Livestrong At The YMCA


By: Jan Engoren Contributing Writer

On a recent Tuesday morning seven clients and four trainers wearing yellow and black T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “Livestrong at the YMCA,” were meeting for their bi-weekly  training session at the Boca Raton Peter Blum Family Y, specially designed with cancer survivors in mind.

The national Livestrong at the YMCA program began in 2008 when the YMCA partnered with the Livestrong Foundation to help cancer survivors begin a journey of recovery.

The program is open to any adult 18 years old or older living with or beyond cancer treatment.

More than 245 YMCAs around the country offer the evidence-based program in 41 states and  approximately 60,000 people have benefitted from the nation-wide initiative.

Director of Healthy Communities, Robin Nierman said, “We have a wide range of participants, some who are 20-year survivors and others with more recent diagnoses.”

“Everyone is at a different health and fitness level, so we help our clients regain their health and well-being, no matter where they are,” she explains. “In addition to physical benefits, the program also focuses on the emotional well-being of survivors and their families by providing a supportive community where people impacted by cancer can connect during treatment and beyond.”

The pilot Livestrong program at the Boca Raton YMCA program is funded by Cancer Treatment Centers of America and part of the YMCA’s Healthy Communities program.

Participants learn traditional exercise methods (including tai chi, dance, chair yoga and barre) to ease them back into physical activity and help them maintain strength and flexibility.

Sheryl Greenberg, an artist and interior designer, and a 30-year breast cancer survivor says she enjoys coming because she is encouraged to do her exercises.

“If they didn’t have this class I wouldn’t be exercising,” she said, noting that she’s also had two knee replacements.

“But I love to dance, and the instructors are fabulous and take a personal interest in you and your well-being,” Greenberg said.

Likewise, Melissa Gorkin, 62, a former retail purchasing manager and a recent ovarian cancer survivor says she benefits from participating in the classes.

“Thankfully,” she said, “I’m now cancer-free. But after my surgery I lost my strength and this program is teaching me how to exercise.”

Gorkin also gave up meat and became a vegan. She exercises every day, swimming, doing yoga and walking six miles on the treadmill.

“I have to keep moving,” she said. “It gives me a runner’s high.”

Typically each class has a 6 to 1 ratio and offers small group personal training. The free program runs for 12 weeks twice a week for 90 minute sessions and helps survivors improve their strength and physical fitness, diminish the severity of therapy side effects, develop supportive relationships, and improve their quality of life.

Also participating in the program is Dawn Toimil, 60, CFO of Jet Parts, Inc., a corporate aviation parts business located in Boca Raton.

At 39 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and in 2010 her blood work showed some abnormalities and she was diagnosed with smoldering myeloma, an early precursor to multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer.

Toimil runs the Boca Raton Multi Myeloma support group (, which provides education and emotional support to its members.

“I believe in keeping busy and doing for yourself,” Toimil said. “I enjoy coming to the Livestrong program at the YMCA.  The classes and the instructors are excellent.”

“For those who are motivated, this is a great resource,” she said.

She takes a spin class 2 to 3 times a week, does yoga once a week and walks on the treadmill for 30 minutes six days a week.

“Just showing here up is healthy,” said instructor Steve Squadrilli.

“Once we hit the gym, we warm up on cardio equipment,” Squadrilli said. “Each participant has their own personalized chart with their goals so they can keep track of their progress. Then we move on to strength training which goes hand-in-hand with the cardio.”

“Our participants establish a camaraderie and support each other,” he said. “It’s not only about the exercise; we talk about their cancers, their experience, what they’ve been through and where they are going.”

“That’s the premise of the program,” Squadrilli said. “Live strong.”

The Livestrong at the YMCA program is coming to the DeVos-Blum Family YMCA of Boynton Beach in January and the next session in the Boca Raton YMCA begins in March. For more information, or call 561-395-9622.