Fitness & Health

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AFTER 13 YEARS of teaching various fitness classes for the University of Ottawa’s Sports Services, Siobhán Rock taught her last class in May 2011 after noticing some surprising physical changes while pregnant with her third child.

“I started tripping at one point, I tried running after my two year old and I couldn’t run. I just associated everything with the pregnancy, the fact that I had this huge belly,” explained Rock.

Rock’s health didn’t improve after her delivery, and she soon sought out a doctor who told her difficult news.

“I fell with the baby, and then I got scared,” said Rock. “It was five weeks after the baby was born, and then I met with the specialist and had a whole bunch of tests. Then towards the end of the summer, they said, ‘Wow, it really looks like you’ve got ALS.’”

ALS stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, which the ALS Society of Canada defines as “a progressive neuromuscular disease in which nerve cells die and leave voluntary muscles paralyzed.” Essentially, the parts of the body that send signals from the brain to one’s muscles no longer send the signals properly, causing muscles to deteriorate from disuse.

After the initial shock of her diagnosis, Rock found support with the ALS Societies of Ontario and Canada, and turned her attentiontoward contributing to the search for a cure. On March 11, Rock’s efforts culminated in the University of Ottawa’s Aerobic-A-Thon for ALS.

“I called Lenny Sabourin, [the U of O’s manager of Instruction Fitness and Wellness Programs], one day, and I said, ‘Listen, what do you think if we did some kind of fundraising event’?” said Rock. “We had done some in the past for the Heart and Stroke [Foundation], I participated in them, and I thought it would be a great way to raise money. There’s no cure [for ALS], and it’s extremely expensive to do research for this kind of disease.”

The Aerobic-A-Thon ran from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and consisted of eight professional instructors leading participants through half-hour sessions of Tae Cardio, Zumba, Step, Tae Step, Everything-in-One, Yoga, and finished with Rock leading a relaxation session.

“We put together a schedule and we thought, ‘OK, every half hour we’ll switch the class type and people can drop in at any time, or people can stay for the whole event if they want,’” explained Rock before the event. “We wanted to open it up to everybody so that everybody can come and participate, and hopefully we’ll be able to raise money for the ALS society.”

The event ran smoothly, with many fundraising teams registered to make combined donations of $5,000, and over 100 participants came out to exercise. Fifty per cent of the funds are being given to the ALS Society of Canada to help find a cure, and the other 50 per cent are going to the ALS Society of Ontario to help support individuals with ALS with the cost of living with the disease.

“[My friend and I] heard about it through the Zumba fitness class,” said first-year U of O student and participant, Rym Boussenane. “We decided to go around our residence and collect money. I think we raised $85. It’s really fun, and really tiring.”

While excited about the event and happy to relate her story, Rock said it’s important individuals realize ALS is a disease people continue to suffer from every day, and the mission of finding a cure is an ongoing one.

“I want people to remember that this is going on and maybe next year somebody else will take the challenge and say, ‘Hey, let’s organize some money to raise [for] the ALS society.’”

—Keeton Wilcock