By Nancy Hernandez Special to the News-Post
Alexis “Lexi” Koontz has become somewhat of a celebrity at North Frederick Sport&Health. Her picture graces the gym’s front lobby. She’s been featured on its Facebook page and most — if not all — of the staff know her and her mom, Anita, by name. Why all the attention?
The mother and daughter were among only 358 people across the club’s 23 sites to complete more than 35 work-outs in a two-month period. They radiate joy when they talk of their accomplishment and the health benefits they’ve reaped. Club officials say they hope that joy will encourage others to try to improve their own health.
Neither woman was a fitness buff when they bought club memberships last December. Lexi didn’t even like to sweat. Anita was merely looking for something fun and active that they could do together. Lexi, 22, has Down syndrome, which poses several health and physical challenges. She had completed school and was working two part-time jobs. Still, there were plenty of unoccupied hours each week to fill. “I wanted her to get up each morning and have a purpose,” Anita said.
Anita, 50, frequently drove past the gym while it was being built and wondered if a new, shiny place would inspire Lexi to exercise. People with Down syndrome tend to have low muscle tone and are prone to weight gain. “Keeping fit can be a challenge,” Anita said. Plus, the big picture goals of staying healthy and eating well had never resonated with Lexi. She just didn’t see the point. “She thought once you started sweating, it was time to quit.”
Anita knew Lexi needed someone animated and creative to spark her interest and keep her coming back. “It could’ve ended as quickly as it started,” Anita said. Fortunately, Lexi was paired with personal trainer Ryan Morse on opening day. “It was a perfect match.”
Morse works with Lexi once a week for an hour. He varies the routines so Lexi doesn’t get bored. And he writes down specific food and exercise assignments for her try on her own. For example, he challenged Lexi to try a new vegetable and drink less soda each week. “Honestly, she has been a dream model client,” Morse said. “She always shows up, she does her homework and is looking for ways to improve.”
Under Morse’s guidance, Lexi has lost eight pounds and discovered she has a waist. “I worked really hard,” Lexi said. And she realized that her food and activity choices influence how she looks and feels. “I cried the first time she asked me, ‘Mom, is this healthy?’” Anita said.
As the weeks passed, Anita noticed another exciting change in her daughter. She seemed more confident and joyful. “The more I saw her happy, it made me want to come more,” Anita said. Still, it wasn’t until she got talked into a fitness challenge that Anita began focusing on her own health. Up to that point, she had been going merely to support Lexi. “I’d done a little here and there but hadn’t lost a pound,” Anita said.
Then she injured her foot. She couldn’t walk on the treadmill, her favorite apparatus, so she decided to see if she could get a medical freeze on her membership. When she stopped by the front desk, a staff member eagerly told her about an upcoming gym promotion. Participants were challenged to exercise 40 times in two months and could earn various levels of prizes depending on how many workouts they completed. The challenge was called The Committed Program.
Something about the word ‘committed’ ignited Anita. She walked into the locker room, came out and signed up both Lexi and herself — without ever asking about the medical freeze. “I went home befuddled wondering what I had done,” Anita said. But she realized that until that moment her exercising had been superficial. She wanted to lose weight but she hadn’t made a commitment to herself that she would. With the program, her efforts were tracked. And for Anita, that made all the difference.
She decided she wasn’t going to let her foot stop her from being healthy. She found other equipment that didn’t hurt her foot. And she went faithfully to the gym, sometimes twice a day. She even dragged herself in once not feeling well. If she could manage to exercise that day, she believed she could overcome any obstacle.
Anita logged 63 workouts during the contest, placing third at the Frederick gym. In the process, she lost 22 pounds. But what kept her exercising each day wasn’t the thought of wearing smaller jeans. “If that happens, that will be the cherry on top,” she said she told herself. What kept her motivated was a stronger goal — staying healthy to care for Lexi.
“It made it more meaningful for me,” Anita said. “We need to grow old together.”
Lexi and Anita applied strategies that can benefit other people beginning exercise programs, according to Ryan Morse, Lexi’s personal trainer. “Don’t be intimidated by your goal,” Morse said. “Losing weight is really just a lot of little decisions. You didn’t put on weight in one big decision… Allow yourself to be successful. Vary exercises or try something new to ward off boredom. Stick to an exercise schedule. Make a commitment to yourself and/or someone else. Track your efforts. Tap into a deeper goal to push through tough moments. Remember to have fun."