The YMCA, Ensuring a Brighter Future

Karen Helgerson

Working Out at Y Helps to Create a New Life Chapter

What began as losing weight for her daughter's wedding evolved into Karen Helgerson jump-starting her own health and fitness program. Karen joined the Y in August 2011 to drop 50 pounds for the May 2012 wedding. With nine months looming before her, she took water exercise classes and did circuit training at the Y North Branch. She was motivated to look great in her mother-of-the bride dress. It wasn't easy in the beginning. "After about two months, I felt the weight wasn't coming off fast enough for me," Karen says. She didn't give up. She hired YMCA Personal Trainer, Mark Mihalovic, for 10 sessions.


Meeting with her twice a week, Mark showed Karen how to maximize her workouts to burn more calories, including doing interval training on the treadmill. He recommended weight training, such as the leg press, dumbbell rows, squats and calf raises, as well as exercises that involve multi-joint movement and multiple muscle groups. He gave her super sets of exercises to get her muscles fatigued faster. "Believe me, when I was done, I was more than fatigued," Karen says. "The weight started coming off faster. I was so surprised and happy."


In addition to partnering with a personal trainer, she worked with a dietician to eat healthier. Karen cut out the high fat foods that then comprised most of her diet and incorporated more fresh fruits and vegetables into her meals. With the support, Karen built a healthy, solid routine of exercising and eating well. Sometimes she would mix up her work out and lift free weights or ride the stationary bike. Even after the 10 successful sessions ended, Mark continues to check in with Karen. "He's always very upbeat and encouraging," she says. 


By the time the wedding arrived, Karen had achieved results beyond her goal. She lost 65 pounds, 15 more pounds than she originally planned on. Her hard work paid off. "I felt wonderful at the wedding; I felt like a princess," Karen says. "My dress was beautiful."


Since May, Karen has continued to work out at the Y twice a week for one hour, and to maintain her wholesome diet. "I was working out for my daughter; I wanted to look good for her wedding," Karen says. "Now, I'm working out for me." As a newly divorced woman at age 53, Karen says training at the Y is helping her to rebuild her self-esteem and to prepare for a new chapter in her life. She's lost seven more pounds for a total of 72 pounds. Her latest goal is to lose about 50 more pounds. 


Some days, her biggest challenges to her newfound healthy lifestyle is motivating herself to get to the Y and keeping a positive attitude. "Once I'm through the front doors, I'm definitely glad I'm there," Karen says. "Sometimes it would be too easy to get down in the dumps and not go anywhere." The mother of three grown children, she also has a six-year-old granddaughter, who loves going to the Y with her grandma. Karen appreciates the drop-in child care for her grandchild. That way Karen can exercise first and then have fun with her granddaugter in the pool. Karen says, "Just get yourself to the Y and you'll be glad you did."


- By Kim Seidel, Seidel Ink LLC. 2012