Tuesday, June 26, 2012

LIVESTRONG at the YMCA: A Survivor's Story

Last summer, the YMCA of the Triangle launched LIVESTRONG at the YMCA at the Cary and Alexander Family YMCAs. Since then, nearly 60 cancer survivors have participated in the 12-week health and fitness program. Specially trained Y staff lead the twice a week sessions. Here’s the amazing part - this program is free to participants. This summer, we’re launching the program at the Kraft, Finley and Lee County YMCAs!

At the Y, we’re committed to supporting our friends, families and neighbors in their fight against this disease. After you read Debbi Braswell’s story, you’ll know why.


It took a few years and lots of twists and turns before I started volunteering at the Y.

When my family joined the Cary YMCA in 2008, we never connected with anyone. We came. We worked out. We left. My husband, Kevin, and I are both introverts, so it takes a lot to draw us out. (Our 10-year-old son, Alexander, on the other hand, has never met a stranger!)

Fast forward to 2009. That’s when Kevin was laid off.  We thought about giving up our Y membership to cut back, but we decided our health was too important. Four months later, I learned that I had stage III breast cancer.

Debbi (top row, far left) and her LIVESTRONG group.
God has seen me through the struggle of my life, including three surgeries, four months of chemotherapy and radiation. I was severely anemic, but I did my best to walk with a friend. Sometimes I had to sit on a curb to rest.
Eventually I returned to the Y, feeling lonely and lost. I didn’t know how to go about my recovery. How much exercise – and what kind - was too much and how much was too little? Finally one day I asked Cheryl Dichard, who had given me my orientation, if the Y had any help for cancer survivors.

I was shocked to learn that Cheryl was a 16-year cancer survivor! She told me that the Cary Y was preparing to launch a pilot program for LIVESTRONG at the YMCA. It’s a 12-week program designed to help cancer survivors improve not only the functioning of their bodies, but also the quality of their lives.

I was in! I scheduled an upcoming surgery so that I could start LIVESTRONG a few weeks post-op. I even postponed the next surgery so I could finish the program. I loved it! Cheryl and Beth Blount gave us just the right mixture of encouragement, instruction and challenge. We all wore yellow LIVESTRONG T-shirts and called ourselves The Killer Bees!

I went on to recruit a good friend and fellow cancer survivor who joined the group. About that time I was invited to volunteer with the group. You might think I would pounce on the chance to stay involved.

But I considered the time invested. And I wondered – what could an introvert like me contribute to LIVESTRONG? That’s when I had my epiphany. Knowing that God had allowed me to go through the dark valley of cancer, I realized it would be selfish not to share the strength, encouragement and perspective He’s helped me gain through the journey.

So I volunteered, and I will be forever grateful. I still cannot believe the incredible people who joined the third LIVESTRONG group. Some were quiet, some were funny, some had hair, some were growing their hair back. We all jelled! You wouldn’t believe how much fun we had – or how hard we laughed! Sometimes visitors looked a little baffled by us. Was this really a cancer support group?

It’s true that our group struggled through some awful times. Some people like my dear friend Jessi had their cancer recur. She started as a volunteer with me, but she needed to become a participant again. She is a STRONG, STRONG woman! Another amazing woman named Lindy got worse and died. Lindy had a beautiful personality and none of us will forget the day she gathered two people to join her in doing the “Monkees walk.” (If you didn’t grow up in the ‘60s, look it up on YouTube!)

LIVESTRONG has been a wonderful way to feel a connection – to share a common experience. Although the group spent serious time working out, Beth and Amanda Dismukes made sure there was also time for talking and reflecting. This investment of time has resulted in enduring ties. Although this group finished a couple of months ago, the participants still email each other. One person held a fancy tea for the group. Most people attended Lindy’s funeral.

My official volunteer duties weren’t very challenging. I wiped weights and helped stack chairs. The most difficult task, at first, was talking to participants while they did their cardio workouts. I thought,  me, an introvert making small talk? What on earth could I say? But apparently even an introvert can make a workout more tolerable. I guess all a volunteer needs to be is herself.

