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Making a 180
It's never too late to make a life change



Barney Kaminsky

It can take a health scare or the inability to complete the simplest of tasks. Or it can be fueled by a lifelong passion unrealized. The motivations behind the 180-degree turns we make in life are only part of the tale. What happens along the way is the real story. Read about three Milwaukee area residents and how they changed their lives to become an Ironman triathlete, a heart attack survivor who now lives for the gym, and a once morbidly obese mom who lost 110 pounds by walking, eating better and a yoga habit that still wonít quit.

Retraining the Brain

On Thanksgiving Day morning, a time when most folks are busy prepping for their annual family feast, Barney Kaminsky was having a heart attack.

The 64-year-old Cedarburg resident, who suffers from vertigo on occasion, fell down as he went to retrieve the morning paper.

"I got up and told my wife I just wasnít feeling very well," he says. "My chest felt weird, but I didnít think it was a heart attack. Thankfully, my wife immediately called 911."

Kaminsky, who was treated at Columbia-St. Maryís Hospital, learned doctors had inserted a stent ó an expandable wire mesh tube that keeps once-blocked arteries open and clear. His cardiac rehabilitation started shortly after.

"That was my turning point," says Kaminsky, general manager of Sojourn Travel, the company his wife, Mary Emmer, founded. "It was that moment, when I told myself, ĎYou can go back to your life as you had it or you can change it."

Kaminsky picked the latter. He joined Form & Fitness Health Club in Grafton and gave up fast food. "I had to totally retrain my brain about food," he says. "I remember I went to Sendikís for like three hours and started reading labels. I realized for the first time what weíre putting into our bodies."

Kaminksy and his wife now work out every weekday morning at the gym and periodically meet with a personal trainer.

The hard work and commitment to change has paid off. Heís lost 30 pounds and his doctor is taking him off some of his medication.

"Before my heart attack, I thought ĎHey, Iím not a couch potato,í" he says. "I thought I was taking care of myself. Obviously, I wasnít."

Kaminksy, who used to direct most of his time and effort on work, didnít like going to the gym. His idea of exercise meant an occasional walk or run on his treadmill at home or home improvement projects on the weekends. These days, Kaminksy relishes his time at the gym and has made some adjustments to what matters most in his life.

"Iím not sure what has helped me stick with this," he says. "Maybe itís fortitude, maybe itís pride and how good I feel. But I do know this: Iíll never forget the look on my wifeís face that Thanksgiving Day. These days, instead of obsessing about my job, I think more about my wife, kids and grandchildren. I enjoy sunrises and sunsets. I enjoy life."

Cheryl Woodworth

Climbing the Athletic Ladder

Cheryl Woodworth was a 125-pound ripped Ironman athlete. She just didnít know it yet.

At 200 pounds, the Pewaukee resident was living on the fringes of athletic life. She was about to wrap up a 26-year career at the West Suburban YMCA in Wauwatosa as its aquatics director. She always loved swimming in the areaís lakes every summer and had grown up learning about hiking and camping from her Eagle Scout father.

But she had never been what one would describe an athlete. "I grew up in era where there werenít a lot of athletics for girls," she says. "Girls playing sports was something that was frowned upon."

As she approached retirement, Woodworth thought of her now 96-year-old father, who still plays a competitive game of golf. "I figured if I want to be good at anything in my 70s, then I had better make some serious changes in my life," she says.

For Woodworth, it started out as a mission to lose weight. She lost some weight through better eating habits. Her exercise routine meanwhile faltered. "I needed instruction or something," she says. "And then I read something about a new triathlon club. I thought, ĎMaybe this is how I can express what Iíve been passionate about all my life, but never had the chance to do.í"

Woodworth was one of the clubís first members, and over several years, thanks to the support of coaches there, she learned to run and bike.

"I told my coach, ĎIím too old to run,í" she says. "Well that was a mistake, because she said, ĎNever say that again.í Then she had me meet her at Lapham Peak and she took the time to chart out what would be my first running plan."

Others came into her life and made her a better bicyclist, inspiring her to participate in the Death Valley Ride to Cure Diabetes in 2006. Other "century" or 100-mile-plus rides followed.

"I kept meeting these people who took me further up the athletic ladder and the more intense it got, the more training I did. It was no longer about weight loss, but about something I loved doing," she says.

In the process, a 125-pound triathlete emerged. In 2009, she decided to train for an Ironman competition, which begins with a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride and ends with a marathon.

"I had been on this amazing spiritual journey," she says. "God really was taking me somewhere. While I couldnít imagine doing an Ironman, I just told myself, ĎIím going to take it day-to-day and take it on faith.í"

In preparation for the Ford Ironman Arizona, Woodworth completed her first half-marathon, marathon and half-Ironman. She arrived in Arizona in November 2009, just excited to be there. She finished second in her age group and ended up qualifying for Hawaii Ironman in Kona, a grueling event known for its wind and heat that many triathletes spend their whole lives trying to reach. In October 2010, after placing fourth in her age group at the ITU World Championships in Budapest, the 67-year-old went to Kona. She finished fifth in her age group in 15 hours and 27 minutes.

"I couldnít have scripted this scenario if I had tried," she says. "But I love it and canít wait to go back."

Melissa DeVries

Moment of Clarity

Walking and Weight Watchers put Oconomowoc resident Melissa DeVries on the path toward change. But it was yoga that saved her. DeVries grew up a chubby kid with a marathoner and body builder father and an equally active mother. She remembers a doctor putting her on a diet as a child and attending fat camp. She used her asthma condition to avoid activities, an excuse she leaned on through high school, college and adult life.

That is, until DeVriesí moment of clarity seven years ago. "I was overweight before I had my son and afterward it got worse until I was morbidly obese," she says. "I felt really uncomfortable all the time. I remember I sat down on the floor to change my sonís diaper and I couldnít breathe because there was literally too much flesh."

DeVries was determined to make a change. Once she stopped nursing her son, she joined Weight Watchers. During a three-year period that included a break while she had her daughter, DeVries lost 110 pounds.

"I was so disillusioned of what a correct portion size was," she says. "It was really a shock to my system and it took three to four months to retrain my brain."

DeVries added a simple walking regimen about one month after she started Weight Watchers. Her walk ó a 45-minute jaunt with her son in a stroller ó left an indelible impression.

"I had blisters all over my feet when I got home because I was so out of shape," she says. DeVries stuck with it despite the discomfort and maintained a daily walking routine for nearly two and half years. As that second winter approached, DeVries decided to try yoga.

"I thought it would be nonthreatening," she says. "I could hide in the corner and try this exercise that was focused on mind and body wellness. It wasnít nearly as frightening of a concept as signing up for some aerobic group exercise class."

Yoga was the cure she was looking for. It not only improved her strength, flexibility and overall appearance, but it was a positive way to reduce stress. She was hooked. After her daughter was born, DeVries, a member of the YMCA at Pabst Farms, began to volunteer in the facilityís fitness center.

She dove into the fitness world, first with a beginnerís fitness trainer course, then onto earning an American Council on Exercise personal trainer certificate. A course and certification with YogaFit soon followed.

Today, the 35-year-old works part time as a personal trainer and teaches spin, yoga, TRX and older adult fitness classes at the YMCA at Pabst Farms. She also teaches yoga classes at Be Fitness in Delafield and Soleil Lune in Oconomowoc.

"Iím not the same person in a lot of ways," DeVries says. "I went from being kind of a pushover and the type of person who didnít want to do anything to someone who is willing to try just about anything and who has an opinion."