By Don Manley
The five chronic diseases included among the Greater Marco Family YMCA’s health and wellness program priorities for the next few years have played a pivotal role in life of Deborah Passero.
Cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis and cardiovascular disease were all selected as focal points by the Y’s board of directors earlier this year.
Passero, the Y’s healthy living and membership director, said three of those maladies: diabetes, heart disease and cancer, as well as a stroke, led to the death of her beloved “Grandma Angie” 37 years ago at just 56 years old. It was the experience of that loss at the age of 19 that motivated her to make wellness her profession.
“The reason I have this career is that my heart was broken by my grandmother dying from so many diseases that could have been prevented,” said Passero, an exercise physiologist who has a degree in kinesiology-cardiac rehabilitation from Michigan State University. “Through tragedy and trials is how we really find out what our purpose is.”
November’s start will see the debut of two new classes, Cross Training Fitness and Gentle Body Power Tennis, which target those who’ve contracted two of the five diseases that are part of the Y’s current strategic goals.
November 1 will mark the start of Gentle Body Power, which is for cancer survivors. Previous tennis experience is not required for this class, which stresses mind-body movements for strength, stability, flexibility and improved mental focus.
Beginning November 2 is a class that focuses on those who are diabetic or are at risk of becoming diabetic: Cross Training Fitness, which combines tennis, free weights and cycling. The class is broken down into 15-minute increments to improve cardiovascular health, strength and physical agility.
They join two existing programs that target sufferers of three of the five diseases.
For about the last year, the Rock Steady Boxing class has helped participants improve and delay the symptoms of Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases. Rock Steady is a specially designed, noncontact, boxing-style fitness program that has been proven effective in combating those symptoms.
It’s joined by the Gentle Body Power class, which blends movements like Pilates, yoga and Tai Chi, combined with muscle activation techniques. Enhanced strength, flexibility and balance are the goals of the class, which is billed as being ideal for cancer survivors.
Aside from her administrative duties, Passero works directly with members. In addition to serving as a certified personal trainer, she leads classes such as Gentle Body Power and WholyFit Devotional Exercise, which blends working out and meditation to lift body and spirit, as well as manage stress, improve sleep and promote weight loss.
Passero has worked in the field for 30 years, including more than 14 at YMCA’s in the Midwest, and she has more than 12,000 hours of one-on-one personal training with chronic disease related clients.
Since coming to the Y in 2014, she has also been responsible for spearheading the establishment of classes such as Rock Steady Boxing and Ballroom Dancing Lessons with Justinas, which introduces participants to the elegant, graceful practice that carries with it a host of health benefits.
Passero is also responsible for establishing the Y’s Wonder Girls program. Wonder Girls is a 12-week long, after-school program designed to empower eighth grade girls to adopt healthy lifestyles.
“With her education and her experience in the field, Deborah also brought to our Y enthusiasm to serve others, mission understanding, and a vision of working on programs that coincided with our overall YMCA Strategic Goals in the next few years in the field of Health and Wellness, Teen and Family Enhancement programs, and membership engagement activities,” said Marco Y CEO Cindy Love.
A committed Christian, Passero is passionate about helping others and the importance of family. “I’m kind of the little fire that’s igniting these things because family is so important to me and because of that I realize how important it is to serve the community,” she said.
The Y’s board conducted a survey of community needs this year and Passero said a common response was a desire for more family time, something that is now reflected in the Y’s programming. Free, monthly Family Fun Nights, with a cookout, have been added to the schedule. In September, the event was combined with a Rock Steady Boxing exhibition, which enabled children to learn about Parkinson’s, boxing and how the class has benefitted participants.
A Family Fun Night Talent Show is planned for October 25 and in November the event will become a Family Fun Day, with cultural exploration as the theme. People are asked to bring foods that represent their cultural roots, decorate their table “and bring something to teach us about their culture,” said Passero. “You see, it’s all about family, isn’t it?”
She and her husband moved to Marco from Michigan in 2014 to be closer to her father, Ronald Kennedy, who operated one of the area’s first charter fishing businesses, Peg Leg Charters in Goodland, before retiring this year.
“I realized that I might not have a lot more time with my dad,” she said. “I just said to my husband, I really want to work at the Y on Marco Island and I want to be with my dad so let’s see if we can do both. I’d love to serve the community there and be near him and my husband loves Marco. So we came down for a month, there was job opening at the Y, we bought a condo and that was it. Every dream I ever had came true that year.”