People often ask me why I enjoy teaching group fitness classes and why Zumba® Fitness changed my life. When you lose your health, you lose everything and you appreciate things you couldn’t do when you were ill….like dancing. The following is an except from my upcoming book “4 Minutes a Day, Rock ‘n’ Roll Your Way to Happy”. It is the true story of my serious health scare from toxic mold poisoning, and the reason why I’m on a mission to inspire others to live happier, healthier lives.
I am dying. I feel it in my body; in my every cell. I can barely breathe, barely walk, barely talk. Every small move is an effort. It feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest. A heart attack? I thought so, but the Emergency Room doctor said there was nothing wrong that he could determine.
And that was the problem. Tiny toxic invaders, like vampires, infiltrated my body and are currently sucking the life out of my good cells. A toxicologist determined that my husband, Ted, and I both have four different types of mold in our blood stream from toxic mold contamination between the walls of our Michigan lakeside dream home featured on MTV Cribs, and that I had pre-emphysema. We never saw any indication of mold in the corners of the walls, or anywhere. Trust me, I like to clean.
As a professional fitness instructor since 1980, I knew that something was terribly wrong with my body, my entire being. My bones actually ached. And then there were the little things: short-term memory loss, unusual neurologic glitches like losing my balance, and, like my ninety-six year-old grandmother, the words I wanted to say just weren’t coming out of my mouth.
So here I am, lying in this doctor’s sterile office, confused and scared. Tears are sliding down my cheeks. I am living by default, or, mere existence. I entertain the idea of giving up. Seriously. What type of life could I possibly enjoy like this? It is a challenge just to walk, just to get out of bed. Dancing, teaching group fitness anymore is highly unlikely. My life is over. Menial tasks are overwhelming. I don’t want to be reliant upon others for anything, after all, I’m supposed to be the walking poster child for health and fitness. Ugh!
My mortality is in question. I don’t know if or how I will get through this, or even recover. So I am here, alone, lying in a cheap wood-paneled room I’ve never seen, about to meet a doctor I’ve never even spoken to, hoping he can save my life.
“Think about good thoughts, nice things,” people always say. That never really works, does it? I think about the most beautiful place in the world for me: The beach. I focus as hard as I can and ignore my entire aching body, take a deep breath, and for a moment, I am there. My body feels somewhat lighter. Somewhat happier. I concentrate harder.
“Go there,” I tell myself. And I do…
The gulf water is mostly still with tiny ripples by the shore. Stingrays wave their wings in and out of the water while seagulls and other birds watch and wait for their next meal. In the distance, a speedboat races across the horizon. It is so loud I can feel my bones tremble.
“Stay there,” I beg my mind, as if it were a separate person or entity. “Stay there.”
It’s an hour or two before the sun will set and brilliant beams of white light converge with the water below. If it were possible to duplicate that sparkle, it would be like a billion trillion diamonds glimmering. I turn my face to the brilliant light. It feels warm. I am walking on the sandy beach dodging seashells that could be a million years old.
I inhale the cleansing scent of ocean water and air, and can almost smell it as I lay still in the cold, spotlessly clean room.
Sea grapes line the beach like a fence. Palm trees dot the sky as I look up. Are there really coconuts in palm trees? Ha! Yes, and there are pelicans too!
A woman wearing oversized sunglasses and a red bandanna on her head casually strolls nearby, taking the time to enjoy her surroundings. Instead of blond, brown or red hair peaking out beneath the scarf on her head, there is nothing. She is bald. I wonder if she has cancer, how much longer she has, and if walking on the beach is her last wish. A young boy screams and I turn to see….it is a scream of delight! He is playing in the sand with his mother.
That brings me back to reality. My son, Rocco, is now twelve. He has been through so much. We’ve lost our home and everything in it because of toxic mold contamination. We had to walk away from the house with only the clothes on our backs, and then get rid of those. We demolished the house. None of Rocco’s baby pictures or my husband’s rock-n-roll memorabilia were saved. Although tragic, none of that is of any significance as I lay here, helpless and debilitated.
Thankfully, Ted and Rocco have not been affected as much as I have been, primarily because I was in the house more than they were. Ted has some of the same symptoms as I do but less severe. Rocco has severe asthma and terrible allergies. My mother has moved in to take care of Rocco while Ted is on tour and I am here, at the Environmental Health Center in Dallas, hoping they can save my life.
I wish I could be with my son as he starts yet another new school. I want to be there with him and make sure he is ok, making new friends and having a sense of normalcy, but here I am lying on this hard table in this strange doctor’s office, dying.
My throat is constricted; tears fill my eyes and empty onto my pale cheeks. I am overwhelmed with such sadness that I cannot control the wave of depression that fills my whole body. A nurse comes into the room and asks if I’m ok. Am I in any pain? In between sobs all I can say is that I never want my son to see me like this; so weak and so ill. For weeks I managed to put on a happier face, wiping the tears and pretending that nothing is wrong when the truth was, I was falling apart. Often I wore oversized sunglasses to hide my pain. Rocco and I are very close, though, and I’m sure he knows that I’m not well.
The nurse grabs a tissue and softly wipes the tears from my face. “It’s ok,” she says, reassuringly. “You’re going to be fine. You’re in the right place now.” Those were the words I needed to hear. I was going to be ok.
