Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Precious Gift

B. Stuart Noll

It happens without us knowing. We take time and people for granted and when we least expect it, POW! We get blindsided by life. In our younger years we feel invincible, time has little meaning and guarding our health isn’t all that high on our list. Sometimes those punches have a way of changing us for the better.

As with all of the stories I write for the YMCA their brevity simply cannot do justice to the incredible accomplishments, obstacles and barriers overcome and the lives lived by the people I’ve been fortunate enough to interview. Such is the story you are about to read. I encourage you to get to know Brian Holtzman, his wife Denise Papeo-Holtzman and their son Robbie. (Photo) Prepare for a heartwarming voyage into the tribulation and triumph of 3 spirited Manchester YMCA members.

Robbie is an active 11 year old boy; a yellow belt in the YMCA’s Karate program. When I asked him what other activities he enjoyed he said “I like the skate park, playing Basketball, the pool and….” Needless to say Robbie is one of our more enthusiastic members. Little did I know there was so much more behind this young man and his Mom and Dad?

Brian, Denise and Robbie are fabulous people but until you get to know someone you just don’t know why they do what they do. The late great broadcaster Paul Harvey would say “and this is the rest of the story.” After recovering from complications due to surgery for breast cancer Denise chose to get involved with the Silver Sneakers program, participating along with her father. Brian and Robbie would follow shortly thereafter but not before Brian’s visit with the doctor would reveal his diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and other dangerously out of whack vital signs. Even after working with a personal trainer 7 or 8 years ago, the motivation to improve his health didn’t finally come until this past year when Denise’s battle proved life was so much more important.

When we talked about the events of the past year I sensed a relief that became clear after my last question for the night. I asked Robbie what he got most from the Y. He said, “My dad used to come home from work and go right to the couch. He was so tired he wouldn’t come outside and play.” Brian said, “I couldn’t even mow the lawn.” Robbie quickly added “Now, I have my dad back.”

At that, I looked into Denise’s eyes and my eyes began to tear. Here’s an 11 year old boy who, in the last year, could have lost his mom to breast cancer and his dad to any number of complications from obesity.

Talk about adversity and the faith, courage and will to overcome it; Robbie could have no better example of love than his mother and father. Brian would examine himself, and then work incredibly hard to lose 115 pounds to date so he could live with his family. Denise would wage an incredible fight for the very essence of life and inspire those around her to do something more than just recover. I looked back at Robbie’s smile and I knew this was a special moment for all of us.

I think Denise and Brian will agree there will always be battles. But if cancer, arthritis, fibromyalgia and obesity won’t stop these courageous people from living, Robbie’s in pretty good hands! It’s truly amazing what part love and a couple of silver sneakers can play in life! Thanks Brian, thanks Denise, and thank you Robbie for sharing yourselves with us! And I thank the YMCA for being here. You all inspire me!

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