When Gene Sapinski joined Midtown Athletic Club, having reached a weight of 335 pounds and approaching maximum dosages of cholesterol, diabetes and blood pressure medications, he had some definite fitness concerns. His friends and fellow members Mike Zaremba and David Collis were concerned for Sapinski’s health and convinced him to give the club a try.
“Although I always felt I would live to see my three children grow up, my health would keep me from dancing with my daughter, Megan, at her wedding or being around to see my granddaughter, Katherine, grow,” Sapinski says. After starting a weight training program, he participated in the club’s Body Fat Competition, which helped make him aware of the lifestyle changes he needed to make to achieve lasting fitness results.
After years of stops and starts, Sapinski committed himself to fitness with the support of his wife, Adair. Now reporting in at a svelte 205 pounds, Sapinski reflects on the decisions that helped him build a new body. “We devoted time to read on the benefits of yoga, fitness and healthy eating,” he says. He also began working with personal trainer Jason Bishop, who Sapinski calls “one of my strongest supporters.”
Despite his commitment to change, Sapinski didn’t see results overnight. “It takes work,” he attests. “I started out with a focus on weight training, doing three or four nights a week. Later, I began adding cardio to my workouts and I started spending a lot more time at the club. It was a growing process - even after a year of weight lifting, I still couldn’t do more than 10 minutes of cardio. There were certain milestones along the way that helped get me to where I’m at today, but it was a slow process.”
Sapinski also began to focus on nutrition, eating five or six portion-controlled meals every day instead of three large meals, and “cleaning the house of unhealthy processed foods, centering my eating on a healthy diet of vegetables, fruit, and grains. Omitting food groups that I always enjoyed helped me make better choices.
“As my wife reminds me, when I started this I ate a lot of chicken, turkey and other meats, and I’d be the first person in line to get a 10 piece box at Kentucky Fried Chicken. I could justify it to myself because it was chicken.”
Mountain (Biking) Man
In addition, he started a resistance training program to build core strength, began cardiovascular training to eliminate excess fat, and developed balance and flexibility through yoga. Looking back at his training routine, Sapinski can marvel at how far he’s come. He notes, “I could only start slowly, gradually working into longer and harder workouts. With consistent and diligent effort I progressed from being able to do a maximum of 10 minutes on the elliptical machine to being able to do 100 mile bicycle rides in a seven hour timeframe.”
In fact, he and his bike have gone well beyond 100 miles. After starting an annual “Father and Sons Bicycle Tour” with his sons, Tim and Scott, Sapinski developed a real passion for cycling, culminating in this year’s “Ride the Rockies” - a seven day, 422 mile ride with an elevation gain of 24,400 feet. Sapinski, reflecting on the experience, recalls, “As I was riding, I kept thinking ‘I couldn’t have done this last year.’”
“When I golfed with him five years ago, he had trouble walking 18 holes,” Zaremba adds. “Now the guy can ride 500 miles. It’s a pretty remarkable turnaround.”
A New Lease on Life
“It’s a cliché, but I honestly feel better now than I did 20 years ago,” Sapinski says with a smile, noting that he is no longer taking diabetes, cholesterol and high blood pressure medications. As his fitness program progressed, his wife moved from supporter to participant and began making her own lifestyle changes. “She quit smoking two years ago, joined the club, developed her own fitness program, and created a strong passion for yoga,” Sapinski says proudly. “Today, Adair looks and feels better than ever before.”
Sapinski knows how Adair feels first-hand, saying that his own weight loss has been a “strong boost in self-confidence.” That became even more apparent when he discusses shrinking his waistline to 36 inches, down from a high of 52 inches. “I got rid of those old clothes quickly,” he laughs. “I was at a big man’s store, which I had been going to for the longest time. I went in and asked for several sizes, but my range was below their size minimums. The salesman told me ‘This is the wrong store for you.’ When I left I was pumping my fist in the air like Tiger Woods!”
As he reflects on his fitness odyssey, Sapinski offers some final thoughts. “This journey was - and still is - filled with peaks and valleys, and many times it hasn’t been an easy process,” he says. “For me, ever more important than a treadmill and dumbbell stack was the moral support I received from my wife and children, my friend and training partner David Collis, my trainer Jason Bishop, my friends, and the club community at Midtown.”
Gene’s Tips for Fitness Success
Start by applying at least 30 minutes of exercise toward your body each day.
Create a food journal of what you eat and count calories.
Expand your knowledge about healthy eating and fitness. This is a weapon against your rationalizing defense mechanism.
Be held accountable: Get a painfully honest friend or support group.
Make goals that are short and attainable. Celebrate the little successes and keep setting goals.
Finally...Just start and enjoy the journey!
*This article originally appeared in the Fall ’07 issue of Midtown Willowbrook Spirit.