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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Friday, October 12, 2012

He has a way of making you think you can do it

This column appeared in the Sept. 29, 2012, edition of The News-Herald. 
The last time I saw Chris Yano, she was wearing a crown and holding a bouquet of roses.

That’s because she’s royalty.

The 2012 News-Herald/Lake County Fair Commerce Queen hasn’t given up her day job, which is leading the Fairport Harbor Senior Center and its huge group of participants through activities that include Wii bowling and golf, numerous classes and games such as billiards and cards.

Yano’s an impressive woman, getting help from a few volunteers as she encourages these seniors ages 55 and older to remain active in their minds as well as their bodies.

It’s that last part that brought me back to Fairport with a good friend this week.

Jaime Brenkus, who owns Slim & Fit Personal Weight Loss & Fitness, didn’t hesitate when I asked him if he’d be willing to head out to the facility at the corner of High and East streets.

I told him Yano’s group of feisty participants takes part in a weights-and-bands class a few times each week and that they’d be thrilled to have him come out with his special brand of nutrition information.

When you spend time with Brenkus, you learn pretty quickly that he’s motivational. He’s also so full of energy that you’ll be bounding around the room to keep up with him as he talks.

But my favorite thing about Brenkus is his use of catchphrases.

There’s one for every subject.

“Your best pieces of fitness equipment are your knife and fork.”

“Nothing tastes as good as slim feels.”

They all make sense. As we tell the folks taking part in Lighten Up, The News-Herald’s annual weight-loss contest, you don’t have to exercise at all to lose weight. Cut your caloric intake, you’ll start to lose. And, as anyone who’s lost weight has learned, you do feel a lot better after you’ve lost some of your extra pounds.

When Brenkus stepped in front of the 25 seniors who set up in the Senior Center’s cafeteria, he looked them in the eyes and delivered the same speech I’ve heard countless times during Lighten Up meetings and during his talks with those he’s training.

He tells you what you already know.

Everyone knows how to lose weight. It’s simple. If you don’t eat, you don’t gain. If you eat less, you’ll lose.

Brenkus, though, has a way of making you think you can do it. And that’s powerful.

When he asked if the class could tell him how many calories equals a pound. “Thirty-five hundred,” about half the class correctly yelled back.

“As we eat those calories, if we don’t expend them, they turn to fat,” Brenkus said.

He said the weights class they do a few times a week is a great way to keep the fat at bay.

“If you put on lean muscle, your body burns calories faster, more efficiently,” Brenkus said.

When it came time for the fitness aspects of Brenkus’ visit, I was curious how class members would handle it.

I need not have worried. Not a single person stopped during the hourlong session of lifting hand weights and stretching fitness bands.

He even pushed them further than they normally go, asking for 15 repetitions of each exercise. I realized it after a little while, because the woman standing to Brenkus’s left during the workout kept saying “nine” when they’d done a bunch. I had a feeling that she wanted to stop at 10, but she gamely followed the rest of the class and made it to 15.

Brenkus played off the groans from the jokers in the crowd. A couple of the gentlemen in the group were cutups who’d played the same role in the class I’d seen Yano conduct previously. There’s no shortage of whining, even as they masterfully complete each challenge laid out by the teacher.

At one point, though, one of the women in the crowd yelled out, “I don’t know about this exercise, but you sure can count.”

Yano stood to Brenkus’ right, taking on the role of a regular student. She seemed to really get into the class, pumping her weights along with everyone else. She said a couple of times that she was learning some new tricks for the group.

Brenkus said he was impressed by the eagerness of the group to take part and that they handled it so easily.

The class should be on alert, though. Brenkus said he’d consider coming back for more workouts.

I’ll remind them of something that Brenkus said during the workout. When someone admitted they were praying for deliverance from the torture they were enduring, Brenkus piped up, playing off the Catholic faith he realized he shared with a few in the crowd.

“Bless me father, for I have sinned. I’m doing an act of repetition, instead of contrition.”
Twitter: @Lauranh


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