By Grace Clackson
In recent years, exercise was not on my radar. Like many others, I was busy balancing work and family. Honestly, I thought regular gym dates were only for overweight people. It wasn't always this way — I loved dancing growing up but just couldn't make room for it in my adult life.
But all of that changed in 2010.
I found myself more and more fatigued and around the same time my mother died from polycystic kidney disease (PKD), I learned I too had inherited the genetic kidney disorder. Most people with PKD, a chronic kidney disease where clusters of cysts develop primarily within the kidneys, get the disease between their 50's and 60's.
I was on the verge of kidney failure at 44 years of age.
Eventually doctors told me that the only cure was dialysis or a kidney transplant. At this point I had three young children and the news was debilitating. But we quickly gathered up some courage to ask for help. My brother was not a fit since he too had PKD; my husband had a different blood type. I went to the Internet to ask for a kidney. Our community rallied and my nephew-in-law was generous enough to go through a battery of tests that revealed a nearly perfect blood match.
On February 28, 2011, I had a successful kidney transplant in my native Philippines. As soon as my anesthesia wore off, I felt a light turn on--the extreme fatigue was gone. My donor and I recovered quickly and we were back on our feet within a month after surgery. Four months later, the honeymoon was over and I was back in the hospital with an mysterious infection. Many feared the worst, suspecting post-transplant lymphoma, but it turned out to be an infection caused by natural bacteria in the gut.
All of this resulted in major weight loss. I felt very weak and for the first time in my whole life, I was told to see a nutritionist so that I could gain weight efficiently. Soon, I started working out twice a week with a personal trainer. Within three months, I started feeling great, seeing changes in my body, and gaining strength. Eventually, I stopped working with a trainer and started my own daily exercise regimen. I combined weight conditioning on my own and attended group exercise classes, trying everything from pilates to yoga, bootcamp to cardio dance.
In my first year of exercising regularly, I discovered that fitness is essential to my everyday life. It kept me sane, happy and made me a better person to everyone. As life returned to normal, I made the decision not to return to work and instead focus on my family. I started attending dance classes again and began to learn Latin ballroom dances. I enjoyed ballroom dancing so much that I participated in local Pro-Am competitions. While doing this, I discovered that my normal exercise regimen wasn't good enough--I needed to train like dancers do. I discovered “barre” conditioning classes and fell in love. This type of workout combines all the elements of exercise that I love and need for ballroom dancing- free weights, dance-based movements, core-focused exercises and stretching. I felt stronger and had the endurance to be in competition the whole day.
This experience--the transplant, the recovery, the exercise-fueled empowerment, led to my desire to help other women feel the same way. This year I started training to be a group fitness instructor and decided to open my own studio. I truly believe that no one should have to go through a life crisis to discover that exercise should be part of their life.