Alone, humans often fail. But teamed up with a friend or a loved one, beautiful things can happen. This is one of those beautiful stories.
“My sister [Peggy Lawrence] has not only shown me what it means to be brave, but also has allowed me to love more deeply,” said Patti Biancardi Barth. “What a privilege it is to be her friend, sister and exercise partner.” Doctors diagnosed Peggy with multiple sclerosis 23 years ago, when she was 37 years old. MS is an unpredictable, often disabling disease that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body – potentially affecting functions ranging from walking to thinking. In an effort to build up her strength and minimize the effects of the disease, Peggy began exercising with Patti on a regular basis.
“When Peggy was first diagnosed we were rollerblading, bike riding and enjoying speed walking,” Patti said. Despite their best efforts, over the past 10 years, Peggy’s symptoms progressed, altering her lifestyle substantially. She is challenged with balance issues, spasticity, leg pain and stiffness.
“I am heartbroken as I watch her struggle with her daily activities,” Patti said. “We feel we are at a crossroads.”
Fortunately, in the past few years, two big developments have given Peggy and Patti good reasons to remain hopeful. The first was their decision, three years ago, to begin working out together at the Anytime Fitness gym in Merrillville, Indiana.
“We love the increased effort and enthusiasm when we partner during workouts,” Peggy said. My growth in strength and stamina has increased greatly.” The owner of the gym, Feras Musleh, impressed both Peggy and Patti with his “compassion, acceptance and enthusiasm.” And the sisters give credit to personal trainer Kevin Torok for dramatically changing their approach to exercise.
“He took the time to casually observe Peggy, to get to know us and to show us better techniques while working out, focusing on her challenges and targeting specific muscle exercises for her,” Patti said. “Kevin’s humor, expertise and his genuine interest in our increased fitness level lit a fire in us. We then scheduled three personal training sessions with him where he broke down three different workouts and was very detailed as to how – and why – we were doing these exercises.” Under Kevin’s guidance, Peggy and Patti learned how to maximize the efficacy of their workouts by pushing themselves out of their comfort zone.
“We currently rotate the three different workouts on a weekly basis,” said Peggy. “Then Kevin convinced us to participate in group training. It was at these sessions, we met personal trainers Demetrius Jackson and Nate Fowler. D and Nate bring their game to the group workouts. It is so much fun to work out in a group. We love it. D and Nate review exercise adaptions with me before class to ensure successful group participation. The group atmosphere brings energy, competitiveness and comradery to our workouts. Enthusiastic, educated personal trainers, music, and people who love working out together is the perfect recipe for success.”
The second big development that’s given Patti and her sister reason to be hopeful about Peggy’s future is a promising new treatment for multiple sclerosis: a stem cell transplant procedure which has demonstrated impressive results in halting the progression of MS and, in many cases, reducing many symptoms related to the disease.
“What I know is that the progression of this disease needs to stop,” said Patti. “We need this treatment to keep Peggy mobile and healthy. I love my sister dearly.” Peggy is scheduled to begin the treatment in a few months, but it’s not cheap – $60,000 – and not covered by insurance. More information about Peggy and the procedure that she’ll be undergoing is available on her YouCaring page.
Meanwhile, to prepare herself for the fight of her life, Peggy and Patti will continue to work out – together – three times a week at Anytime Fitness and once a week at a local swimming pool.
“Our weekly schedule fluctuates with family and work responsibilities, but we are committed to our health,” said Peggy. “I like exercising with medicine balls, kettle balls, TRX ropes – any exercise, really, as long as the music is loud. Our trainers have taught us a variety of workout strategies, targeting specific muscles repeatedly, to increase cardio and overall fitness. We are definitely stronger.”
Patti concedes that she and her sister are both tired at the end of a workout, but it’s “a very good tired.”
“Our physical and mental strength is increasing with every workout,” Patti said. “Peggy’s upcoming stem cell transplant is getting closer. Her fitness level will soar once she is wiped clean of MS. And that’s when she’s really going to shine. I can feel it.”
Teamwork. It’s a beautiful thing – and a powerful force.