Read this the next time you don’t feel like getting active…

Let’s face it, there are times that all of us really don’t feel like getting active. At these times we often just need a little reminder to get out there and live life to the fullest. This article is sure to motivate you to get active and enjoy the fact that you have the ability to be active. The article is by Pamela Peeke, MD – a wellness expert who works to assist people to achieve mental, nutritional and physical transformations for life. 

Everyday Fitness

with Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP

I’m fresh off the road after keynoting a string of back-to-back events. As I collapsed into my comfy chair and recalled these past weeks, there is one event that captured my heart and profoundly affected me. I gave the keynote at the annual Zumba instructors’ conference at the Orlando convention center and received their first Zumba Fitness International Role Model Award honoring my work as a global fitness leader.
The Zumba leaders also decided to give a second award to one of their own. I was expecting this person to be some lean, sinewy, tight and toned instructor who would salsa his/her way onto the stage to accept this prestigious honor. Instead, we were all gifted with someone who was a living miracle – Corina Gutierrez. I was blown away by this extraordinary young woman and I write about her now so that the next time you do my trademark BMW (bitch, moan and whine) when it’s time to get up and active, I want you to think about Corina.

Corina is a Zumba instructor, and a unique one at that. Born with osteogenesis imperfecta, she has spent her life dealing with this rare disease which, due to a defect in the gene that produces type 1 collagen, leaves her with extremely fragile bones. There are various types and hers is one of the more severe forms leaving her with bowed legs and arms, kyphosis (a hunched back) and scoliosis (curvature of the spine). As a result, she’s been wheelchair bound for years. As a young girl, she experienced more than 200 fractures in her bones. Physicians did not expect her to live beyond the age of 7 years. Yet she’s defied these odds and is now 32 years young. What gives?

I found my answer while hanging out with her at the conference. Her mile-long smile immediately grabs your heart and draws you to her. As the sensuous Latin-hip hop music thundered around us, Corina spun her wheelchair round and round, clapping with sheer joy as she closed her eyes to savor it all.

During a quiet moment, I asked Corina how she’s learned to cope with her disease. Peering into my eyes, she said her faith has helped her adapt and adjust to this burden she carries — literally. In that moment I recalled once again the Darwin quote I have used in my writing and speaking: “It is not the strongest of the species who survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” I call it A2ing it (A squaring it) — adapting and adjusting are the central core of survival. Corina’s living proof.

At one point during the conference, I was sitting in the VIP section of a huge convention center ballroom as the Zumba teams were preparing for their Zumbathon, an incredible dance marathon, this time featuring hip hop artist Pit Bull along with the Haitian musician Wyclef Jean. The air was thick with excitement as the leading Zumba dancers rehearsed, surrounded by frenzied stage hands completing last minute changes. Corina was next to me, totally engaged in all of the commotion and building excitement.

Looking to my right I realized that I was sitting next to the internationally acclaimed director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense), whose wife Bhavna Vaswani is the top Zumba Bollywood dancer featured in the show. We struck up a conversation and when he inquired about Corina, as I mentioned her condition he smiled and said “Yes, I know it well”. Noting my look of surprise, he told me that he’d written and directed Unbreakable, a story about osteogenesis imperfecta. Totally blown away, I thought to myself “What were the odds I’d end up sitting next to a famous Hollywood director who also knew about this rare disease?” As we both gazed at Corina who was lost in ecstasy and oblivious to anything but the on-stage revelry, we knew at a very deep level — myself as a physician, and he as a director fully versed in her disease — the triumph of Corina’s life.

The next day I delivered the conference keynote on a vast stage in front of 6000 Zumba instructors from around the world. Dressed in a wild and crazy Zumba cargo pants and jacket wardrobe, flashing fluorescent green, perky pinks, iridescent yellows and pastel blues, I got the audience up and rocking to their own music. I invited Zumba founder and rock star Beto to the stage for the finale and realized that what was missing was my new best friend Corina. Looking down into the audience, I saw her gleefully twirling around in her chair and motioned for her to join us on stage, which was met by a roar of mass approval from the crowd. Soon, we were three — the doctor (I’m now referred to as Dr Z ), the dance-leader (Beto), and the gift to us all (Corina). Beto took us through his new “sitting” dance program or Sentao. Corina was beside herself with joy as she swayed her little body to a sexy salsa or cha cha, while 6000 Zumbamaniacs were moving in unison. At the end, the ovation seemed to last forever. And so also will my memory of the time I spent with this amazing woman.

  1. Cut the BMW: The next time you start to crank out excuses for not getting up and active and you hear words of B (Bitch) M (Moan) and W (Whine) coming out of your mouth, stop and think about Corina and be eternally grateful that you can get up and experience the joy of assuming the vertical and enjoying your body. Quit complaining and start living life to the fullest.
  2. The Can Do’s Have It: Most of us have at least one anatomical part that hinders our ability to do some forms of physical activity. That’s part of life and a price we pay as we age. But it’s a small price when you think “hey, at least I’m still here to enjoy life”. Instead of obsessing about what you can no longer do, focus on what you can do. OK, so your knees creak or your back’s a pain. Make a list of what does work and let it rip!
  3. A Square It Through Life: You know my rant by now. The key to living long and well is to learn how to adapt and adjust to life’s stresses without self- destruction. We’re all thrown wild balls from left field so plan on spending a lifetime honing your adaptive skills when life nails us with yet another stinging curve ball. Catch it and throw it back. Practice every day of your life. You can do this. You must do this to survive.
  4. Savor Your Support System: Corina couldn’t have made it without her amazing family and friends. Animals and people make wonderful support systems. Surround yourself with special people with whom you share a loving and supportive bond. And don’t be shy about leaning on them when you need it. Hey, you’ll be there for them as well.
  5. Medicate with Movement: Corina’s medical condition actually improved as she built more trained muscle, got stronger and increased her lung capacity. Physical activity is life-saving, mentally and physically. So, get up already!
Photos: Pamela Peeke, MD
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