Deciding not to be a victim of illness

Workout 'animal' bounces back after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease

Health & Fitness

July 04, 2004|By Desonta Holder | Desonta Holder,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Anthony Scelta's life has changed profoundly. Fa-tigue and muscle pain are common for the former personal trainer. He sometimes shakes uncontrollably, and his medication for Parkinson's disease causes nausea and other debilitating side effects.

After he was diagnosed at age 25, which is rare, he tried to continue working, but his symptoms forced him to stop. He could no longer be the upbeat trainer his Manhattan clients deserved. Before long, depression intruded.

"I hit rock bottom a few years ago, and I was a mess," says Scelta, 35, who moved to Coral Springs, Fla., nine years ago for the warm weather. "I just didn't want to see anybody, didn't want to do anything. I was in bed, crying and all that. I said to myself, 'This is not what I want my life to become.' "

With no motivation to eat, his six-feet-tall, muscular physique dwindled to a paltry 145 pounds. And he could barely do one push-up -- quite a contrast from the days when he could easily do 100.

"I was an animal," he says of his former life. "I'd work out three hours a day, five days a week. Dips were too easy. I'd have to put 90 pounds around my waist to make it challenging. Pull-ups, I could do 30, no problem. I used to love working out."

As a certified strength and conditioning specialist, Scelta spent his days wearing a weighted jacket while walking around Manhattan to train clients. Sometimes he'd train his own body twice a day, chest in the morning and legs at night. He also teamed up with a friend to create an ab machine, but the company that licensed the Health Trac 2000 went bankrupt.

Later, he ended up broke and disabled, then he turned to writing.

His book, Defying Despair: How One Man is Winning His Battle With Young Onset Parkinson's Disease: Feed the Mind, Train the Body, Nourish the Soul ($19.99, Myson Publishing) chronicles his struggle and offers hope to others in despair.

"I wanted to help people," the single dad says. "I didn't just want information thrown on pages. ... I was thinking it would be nice if one day my 6-year-old son could read what I was going through."

What Scelta went through could easily send anyone into despair. It began with frustrating symptoms and about a year of testing to find out what was wrong.

"There were signs, but I didn't realize what was going on," he says. "It was hard for me to put on a jacket. I couldn't straighten out my arm. ... When I tried to grab a steering wheel, my fingers would get in each other's way. But I didn't think anything of it. Then one day I was having a fight with a car salesman, and all of a sudden my hand started shaking."

With a confirmed diagnosis and, eventually, a decision to not play victim, Scelta began reading books on religion, self-help and philosophy.

"I was drawing on my strength when I was reading, and my body started coming around," he explains. "I would think about what are the things that makes someone strong mentally. I came up with an acronym: FIT -- faith, inspiration, tenacity," Scelta adds.

"I started working out again, and it was difficult. ... When I used to work out, I had a certain regimen that I never went away from. But this time I couldn't do that. ... Instead of weight training, maybe I'd walk. You don't know what muscle is gonna cramp up on you."

Working out takes a lot out of Scelta, so he does whatever he can tolerate, usually 15 minutes to a half-hour three times a week. He might feel good for a few months, and then feel horrible for a few months. Currently, he's undergoing tests to determine if he also suffers from Epstein-Barr, a viral infection.

Meanwhile, the workouts have paid off. The revitalized Scelta on the cover of his book weighs a solid 170 and, once again, has the physique of a personal trainer. Fitness is still a part of his life, but basic health gets priority.

"My goals are to be strong, relatively speaking, and to feel good," Scelta says. "I still like to look good, though. That's important, because I'm vain."

Resources

For more information about Parkinson's disease, contact:

* World Parkinson Disease Association: www.wpda.org.

* University of Maryland Medicine Parkinson's Disease Center: 410-328-7809; www.umm.edu / parkinsons

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