The YMCA, Ensuring a Brighter Future

Sharon Schmelzer

Bringing Motivation to Others in the YMCA's Diabetes Prevention Program

Sharon Schmelzer, a long-time fitness instructor, sees first-hand the pain and suffering that diabetes brings upon individuals and families. It's with her personal experiences that she's able to offer knowledge and compassion as a lifestyle coach for the YMCA's Diabetes Prevention Program. 


Sharon's mother was diagnosed with diabetes more than 40 years ago, when there was little known about the disease. She was raised with seven siblings while their mom worked around the clock, including on their family farm. Understandably, she didn't have much of a chance to devote to herself. 


"My mom didn't do anything wrong - she just wasn't educated about the disease," says Sharon, who grew up without understanding her mother's disease. Sharon didn't learn more about type 2 diabetes until about 10 years ago. Since then, she and her family have come to learn more about diabetes, a group of diseases characterized by high blood sugar levels that result from defects in the body's ability to produce or use insulin. Diabetes is a leading cause of heart disease, stroke, blindness and kidney and nerve disease.


As a diabetic, Sharon's mom continued working for 61 years until she retired at age 79. Today Sharon, her two sisters Shirley and Nancy, and her dad, help their 81-year-old mom with her diabetic care. She has been through a lot, including seven surgeries in a single year. Sharon marvels at her mother's positive attitude, which along with family's love and support, she attributes to her mom's vitality.


So when Sharon was invited to lead the YMCA's Diabetes Prevention Program, she knew it would be an ideal way to help those who are at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes. The program is based on research funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which shows that by increasing physical activity and losing weight, a person with pre-diabetes can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. 


During the 16-week core course, Sharon instructs participants about healthy eating, exercising and making other behavior changes. After the initial sessions, students meet monthly for additional support to help them maintain their progress. Sharon especially enjoys this part of the program, which is like a support group for people. She facilitates participants to encourage and to learn from one another and to meet goals. Program goals include reducing body weight by 7 percent and increasing physical activity to 150 minutes per week.


At age 47, Sharon is an ideal role model for her students in the diabetes prevention program, as well as in the fitness classes she teaches at the Y. It's easy to think she was always the energetic, fit instructor, as she leads group strength, spinning and yoga classes at the Y about four days a week. She's not afraid to share with others that she weighed more than 200 pounds in her childhood. She can relate to the dedication and willpower it takes to personally overcome unhealthy lifestyle habits. As a busy wife, mother of two daughters, ages 8 and 11, and full-time employee, she understands how easily old behavior can creep back into her daily life. Still today, she remains conscious about what she eats and how much she exercises and encourages others along the way.


- By Kim Seidel, Seidel Ink LLC. 2012