Lydia Dziubanek is a mom, a sister, a daughter, a teacher, and my friend.
We both attended York College beginning in the summer of 1997 and I can almost positively say that we met in a lineup to purchase our meal plan cards. We stayed friends, but as with anything, you go different ways and hang out in different groups. However, Lydia is one of those genuinely nice people who always had a smile on her face. You could start a conversation at any given time with her about anything. Whether it was a chat during a game of ping-pong in the student lounge or after one of my baseball games, you always knew what you were going to get.
After school everyone goes their separate ways and you lose touch. It’s a fact of life. But, today you can reconnect on almost any social platform. That’s what happened to us. We re-connected on facebook, liked each other’s pictures etc…until one day I watched a video she posted. It was an extremely revealing and humbling video where she discussed her battle with abuse, depression and suicide. I was floored when I saw it, but so very happy to know that an unscheduled stop at Anytime Fitness changed her life.
Here is the video
The GM’s Perspective: Lydia, it’s been almost 15 years since the last time we met/spoke. I was floored when I saw the video and had no idea what you were going through. What led you to Anytime Fitness and what do they mean to you?
Lydia Dziubanek: Anytime Fitness means the world to me. It’s a safe place to go and workout and it fights the anxiety and stress that we face everyday. That stress, at one point, led me to a dark place. I don’t remember when I made the decision that night to go in to Anytime Fitness as opposed to committing suicide. Since walking through that door, they’ve been nothing but supportive and continue to help me reach my goals. They’ve helped me realize that I’m tougher than I ever realized I could be. For me, when life gets hard and I’m dealing with those struggles, the best thing for me is to take advantage of the fitness tool.
GMs: How are you feeling now?
LD: It’s been three years and to be completely honest, I still have days when I’m sad and I’m not as healthy as I’m supposed to be, but now I have the tools to counteract those feelings. I’m never going to be in a place where I feel overwhelmed and trapped and I don’t know how to get out of it. I know that I’m stronger and I know what to do. I’m much happier, healthier, and in control and that’s all due to exercising and getting my priorities in order. You set small goals and you smash them and you feel stronger. That also translates into other part of your life.
GMs: In your video you talk about how you implement this into your day-to-day role as a teacher. You set goals for your students to go home and have their parents take part in an exercise program. How did that start?
LD: That’s one of the most exciting things that’s come from all this. Before I started exercising and when I was going through all my turmoil, I didn’t have any background or training in fitness and I wasn’t sure how to get my students to stay physically fit in new and exciting ways.
In California, we have 100 minutes of required fitness a week in school. I would just take them outside and let them run around or have an extra recess. It was boring for all of us. When I started to going to the gym I wanted to make fitness exciting for them. In this age of handheld technology, they just go home and watch a screen; they never really take part in outdoor activities like we used to do. So I started to administer the boot camp strategies I was learning at Anytime on a daily basis. Needless to say, the kids loved it. To see them love it was really exciting. And those who didn’t enjoy P.E. were getting into it.
At the end of the day I would give them challenging homework ie. Go home and teach one of your parents, or both, the skills you learned in boot camp this week and film it. They would bring the video to class to get credit for their homework, but also get extra credit!
GMs: Is this something you started on your own?
LD: The first two years was on my own. I had to apply for multiple grants in and outside of the district to get the equipment. It was such an arduous process that I was paying for everything myself until we got the approvals. I even bought the kids t-shirts that said: SEAL Fitness Boot Camp. SEAL stands for Students Excited About Lifetime Fitness. On the back, dog tags identified them as trainers!
In the third year, other fourth grade teachers (I teach fourth grade) wanted in. We started day one with all the kids separated into four quadrants during P.E. time. We even had some parents donated in addition to fourth grade level funds so that all the kids got a boot camp shirt.
GMs: How much of a role did your three amazing children play a part in your daily grind to stay physically fit?
LD: My three boys are my life. They’re my whole world. As a single mom with three boys I have to stay fit to keep up with them. More than that, going to the gym and being focused helps me stay mentally strong for my kids. I have patience and more confidence as a result of it. I want my kids to know that when life gets hard, as it will, they can do some sort of physical activity to get out their stresses. They see that mom is fit and that should be important to them also.
GMs: Other things you touched on were abuse in your relationship, depression, and suicide. What advise do you have for people who are struggling with this and don’t have the outlet like you had/have?
LD: The hardest part about any kind of abuse or depression is the stigma of not talking about it, don’t show that your struggling, and don’t show that you’re weak.
In the relationship I was in, I was so embarrassed about how I was allowing myself to be treated. When I was around family, friends, or strangers I put on a smile and pretended everything was OK. You don’t want to admit that you made a bad choice or admit that you’re extremely sad and contemplating taking your life. We’re not comfortable letting those feeling out in the open. Unfortunately, you hold all these feelings in and the more trapped you feel.
My advice is to figure out some way to exercise and get those feelings out. When I walked into the gym and told Mike (my now current trainer) that I need you to help me not kill myself, he never told anyone. He never shared my secret. Not until last spring, the owner of the gym wanted to submit my name for Anytime Fitness Member of the Year, did I share my whole story. Just find that one person to help you breathe. But remember, it’s not JUST about exercise, it's finding a person or people who will motivate you and keep you accountable to keep you going.
GMs: What’s been the response to your video?
LD: It’s been amazing. I won the Anytime Fitness award and they flew me out to New York. They showed my video in front of thousands in attendance. Once I accepted the award I had to speak!! I was terrified, but almost immediately people came up to me and started to open about what was going on in their lives. It was so overwhelming to me, but in such a positive way.
I’m also very passionate about suicide prevention and even created a Fitness and Suicide Prevention Awareness page on facebook. It only has around 90 likes, but it’s the connection that matters. I’ve arranged a “Walk and Talk” for the second Saturday of every month. Anyone in the community can come and support suicide prevention. We walk around the track for 30 minutes and just talk to each other.
GMs: This shows that the positivity you are putting out there is making a difference and that’s a wonderful thing Lydia. I know we haven’t spoken in quite some time, but it feels like we never stopped. I couldn’t be more proud of you and you are not only an inspiration to me, but for countless others. I’m sure of that.
Devon is the Founder and Executive Director of The GM's Perspective. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Currently, Devon is a Manager at a financial institution in Northern Ontario Canada, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow The GM's Perspective on twitter and Facebook. His full bio can be seen here