By: AMFC Staff
Reina Parker has been an AMFC member since November of 2013. Over this last year, she’s averaged 10 monthly workouts, or a bit over 2 and a half workouts per week, with up to 3 or 4 workouts per week more recently. That track record represents a commendable commitment to health and fitness for anyone. But Reina’s consistent, ongoing commitment is not only commendable, it’s absolutely inspiring and humbling when you have the opportunity to know more about her journey to get here and her continuing journey to health and wellness.
As a teenager, Reina was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos disease, type III, a hereditary condition affecting the body’s connective tissue which can result in easily disjointed and chronically painful joints, chronic musculoskeletal pain, fibromyalgia, heart problems, bruising easily, fragile skin, digestive problems, collapsing veins, eye problems and complications with pregnancy and surgeries. Despite that formidable list of symptoms, a person with the disorder can appear to be perfectly disease-free.
So while Reina worked to manage formidable symptoms at school, she faced the derision of classmates, teachers, coaches and other adults who labeled her lazy and uncooperative. After school, she went home to serve as the primary caretaker for her mother who became disabled when Reina was about 15 years old. That’s where Reina says she learned about empathy, “Empathy for others strengthens me.”
An ample and steady supply hardship and oppression in Reina’s formative years could have led her to a very dark view of the world and her life. She admits to mirroring the anger and meanness of others around her for a while, but she says, “I didn’t like myself that way. I didn’t want to live like that.” So she made a conscious choice to live with empathy, love and compassion and truly inspiring fearlessness. “If you’re living in fear and anger, you’re not living” Reina says. Clearly, that’s no platitude; that’s the truth she exhibits through her daily life.
Reina became a patient of Dr. Santos at Avera in her mid-twenties. Another knee dislocation necessitated crutches and spiraled into high pain and low mobility. By that point, she was unable to work, with severe fibromyalgia pain as well. Prior to the injury, she was doing 26 mile bike rides pulling her little boy in a bike trailer. Dr. Santos recommended that Reina join Avera McKennan Fitness Center to gain a foothold on strength and hope.
Reina took hold of the challenge and unveiled her inner “Rocky Balboa”, she says with a smile. “Building muscle helps hold me together,” says Reina. She was disciplined about maintaining controlled movement and healthy posture to protect herself. She kept her workout schedule consistent, focusing on building core strength and overall balance and limb strength. And all that effort moved Reina to a much brighter vantage point. She increased her weekly workouts and worked up to covering 12 miles on a stationary bike. She used the steam room to de-stress and detoxify, and increased her core, balance and strength work upstairs.
After a few months she left her crutches at home. Recently, she took a part-time job that helps her provide for herself and her 4 year old son, Vance. The Ehlers-Danlos makes it impossible for her to pick up her little boy and presents unique challenges to parenting; but they are a team and take great care of one another sharing imagination and curiosity and a love of books and learning. He’s her inspiration to take great care of her own health and outlook.
In addition to her commitment to health and fitness, caring for Vance and working, Reina is an artist focusing primarily on photography and Shibaru, an ancient Japanese art created by the tying of knots in intricate patterns. Occasionally, she travels to speak and present her art at fairs and conferences around the Midwest. She also serves on the board of the Center for Equality and is an advocate and mentor for LGBT youth.
Reina Parker is without a doubt, a fabulous Fitness Hero.
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