GOALS: I want to continue to progress to normalcy in movement, coordination and balance and to go to a salsa club and be able to dance and keep up with my instructors, Alda Delatorre and Maria Ivanova from Euro Pilates.
WHY I DID IT: I walked with an awkward gait. My knees ached, and I worried about stumbling. I was suffering from peripheral neuropathy and neuromuscular ataxia. I was also reeling from the aftermath of cancer treatment. My awkward movement had taken its toll on my knees and back. I had to do something. Later, I lost the confidence to drive, and my wife, Connie, chauffeured me.
Having heard about the benefits of Pilates, and after reading about a New Tampa studio called Euro Pilates, I decided to give it a try. Thus began my journey to rediscover my body again at age 58. And Pilates morphed into something much more.
HOW I DID IT: When Connie and I first arrived at Euro Pilates, I was apprehensive. I needed to build up my overall strength just to get around. I remember my first session; it was basically an evaluation. The instructor had me do some elementary Pilates exercises. Even so, I was having difficulties. I couldn't stabilize my hips, and my knees shook uncontrollably.
Meanwhile, Connie was working with proprietor Maria Ivanova, and Maria was keeping a watchful eye on me. I continued to struggle through the 55 minutes as though I was completely out of touch with my body. Afterward, Connie and I met up with Maria at the front desk.
"When can we start group lessons?" Connie asked.
"You should be able to start classes as soon as you like," Maria responded in her now-familiar Russian accent. She has a background in rhythmic gymnastics as well as a degree in sports education and movement and an advanced Stott Pilates certification.
Then she turned to me. "But not for you."
"What's not for me?"
"Classes are not for you. Privates only."
I was a little offended and said, "You mean I'm too lame for classes."
"No, you're special," she said and smiled.
I knew from the beginning what a sense of humor this woman had, and I soon learned how much she truly cared about her clients.
I soon began working under the tutelage of Alda Delatorre and, occasionally, Maria. Alda is a licensed physical therapist as well as a Pilates instructor, so she added another dimension to my workouts. I can't say it was all easy going. I had setbacks and frustrations; it seemed my leg muscles ached every waking hour. I struggled to strengthen back muscles to support an injured spine as well as the muscles surrounding my arthritic knees. But over time, I began to see marked improvement and felt much better. I was driving again, and my walking was no longer as labored as it had been.
HURDLES: Patience is an all-important virtue for someone going through rehabilitation, and I struggled with it just like everyone who has gone down that long tortuous road. Pilates, however, had the right methodology for my movement problems. Its emphasis is on strengthening the core first and moving to smaller muscle groups and at a pace that was exactly right for me.
I continued to increase my strength and stability, but I felt I had reached a plateau in my coordination and balance, and I couldn't seem to make a solid mind-muscle connection. I had read about research at the University of South Florida using dance as supplemental therapy for Parkinson's patients.
Latin dancing is Maria's passion, and Alda, having caught the fever, began dancing salsa with me on occasion toward the end of my sessions. I was frustrated at first; my nerve center couldn't seem to send the signal fast enough to my legs, and I often would lose my balance. However, I could see real potential in its therapeutic value.
Then Maria approached me about doing dance therapy with her twice weekly.
Now, I'm not a mambo king by any sense of the imagination. But after a few sessions I could do a rudimentary salsa dance. The sessions not only include dancing to music but practice drills as well. More importantly, the carry-over to correct my balance and coordination difficulties has been just short of miraculous. Plus, it's fun.
GOING THE DISTANCE: Pilates has taken me a long way toward overcoming major knee and back pain, and my stability has improved immensely. How far will dance take me? I don't know, but this salsero will continue until I benefit no more.
BEST ADVICE: You must have patience. Embrace it, because you will experience frustration and pain and sometimes discouragement. There is no magic pill for movement disorder. It takes time. Also, don't be put off by health care providers who may tell you that there is nothing that can be done for you. It's not true, and there are new advances going on all the time.
Finally, make sure you seek help from the best trainers you can find. Make sure they are personable, professional, and knowledgeable. I was very fortunate to discover Maria, Alda, and Kim Cornwell at Euro Pilates.