The YMCA, Ensuring a Brighter Future

Jake Hutchinson & Gary Skogen

Y's New Direction Program For Cancer Survivors Creates Strong Friendship

When YMCA member Gary Skogen was introduced to Jake Hutchinson, he knew immediately he was an extraordinary young person. They became acquainted this spring at the Hope Lives Foundation fundraising dinner for cancer survivors. "I thought, 'What a courageous man he was with his positive attitude,'" Gary says. "Those of us who have never experienced cancer are very lucky. When I saw Jake, I really felt it in my heart what he must be going through." 


They've been buddies ever since they met. They especially bonded when Gary challenged him to a game of golf, Jake's favorite sport, for that summer. Gary kept his promise, and he laughs, "He beat me. He's a good golfer. We're going to have to do it again so I can get my revenge." Jake formerly played golf on his high school's team.


A 2013 graduate of Sparta Senior High School, Jake is currently a freshman at UW-La Crosse. When he was a junior, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. As a testament to his determination, he took all of his classes on-line his senior year so he could graduate on time. "He's a swell, wonderful young man," Gary says. "He's going place."


Now, seeing Jake this fall, Gary says, is "like night and day." Along with a strong network of family and friends, Jake's success can be credited to the Y program, A New Direction. It's a physical activity program for youth and young adult cancer survivors to help them regain their health and well-being. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments often take a toll on their bodies, and for youth and young adults, symptoms can be more severe. 


Jake was introduced to A New Direction by friends and wanted to give it a try. "I knew I was out of shape and I didn't like being out of shape," says Jake, who shares he feels much stronger since starting the program. "I was having trouble getting around before."


New Direction participants are set up with a trainer and work one-on-one with them for 24 sessions, which can be done any time the client chooses. Some participants do get sick and need time off, but the sessions remain there for them. During this period, the Y gives them a free family membership so their entire family can be a part of their recovery process.


Jake has accomplished excellent work in the one-on-one sessions with his trainer, Elaine McDonah. "She really pushes me to do my best. I do a lot of weight lifting," Jake says. Gary also has been doing personal training with Elaine, who is responsible for connecting the pair when she invited Gary to Hope Lives. It's wonderful that Gary and Jake even complete some of their training sessions together.


Now Jake is keeping busier than ever with taking college courses and continuing in the New Directions program. With the winter coming, Gary and Jake won't be found on the golf course. But Gary and Jake plan to meet at the Y for a basketball shooting match. "We're friends forever now," Gary says. "I'll be keeping track of him; I have a lot of respect for him. He's a leader."


- By Kim Seidel, Seidel Ink LLC. 2013