By Emma Stessman
Here’s the thing: health can be pretty unpredictable.
But whether it’s a broken bone that prevents you from continuing a daily yoga practice or a serious illness that shakes up your entire life, bouncing back is totally possible—especially if you’re fit and healthy in the first place. (A body that’s in shape is a more resilient body.)
Take it from these three amazing trainers who have done it.
We’re sharing the lessons they learned during recovery and how they found their way back to fitness. If you’re personally getting back to being active after a traumatic injury or illness, their stories will help. If not, you’ll still be super inspired by their strength and the power of healing.
(Featured Photo: Vera Trifunovich)
When Uplift Studios trainer Vera Trifunovich was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 51, it shocked everyone around her. “My doctor said to me, ‘you’re the healthiest cancer patient,’” she says.
About a month after her diagnosis in August 2016, Trifunovich was given the choice between having a lumpectomy or a mastectomy to remove her tumor. She went with the more aggressive option, and her doctors removed her breast along with about 12 lymph nodes in the surrounding area to make sure that the cancer hadn’t spread. Just over a month later, she began a six-month regimen of mild chemotherapy and took dance and sculpt classes the whole time she was receiving treatment.
Now, she’s back to training clients at Uplift and is further empowering women through her nonprofit organization, Bare Breasted Against Breast Cancer, which provides a support network of stories and advice for breast cancer patients and caregivers.
Lesson Learned: Ask for help
“In terms of my recovery, the lymph node removal really impacted my physical fitness,” Trifunovich says. “It’s very painful when you first come out of the surgery. I could barely lift my arm more than a couple of inches past my waist because it hurt so much. But I was determined to get my full range of motion back, and I was fortunate enough to speak with a Pilates instructor who was a breast cancer survivor herself and had gone through a double mastectomy, and she told me exactly what to do.
If you can…find a personal trainer or a rehab specialist that understands exactly what your limitations are right now and can identify your strengths and weaknesses. So then they can work with the strength that you have and take care of your weaknesses.”
Lesson Learned: Experiment with different forms of movement
“Think of this as an opportunity to explore different ways of working out and different modes of fitness,” she says. “If your flexibility has not been impaired, enjoy that. Do a yoga class and work on that flexibility. But if you’re you’re having a hard time with, say, cardio––take it slow and build that back up gradually.”
In late August of last year, Karla Misjan was headed home from teaching a yoga class at her Brooklyn studio, SYNCStudio, when she got in a serious bike accident. After swerving to avoid pedestrians in the bike lane, she ended up with the CitiBike on top of her, a broken ankle, and several damaged ligaments and tendons.
Misjan had to cancel her upcoming honeymoon with her husband and undergo surgery to have a plate and seven screws put in her ankle. Post-surgery, she pushed herself to stay active and start teaching again. Because, just over a month later, she boarded a plane solo––crutches and all!––to lead a yoga retreat in Portugal. She successfully led the retreat with support from her students and her crutches (literally!) and taught most classes while seated on the ground.
“I tried to keep myself as active as I could, but within a range,” Misjan says. “I didn’t want to overexert myself because I also knew that I really needed time to heal.”
Lesson learned: Focus on the positive
“The idea of impermanence is a big tenet in yoga––nothing lasts forever. I think that really helped me a lot,” says Misjan. “There’s also an overwhelming sense of gratitude involved, knowing that I am healthy, and while my bone is broken, my bone will heal and I will walk again. I think that’s what started getting me through it all the most––looking at it from that perspective of gratitude and thinking, you know, my accident could have been a whole lot worse. I could have broken my wrist or damaged my head. Yes, it was my ankle. Yes, I am a fitness instructor. And yes, I do think that wellness is my life, but there are so many other things in my life that I can’t let this define me.”
Lesson learned: Recognize when your body needs rest
“A big thing that I realized was how much my body needed rest. I tried to resist it and keep working, but at some points I would just need to go to sleep and nap for a couple hours at a time,” Misjan says. “Through this whole journey, it’s interesting how your body really will loudly speak or yell at you sometimes, like just put me to bed, I just need to lay here and recover—especially from an incident so traumatic.”
(Photo: Karla Misjan)
Trammell Logan, a beloved SoulCycle instructor, suffered a pulmonary embolism on February 2 of this year—in the back of an Uber. The month prior he had been experiencing some common flu-like symptoms like back pain, fatigue and a bad cough, but a series of doctor visits, blood work, and an EKG found nothing wrong. In the Uber, however, the symptoms suddenly escalated, “My body was just giving up. I got dizzy and I couldn’t breathe,” Logan says.
The driver brought him back home, where he immediately collapsed and was put in an ambulance headed for the ER. He had emergency surgery in which around 15 blood clots were removed from his lungs and heart (if you have the stomach for it, you can see the actual clots on his Instagram).
The recovery, he says, has been rough. After eight days in the hospital, he started exercising almost immediately, but post-surgery, his workouts were much different than what he had been used to. “I started working out as soon as I got home, but it was like going to sit in a chair instead of the bed, or getting up and standing up five times and then going to lay down again.” By week four of his recovery, he was back in the gym, taking it slowly. Now, he’s back teaching a full schedule of classes at SoulCycle studios around New York City.
Lesson learned: It’s all about slow progress
“Start off slow, and set a goal” says Logan. “One of my goals was to do five squats, so I did five. Then when I felt good, I’d increase that to seven and then 10, and on and on––it’s all about slow progress.”
Lesson learned: Take care of yourself in advance
“They told me that the only reason I was alive is because I’m so fit and I really took care of my body,” Logan says. “It’s why my body was still pumping and operating and was strong enough to fight for the amount of time that it did. It was an unfortunate series of events, but because I did what I did prior to this, I’m very lucky to be here. It’s even more of a reason for us to take care of our bodies, so that we can give our bodies a fighting chance.”
(Photo: Trammell’s surgeon attends his SoulCycle class, via Instagram/@m3ll212)