The YMCA, Ensuring a Brighter Future

Chris Lezpona

'A Piece of My Life Was Given Back to Me at the Y'

At age 21, Chris Lezpona has been through more challenges than most go through in a lifetime. Despite his disabilities, Chris comes to the Y-North Branch six days a week after attending school to lift weights to improve his physical strength and his appearance. "What motivates me is what I'm going to become because of the things I am doing now," Chris says. "People are going to notice me and the difference in me. That makes me want to keep on doing what I'm doing."


The son of David and Reggie Lezpona, Chris was a typical kid growing up in Onalaska with a younger sister. He loved to hang out with his friends, and he had a passion for golf. Then when he was around 12 years old, he began to feel haunted by thoughts of suicide. Fortunately, he told his parents, and they got him help. He struggled with his mental health for the next two years, and the devastating thoughts slowly faded away.


Just as he was enjoying a normal life again, he was hit with more bad health news when he was a freshman in high school. He was diagnosed with Type I diabetes, a lifelong disease in which there are high levels of sugar in the blood. He depends on daily insulin therapy. Throughout high school, he handled his diabetes and played on the golf team, but he began to notice his everyday skills declining, such as walking.


When his mom took him to see doctors his senior year in November 2008, they initially diagnosed him with vertigo. Thankfully, she requested more tests, which a revealed a (non-cancerous) brain tumor. Chris underwent surgery at American Family Children's Hospital, UW-Health, Madison, Wis. He transferred home to Gundersen Lutheran Hospital in La Crosse, where he stayed more than a month to recover. The surgery affected his ability to walk, but he determinedly worked his way out of a wheelchair to using a walker.


It would seem that would be enough suffering for one young man, but doctors discovered they didn't remove the entire brain tumor. More difficult news was that it sat on an extremely sensitive part of his brain that when removed, left Chris more disabled than his first surgery. "I had to relearn how to redo everything, everything," Chris says. "It was torture for me at first to watch my friends be able to do everything."


Today, along with going to the Y, he enjoys spending time with friends and watching movies and motivational videos on YouTube. He attends Western Technical College, where he's taking classes to prepare for a career as a dietitian with an emphasis on diabetes care. Within the next couple of years, he plans to transfer to Viterbo University. 


Since 2012 he has stuck with his two-hour work-out routine. It wasn't easy for him. He quit coming to the Y for six months previously because he felt frustrated. He didn't see the results he wanted. When he returned, he tried a different weight lifting regime, and he began to feel more satisfied and motivated. "It's just like golf to me was at one time," Chris says. "A piece of my life was given back to me by weight lifting at the Y."


- By Kim Seidel, Seidel Ink LLC. 2012