“The doctor will be in soon,” she whispers, and then leaves the room. Only after she is gone do I have the overwhelming feeling that I am so very thirsty. I struggle to push myself up to a sitting position. I reach into my overnight bag – I checked myself into the facility indefinitely – grab a bottle of water and sip carefully. There is barely enough strength in my hands to hold the bottle. My throat is rough and dry. It is difficult to swallow. Looking down at my boney knees, I realize I have lost weight. I am down to one hundred pounds. In better times, I would have been happy to be thin, but I look gaunt and sickly.
Finally, three people wearing white coats enter the room. The older man extends his hand. “Hello, I’m Dr. Rea.” I reach my hand out to meet his, but I am weak…and thirsty. I attempt to take a drink of water but Dr. Rea snatches the water bottle out of my hand and tosses it into the trash. “You can’t drink out of plastic anymore. That stuff will kill you.”
I don’t understand but somehow feel comforted knowing that he has different answers than what I had heard from previous doctors. Maybe this is the type of straight talk I need to hear to become well again. At this point, I am open to just about anything. Once named Detroit’s Most Physical Female, here I lay, reduced to a pathetic piece of flesh and bones. Would I be able to fully recover? Could I actually be dying? It certainly feels that way.
I spent a nearly a month at the Environmental Health Center in Dallas cleansing and detoxifying my body. It took a year before I started feeling well enough to start exercising again. Like it was yesterday, I remember being in Las Vegas, traveling with Ted in 2009. I walked into 24-Hour Fitness and looked at the schedule of group exercise classes. Zumba? Maybe I’ll give that a try. And that was the day that changed my life. From the moment instructor Megan Gasper cranked the pulsating Latin rhythms, I was hooked! I remember smiling the entire class, not feeling any pain or weakness.
I came back from the class and told Ted, “I have to come out of retirement and teach this class. It makes me feel happy and alive and I want to share that feeling with others.” I introduced Zumba® Fitness to Waco, Texas and over the years, dozens, (maybe hundreds) of my students have become instructors! Every time I see them teaching classes of their own, I seriously get a lump in my throat and tears well in my eyes. I couldn’t be more proud of their journey and how they’re spreading the joy and love for healthy living with so many others. Their students have become instructors too, so now I’m a proud Zumba Grandma!
One of my students asked me if I smiled so much while I was teaching class because I had to, or if I was really happy. It’s amazing to think that just ten years ago I was on that doctor’s table nearly dying, barely able to walk. Since then I have been blessed to be able to work with the creator of Zumba®, Beto Perez, and develop Zumba® in the Circuit, work personally with all the amazing people in the Home Office, Gary Heavin of Curves and so many wonderful instructors all over the world. You’re damn right, I’m happy!
My new book will be released soon!
ROCK ‘N’ROLL FITNESS REVOLUTION:
Rock ‘n’ roll revolutionized the American musical and cultural landscapes, influencing multiple genres throughout the decades: pop, gospel, country, Motown, hip-hop and more. Shemane created Rock ‘n’ Roll Revolution to bring this powerful music genre to the fitness world. CLICK HERE to access the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fitness Revolution Facebook Page.
ZUMBA IN CIRCUIT:
In March, 2010, Gary Heavin, owner of Curves International contacted me and asked if I would be interested in working with the originator of Zumba Beto Perez on a new project for Curves. “Hmmmm,” I thought. “Am I being punked?” Turns out, I wasn’t. The next thing I knew, I was on the Curves jet bound for Miami to meet Alberto Perlman, Beto and the Zumba family at the Zumba Office (ZO). I was a little nervous about what to expect but Alberto and everyone at the ZO were so kind and welcoming. I instantly felt like part of the Zumba family. Alberto explained the project and exactly what both Curves and Zumba expected of me. And working with Beto was, well, just as you can imagine – very exciting! He told me about his vision, and that he used to teach a very similar class and he put out “condoms” around the room. What? Condoms? Reluctantly, I asked Beto to explain that concept. What kind of circuit was this? I was relieved to find out that if my Spanish-speaking skills were better I would have known Beto said “candles.” Whew!
What is Zumba in the Circuit? The exciting dance rhythms of a Zumba fitness class combined with the state-of the art Curves equipment provided a complete, fun, and effective workout. Bringing Zumba fitness into the Curves environment provides Zumba instructors more opportunities to grow individually and share their love for teaching a Zumba fitness class with an entirely new audience. The circuit is perfect for non-dancers, new exercisers, or those who have previously hesitated to participate in group exercise classes. The circuit creates an exciting and safe new workout for Curves members with choreography that’s simple and addresses the primary components of fitness; cardiovascular and muscular conditioning. The Circuit is great for everyone; participants of any fitness level, any background, and all ages. Curves manager Susan McKay said, “We have members that are returning and it’s unique to any other program because it combines strength training with an amazingly fun cardio workout!”
What’s great about teaching Zumba in the Circuit is the one-on-one relationship instructors have with students. They become the party hostess, making sure everyone is safe and having fun! Participants are on strength training machines for one minute, then rotate to what used to be a “recovery station” and dance along with the Zumba instructor instead. There’s very little choreography, with one to two new moves per minute. In thirty minutes participants can enjoy a full body workout and have a fun at the same time!
Zumba continually provides its instructors with new programs and new opportunities. It has been such a blessing for me to share my passion for Zumba fitness with so many people who have not had the opportunity to experience it for themselves. It still feels like I’ve been punked though. This is too good to be true.