If you’re interested in participating or volunteering, contact us at LIVESTRONG@ymcatriangle.org.

Monday, June 25, 2012


The nation’s best swimmers are competing in Omaha, Nebraska June 25 – July 2 to determine who will represent the USA in the Olympic Games in London. Seven current and former YMCA of the Triangle Area (YOTA) swimmers are diving into the action.

“At the YOTA Swim Team, we have a team-first focus. We work hard at the long-term development of our athletes,” says Chad Onken, YOTA Swim Team Head Coach.

YOTA Swimmer Charlie Houchin 
The success of the YOTA Swim Team makes spectators wonder if there is something special in the water. Head Coach Chad Onken laughs off that theory. He credits some old-fashioned methods for the team’s lightning speed.

“We have the best coaching staff in North Carolina. And, our goal-oriented athletes simply get the job done.”

Those athletes are Sabrina Benson, Charlie Houchin, Dominick Glavich, Joe Bonk, Zach McGinnis, Colin Ellington and Nick Walkotten, who also serves as an assistant coach of the YOTA Swim Team.

“I am a coach first and an athlete second, says Walkotten, “It has been a juggling act to make sure I'm prepared to coach my groups and also find enough time to train myself. Wearing both hats has allowed me to maintain my athleticism by training smarter, not just harder.”

The competition is fierce. More than 1,800 swimmers are vying for 26 slots on the men’s team and 26 slots on the women’s team.

“I'm even more excited for the 2016, 2020 and 2024 Olympic Trials,” says Onken. “I know YOTA will be taking even more athletes.”

For a schedule and results go to usaswimming.org. You can also keep tabs on our YOTA swimmers on the YMCA of the Triangle website.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Who knew that two straps with handles could provide a great workout? The Navy SEALs did, and that was the beginning of TRX. Now you can try it, too!

Y branches offer the TRX Suspension system and free training on how to use it. Members hook it to a secure place and work their muscles while using their own body weight as resistance.

TRX workouts improve strength, flexibility and balance. “Using TRX works your core and functional muscles,” says Romain Marriott, a personal trainer at the Cary Y. “You develop muscles that you use every day.”

“It’s great exercise because it’s body weight exercise,” explains Cary Y Wellness Director Amanda Dismukes. “A lot of our members love it. It’s popular with our members in their 20s, 30s, 40s and fit 50s.”

Interested? Complete a TRX training session at the Y. You’ll learn TRX exercises and proper technique. It might not be long before you get hooked!

Friday, June 15, 2012


Did you know that Father’s Day got its start at the YMCA?

In 1909, Sonora Smart Dodd heard a sermon honoring mothers. She wondered why there was no similar tribute for fathers. Dodd’s father, William Jackson Smart, was a Civil War veteran who raised his six children on his own after his wife’s death.

Smart Dodd launched the first Father's Day celebration at the Spokane YMCA on June 19, 1910. In 1972, President Nixon signed Father’s Day into law. The day dedicated to Dads has become an opportunity to lavish gifts and loving gestures on one’s father.

Today, fathers play an enormous role in the lives of their children. We see them daily, acting as coaches, teachers, role models and confidants. Our Y, as a leading community service organization, is totally committed in supporting and reassuring them.

On June 17, the YMCA of the Triangle joins the nation in celebrating Father’s Day and recognizing the impact fathers and adult male role models make in children’s lives.

Thanks, Sonora. And, thank you, Dad.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Super Foods: What They Are and How They Work

Imagine a super food--not a drug--powerful enough to help lower cholesterol, reduce risk of heart disease, cancers, anti-inflammatory and as an added bonus--helps improve mood. A.E. Finley YMCA’s Registered Dietician Sarah Schroeder offers some great advice.

I tell my clients to choose foods that work for them and with them. Choose foods you consume them on a regular basis that will help control or lower your risk for heart disease, cancers, osteoporosis, Type II diabetes and hypertension.


