The YMCA, Ensuring a Brighter Future

Vern and Maggie Bjorkquist

Y’s Diabetes Prevention Program offers healthier lifestyle choices


Nominated for the La Crosse Area Family YMCA Member Spotlight, the lively couple shared their sizes for the Y t-shirts to wear in the photograph to accompany this story. Vern and Maggie Bjorkquist felt pleasantly surprised when they learned the shirts fit too loosely. Each dropped a full clothing size in the past six months as participants in the Y’s Diabetes Prevention Program. Maggie shed 30 pounds; Vern lost 25 pounds. The couple credits the positive environment with the Lifestyle Coach, Ilstrup, in the classroom setting. Overall, the year-long program helps people, according to their family history or their current health status, to reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes and access tools for healthier living.


The Bjorkquist’s entry into the program began when Vern’s doctor gave him a choice: Receive medical treatments for diabetes, or make lifestyle changes and be treated for pre-diabetes.  Admittedly set in his unhealthy patterns, Vern didn’t immediately agree to the Y program until his wife offered to join him for support. “I started the class for her,” he says, pointing teasingly at Maggie. “I wanted her to quit nagging me about my bad eating habits.”  After completing half of the class at this point, they’re enjoying a happier and more wholesome life together. Maggie and Vern agree they make healthier food choices. “The changes I have made started for my wife, and now I’m doing it for me,” he says. “It’s an improvement for both of us. We’ll stick with it.” Before taking the program, Vern says he often ate a large bag of potato chips during a sports game on TV, and drank seven to eight cans of Pepsi each day. “The program has given us a different outlook on food,” Vern says. Now he buys single serving snacks and drinks more water in place of soda. He never dreamed he would pass by the drive-thru to his favorite meal, extra crispy Kentucky Fried Chicken. Now he removes the skin when he craves it.


“The program offers a unique situation, one in a very positive, non-judgmental atmosphere,” says Maggie. “We set goals and can share them with the class, if we choose. We are in charge of our choices and held responsible in a positive way. The class is confidential and supportive. We would absolutely recommend it to anyone.” The Y Diabetes Prevention Program created a keen awareness of their food options. They’ve learned to read food labels, make new recipes, and track their daily diet and exercise. Before going out to eat, they plan what they’ll order. They share large portions and desserts. “We’ve changed our behaviors. It’s a choice we’ve made,” Maggie says. “We’re learning how to ask for what we want.”


As they reflect on their 52 years of married life, Vern and Maggie acknowledge their retirements brought them a challenging transition. They raised their three children in the country, where they worked hard to maintain their home. When they moved to a smaller place in a different city, they held fewer responsibilities. Activities they once enjoyed no longer proved practical. Vern once hunted, fished, golfed, ran, and helped coach track. Maggie volunteered, led exercise groups, and regularly walked. “We’ve always been active,” says Maggie. “We wondered, ‘Now what do we do in retirement?’ This class came at a good time for both of us.” Now Maggie enjoys daily morning walks, and they discovered the joy and fun of dancing and biking together. They’ve made new friends. Their physical stamina increased, and they sleep better too. “We’re very grateful for this Y program. Our lives are happier,” Maggie says. “We’re learning how to be healthier; it’s a new journey together.”

--- By Kim Seidel, Seidel Ink LLC.