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The Birches Assisted Living

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Chicago Area Senior Regains Strength Through Personal Training

With the help of personal trainer Rich Jeka, Birches Assisted Living resident Virginia Pierce regained her strength and ability to walk.

Clarendon Hills, IL, May 28, 2015 --( After recovering from pneumonia in early 2014, 83-year old Virginia Pierce was confined to wheelchair, having lost the strength to do even simple tasks like getting herself a cup of coffee.

“It was frustrating,” said Pierce. “Things I used to be able to do, I just couldn’t do anymore.”

When Pierce was released from the hospital, her husband Ralph knew that living in their three level home in Westmont was no longer realistic for Virginia, so the Pierces relocated to The Birches Assisted Living in Clarendon Hills.

Shortly after their arrival, Virginia and Ralph began working with Rich Jeka, the personal trainer at The Birches. Virginia wanted to regain strength and flexibility so she could do everyday activities like getting up from her wheelchair to go to the bathroom.

Jeka started working with Virginia twice a week, teaching her exercises that would build muscle and increase her range of motion. The first exercise Jeka taught Virginia was a type of wheelchair push-up where she used her arms and legs to push herself up out of her wheelchair for a moment.

“At first, she struggled to do one and then she did two,” said Jeka. “To make a long story short, after a few months, she was doing two or three sets of fifteen of those things. She was really cranking them out.”

Rich also had Virginia use an exercise ladder and do squats to build her leg strength and use weights to build her arm strength. Once her leg and arm strength had improved, Jeka gave Virginia a gait belt and had her start practicing walking with a walker. According to Jeka, she can now walk 100 sets back and forth from her wheelchair to the bathroom.

Jeka was so impressed with the progress Virginia made during their months working together, that he decided to highlight her story during a presentation he gave at The Birches this past February about personal training success stories.

Jeka provided examples of people from all over the country who had overcome physical challenges to accomplish impressive physical feats. Virginia’s story, however, was the only one Jeka had witnessed first-hand.

During his presentation, Jeka brought weights and asked Virginia to demonstrate some of her newfound skills for her fellow residents— most of whom had never seen her get out of her wheelchair.

“When I had her stand up, I had her using the weights and exercise tubes and that surprised everybody,” said Jeka. “Then I had her do a set of fifteen wheelchair push-ups which astonished people. The walking was kind of the icing on the cake.”

Like everybody else, Virginia’s husband Ralph is impressed with the progress Virginia has made since starting her work with Rich.

“When we came to The Birches, Virginia couldn’t even get up and go to the bathroom. I’d have to call for one of the resident assistants to come and help her,” said Ralph Pierce. “Doing those wheelchair reps would have been completely impossible.”

Ralph says, however, that he and his wife are still aiming for more progress and are going to work together to increase her walking stamina.

“We’d like to see her using her walker more and not the wheelchair. I’m going to start taking her for a walk down the hall every day,” said Pierce. “The goal is to walk this far and then at some point walk a little farther. Maybe a month later you say, ‘Gosh we’ve gone from here all the way to there.’”

Although Jeka admits that Virginia Pierce’s progress is one of the more remarkable physical training success stories he has witnessed, he emphasizes that everyone’s goals and physical growth are remarkable in their own right.

“Everyone’s a little bit different. Everyone has their own challenge. The whole physical training program is measured progressively, which means finding out what you can do this month and comparing it to yourself next month, and the month after, until there is progress. So even though everyone’s progress is a little bit different, everybody is making progress,” said Jeka.

In the case of Virginia, Jeka says she had one important characteristic that paved the way for her success: a positive mental attitude.

“If you ask her what the most powerful muscle in the body is, she’ll point to her head,” said Jeka. “She was able to overcome the physical and the fear of trying, and she had fun doing it. When I talked to her daughter, she said that they just can’t believe she can get out of the chair and do the things she does now.”

The Birches Assisted Living in Clarendon Hills is a premier retirement community dedicated to providing professional services that support its residents’ physical, social, intellectual and spiritual growth. The Birches offers a full calendar of purposeful programs and activities designed to promote a healthy aging lifestyle and a strong sense of community. For more information about The Birches, call 630-789-1135 or visit:
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The Birches Assisted Living
Jenny Smiechowski

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