Choosing these foods on a regular basis may impact the above health conditions. And unlike any prescription pill, there is no long list of side effects. So it’s a win-win for you and your body!

Here’s my list of Super Foods in no particular order. I have tried to add the benefits or the key super nutrient in each food.

Avocados: High in monounsaturated fats Omega 3’s, high fiber, high in potassium.

Beets: Nature’s multi-vitamin. Beets provide a greater range of nutrients ounce for ounce than virtually any other fruit or vegetable on the planet. High in antioxidants (found in the deep red pigment), beets also help lower blood pressure and cardiovascular disease risks and aid in cleansing the body of harmful chemicals of processed foods, such as nitrates.

Photo Source: About.com
Berries: Forget the high priced acai, we have an abundance of berries right here in our back yard. High in antioxidants, it’s best to eat a variety because one doesn’t contain all you need.
Strawberries - Vitamin K
Raspberries - Vitamin C
Blueberries - Packed with antioxidants and phytoflavinoids high in K and Vitamin C, and high in fiber, also an anti-inflammatory.
Blackberries - Vitamin E

Cabbage and cruciferous veggies: Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. Cabbage is the best. Cabbage reduces risk of certain cancers including breast, stomach, lung and prostate. Helps reduce heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, Alzheimer’s and protects joints and risk of osteoarthritis. High in Vitamin A, C, and K.

Fish: The best choices are fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids and low in contaminants. Generally these are cold water fish. Salmon, halibut, rainbow trout, herring, sardine, and mackerel. Avoid tilapia (if you have high cholesterol) because it’s very high in Omega 5 fatty acid (the bad oil). Fish lowers blood pressure and reduces inflammation. The oil in fish itself nourishes the brain and can slow the mental decline associated with aging. Packed with Calcium, Vitamin K and Omega 3’s.

Tomatoes: High in lycopene. Regular consumption of tomato products can reduce risk of cancer and heart disease. Cooking enhances the benefits and makes them more easily absorbed.

Spinach: Consider this kryptonite to cancer cells. Spinach is filled with anti-oxidants, equivalent to 2-3 servings of a vegetable and scores high in the USDA measure of foods able to rid the body of free radicals.

Lentils: A near perfect food, when mixed with rice, they form a complete protein. No cholesterol, high in soluble and insoluble fibers that help manage blood sugars, lower cholesterol and aid in digestion. All beans are high in fiber.

Photo Source: EveryJoe.com
Nuts: Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts and walnuts may be your best choices. These are full of heart-healthy fats which boost good cholesterol. Regular nut consumption actually makes people less likely to gain weight. Pistachio is the lowest in calories of the nut family.

Chia and flax seeds: High in Omega 3’s, reduce inflammation and help fight off effects of aging. Chia seeds are hydrophilic or hold 10 times their water weight. High in antioxidants.

Quinoa (keen-wah):  This grain comes closest to supplying all essential life-sustaining nutrients than any other food on the planet. Very high in fiber, protein and minerals and very low in calories and fat.

Soy: Tofu, soy milk, or edamame. Tofu takes on the flavor of marinades. High in calcium, protein, and low in fat.

Tea: Green or black, tea equals antioxidant power and it’s 0 calories unless it’s sweet tea.

Calcium: Recommended ~1000-1200 mg daily. Your brain and heart receives the first priority of calcium received and then your bones get what is left over. You can never make up for lack of calcium intake for a day prior. You must consume the amount above daily. I will focus on Calcium in one of my future articles since it is such an important mineral that all of us need daily.

Photo Source: sciencedaily.com
Dark chocolate: Packed with antioxidants, lowers blood pressure, 60% or higher cocoa content. Results in lower rates of: obesity, breast cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes and has some weight loss benefits.


Soluble fiber: Keeps cholesterol levels in check, lowers risk of heart disease, blood sugar regulation. Examples: grain and cereal foods, i.e., oatmeal, barley, rice, corn, beets, carrots, avocados, bananas, applesauce, nuts. Think of “gummy” and absorbs water.

