On a new path
Shedding 133 pounds yields 'unbelievable' benefits
Amy Borovsky's face is a mask of concentration as she hefts two 55-pound dumbbells and walks with them, step by step, around the confines of the Fitness Together training studio. Her breathing is a long slow steady inhale, followed by an explosive exhale.
It's not the panicked panting of exertion, nor the overwrought exhalations of someone with too great a burden. It's a measured sort of thing, the breathing of someone who knows what she's doing, what she wants. Though she doesn't vocalize it, those powerful exhales are a warrior's "kiai," warning all around her that she will not be stopped.
Borovsky's trainer, Greg Thurston, explains that walking with those weights is more than an exercise, more than a goal to be obtained or an obstacle to be beaten. It's a reminder. "That's the weight she's lost so far. She used to carry that on her all the time," he said.
Weight loss has been an ongoing battle for Borovsky over the years, but it became a greater problem after the birth of her son Noah. A nurse at the time, she thought she had it all after Noah's birth. Husband, family, job, the works. Until her son was age 3 and her world changed.
"My son was diagnosed with autism at age 3," she stated. "It was like running into a brick wall." She explained that when you learn something like that, everything is suddenly different. "I had to be an advocate for my son and to try to 'fix' him. There's all these things that I didn't know about autism and I had to learn them. I lost total control of me - any hopes, dreams, employment - gone. I gave all my strength to the situation."
Through the learning process of dealing with autism and how best to care for her son, she found herself working out less. Her focus narrowed to encompass her son's needs and her weight began to trend upward.
"I was thin when this started," she said. "I did work out. It was a kind of therapy. I tried all sorts of different things. I lost a thousand pounds and spent thousands of dollars - and it all came back."
Her weight climbed to a dangerous 330 pounds. At the same time, the mental fatigue of handling her son's needs left her sinking further and further into a state of malaise.
"I started my decent into what I call autism-induced depression," she recalled. "I had five years of therapy. At one point my therapist wanted me to walk, get some exercise. I just thought, 'I'm tired just from driving here and you want me to walk.'"
Borovsky's weight exacerbated her sciatica, a painful condition where pressure is being put on the sciatic nerve. Not only does it cause debilitating pain, it also can cause muscle numbness and weakness. It also, indirectly, put her on the beginning of her path to weight loss.
Almost two years ago, during a visit to a chiropractor, Borovsky was told about a physical trainer working in the Bay Area, who would come to her home in Danville. He was Greg Thurston.
"I was 333 pounds. I was wide as the door. I opened the door and the first thing he said was, 'You're not so bad.' I just melted," she remembered. "He gave me hope. He gave me acceptance."
Thurston, a competitive body builder, personal trainer and nutritionist, was operating a business called Mobile Fitness at the time. He would travel around to businesses and individuals, working with them on exercise, nutrition and healthy lifestyles.
He and Borovsky had to start slowly.
"He told me to do sit-ups and I couldn't," she said, "so we tried boxing. He wore boxing mitts and they had an E on each mitt. I hit each mitt like 15 times and then I just hung on him." She said - with a fierce grin - that when she was hitting the mitts she figured out what the E's stood for. "Everything and everybody," she explained.
With that simple exercise, a connection was made. Thurston began coming to Borovsky's home, bringing the boxing mitts, and getting her started on a fitness program. He said it was an uphill battle at first. "She was so depressed. She was crippled, she couldn't walk. She was done."
Week after week the pair continued to work, and when Thurston traded in his Mobile Fitness to become owner/operator of Fitness Together they started to add more exercises to the routine. The newly rented studio space in downtown Danville is also where Borovsky met Bob.
"Bob" is a rubberized punching dummy kept in the main exercise area. Borovsky would go back into the private client rooms when having her training with Thurston, but she would frequently come out, strap on the gloves, and practice her jabs and punches on Bob. "It's a real stress reliever," Thurston stated. "People come in and sometimes that's their whole workout. And they leave feeling a whole lot better."
Thurston said that working on Bob gave Borovsky an outlet for the stress and the anger that accumulated in her day-to-day life and gave her the energy to continue on their program of fitness. That program included weight training, resistance machines and cardio. Borovsky said she learned early on that whatever task Thurston set before her, she had to take a swing at it.
"One time he had me hang on the rings. The first thing in my head is 'I can't do it.' But I never say that to Greg."
Laughing, Thurston quipped, "She's said other things." He then added, "I think this is more mental than physical. It's so much keeping focused on the target. Getting healthy, eating right. It's more than the destination: It's the journey, it's one day at a time."
While the pair gets along quite well, with an ease and warmth of much time spent together, they both admit that there have been some bad days, too. "There were days when I was angry, when I didn't want to do it, but he was tough on me when I needed him to be tough," she said.
Thurston noted that those days are not uncommon in training. He's had sessions end with laughter and others end in tears. "Lots of people have cried - men, women, children - because it's emotional. It's serious, and sometimes I have to get pretty real."
Working in the gym and keeping Borovsky mentally focused was only half the equation. She said Thurston also worked with her on nutrition. "One of the things I learned was to eat every two to two-and-a-half hours. Mini-meals, 200-300 calories each time," she said.
Thurston explained that in studying nutrition he had examined a number of the popular diets on the market and the thing he found in almost all cases was the concept of eating several small meals day, and drinking water. "I want all my clients to have a diet they can live with. Eat the things you like, but control your portions."
The first disagreement between the two crops up over the topic of diet. Borovsky is maintaining the six meals a day protocol, but she has completely cut sugar and flour out of her diet. A typical "mini-meal" may consist of a low carb/high protein bar, or perhaps chicken and rice.
Thurston shakes his head. "This is what I've been trying to tell her," he said. "It's not what you eat. It's how you eat it. I don't live on egg whites and oatmeal. I eat them when I need to get ready for a competition but the average person doesn't need to eat that way to just be healthy."
Regardless of the disagreement, the 20 months of exercise coupled with the changed eating style has had results. Borovsky has lost 133 pounds and is well on her way to her goal of 140 pounds.
"The benefits for me have been unbelievable," she said. "I'm more grounded, more energized. I only meet with Greg once or twice a week, but I come to the gym every day. It helps encompass all the feelings that build up in being involved with a child with special needs."
Noah is 10 now, a fifth-grader at Golden View Elementary. Borovsky said he is a bright child who has good days and bad days. With her weight under control and the gym as an outlet, the good days seem just that much better and the bad days don't seem quite as rough.
Completing her exercise, Borovsky lifts the two heavy weights and slips them back down into the rack with a clang. A brief smile is what she allows herself before moving on to a round of punches with Bob.
It is easy to see that although she is not completely to her goal yet, it is in sight and attainable. By the set of her face and the tenacity of her spirit it is also easy to see that for her, weight will not be a problem again.