and ideas.  Without YMCAs around the US, the sport of log rolling would be confined to a few small logging communities in the US and Canada and now, through the YMCA system, it continues to grow as a nationally known sport.  I’ve also had a fun time watching the growth of TRX suspension training and rip training programs at YMCAs around the world.  But most importantly, the YMCA is the only healthy lifestyle facility I’m aware of that will not turn anybody away based on their inability to pay.

We have a major problem in the United States.  Children do not have direction.  They become bored.  They don’t think they are good at anything.  This leads to gangs, drugs, and crime.  The quickly growing childhood obesity rate of over 20% is the icing on the cake.  The YMCA is fixing these problems from the bottom up by going in to all communities and giving children an opportunity to be a part of something and discover what they are capable of.

I cannot imagine my life today without the opportunities and experiences given to me by the YMCA.  I most definitely cannot imagine not having the opportunity to swim in a pool, roll on a mat, or learn how to play on a team with others.  This is why it is so important we support the YMCA.  Right now the demand is much greater than the finances the YMCA has to fulfill it, yet they are still not turning anybody away.

The YMCA will always be a charity I support, speak up for, proudly work for, and will do whatever I can to promote it’s growth and mission.  For more information about helping your local YMCA please visit:   

Thursday, October 25, 2012

TRX Rip AND Suspension Training with Shana and Peter!

Join us for our TEAM taught classes at Supreme Health and Fitness beginning November 13th - December 20th.  A GREAT way to stay in shape through the holidays.  And I promise we will have plenty of fun.  :)
Send me an e-mail at: to sign up!