Insoluble fiber: Passes through the body very quickly, does not absorb water. Examples: leafy greens, whole grains, celery, seeds and nuts, fruit skins.

Antioxidants: Fight off free radicals that attack the body’s cells that lead to aging and fight heart disease and cancer.


Dark leafy greens
Green or black tea
Whole grains

3x Per Week
Cauliflower and broccoli
Sweet potato
Oily fish

Reduce Intake
Red meat
White starch
Sodas and diet products

About Sarah: Sarah is a Registered Dietitian at the A.E. Finley YMCA. Sarah leads the Y Weigh weight loss class, nutrition seminars for marathon trainers, participates in health fairs and offers private consultations. Her expertise lies in weight loss, women and nutrition, osteoporosis, cholesterol and heart disease and, most importantly, healthy eating for you and your family.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Everyone out of the pool! That’s the last thing you want to hear on a hot, summer day at the pool. But at the Y, safety is our top priority. That’s why we want to remind you of our indoor and outdoor pool policies when it comes to severe weather.

YMCA of the USA and the National Lightning Safety Institute recommend that both outdoor and indoor pools be cleared during a lightning storm.

We follow the 30-minute rule at all of YMCA of the Triangle pools. All Y pools (indoor and outdoor) close for 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.

“A lot of members want to know why we close our indoor pools during a storm,” says George Allen, vice president of risk at the YMCA of the Triangle. “Water is an excellent conductor of electricity. Just because a pool is surrounded by a structure does not make it safe during a storm.”

Here are some facts about lightning:
  •        13% of all lightning incidents involved swimming, boating or fishing.
  •        Thunder is usually heard up to 12 miles from a lightning strike. In other words, if you can hear thunder, you’re in danger of lightning.
  •          Lightning strikes can reach up to 10 miles.

We want everyone to have a fun, safe summer at our YMCA pools!

Monday, June 4, 2012


Bullying is an age-old problem getting a lot of new attention. Cyberbullying is a regular part of our vocabulary. The documentary, Bully, is required viewing in some communities.

Now, the Y is taking bullying head on.

Dr. Joel Haber, the Bully Coach, speaks to YMCA youth 
leadership staff about how to identify and prevent bullying.
“At the YMCA, our top priority is the safety of children in our care. We always want to provide our youth leaders and counselors with the tools to do their jobs effectively,” said Betsy Peters, YMCA of the Triangle regional vice president. “We can’t allow bullying to interfere with children enjoying camp to the fullest.”

National surveys indicate that as many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years. At least 10% are bullied on a regular basis. That’s why the YMCA of the Triangle invited the nation’s leading bullying prevention and solutions expert, Dr. Joel Haber, to lead summer day camp trainings.

“We’re proud to say we’ve never tolerated violence in YMCA youth programs. Our counselors requested specific training on how to stop bullying,” said Marco Ramirez, associate director of the Kraft Family YMCA. “It seemed logical that we would want to learn about bullying prevention from the best."

Dr. Haber, The Bully Coach™, is the American Camp Association’s (ACA) official bullying consultant. He helped set the standard for anti-bullying prevention for all accredited summer camps that went into effect this year.

On June 1 and 2, Dr. Haber led sessions with YMCA youth leadership staff, YMCA Summer Day Camp staff and Wake County Public School leaders. He offered tips on how counselors and other campers can identify bullying and how to stop it.

“A camp counselor’s job is to be a hero,” said Dr. Haber. “Discussing camper rules and role modeling good behavior lets campers know that bullying is not tolerated.”

The Respect U Camp Program helps camp personnel identify potential bullies in their staff or campers and "hot-spots" where bullying occurs. His program includes the specific tools needed to reduce bullying: hurtful gossip, relational aggression, sports bullying and cyberbullying.

Learn more about the Respect U program. There’s still time to register for YMCA Summer Day Camp. Check out the possibilities.