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Randall Pledger has a begrudging affection — at best — for his dog, Spike. He calls Spike, a gift from a neighbor, “a little squawking dog, whom I don’t really care for.”

Still, when Spike escaped through the front door one day last summer, his owner gave chase. “Down the alley he went,” recalls Pledger. “I chased him four blocks.”

Runaway pets aren’t that unusual. But what is unusual is that 77-year-old Randall was able to run those four blocks — during a hot Dallas summer, no less. A year before Spike’s getaway attempt, Randall, who has Parkinson’s disease, had trouble keeping his balance and could barely walk across the room.

So how was he able to nab Spike? Randall credits his twice-weekly workouts. “I know working out has helped me,” he says. Had he tried to chase the dog before starting his fitness routine, he adds, “I would have probably just passed out.”

The Search for Help

September 2004 was a bad month for Randall and his wife, Corky. He wasn’t feeling well, but his doctor couldn’t find anything wrong. His symptoms, which included constant fatigue, didn’t seem to be related to his Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative disease that affects the central nervous system and can lead to difficulty with balance and muscle control.

His condition continued to worsen, eventually landing him in the hospital, where doctors performed emergency surgery and discovered that he had gangrene of the gall bladder and a mechanical blockage in his lower intestine. The trauma of the infection and the surgery, combined with the Parkinson’s, made Randall’s recovery rough going. All told, he spent 40 days in the hospital.

Although he went through physical therapy there, Randall could barely walk when he was released. Insurance paid for about a month of outpatient therapy at the hospital gym, but it didn’t help — his balance and mobility were still severely limited.

“You couldn’t depend on him to walk across the room,” Corky says. “I knew if he didn’t have some therapy, he was going to end up in a wheelchair — at best.”

On impulse, she took him to their neighborhood Life Time Fitness in Dallas, Texas. And at the gym — at last — Randall finally started to feel better.

Rising to the Challenge

Adrianne Blue, group training coordinator of the North Dallas Life Time Fitness who specializes in training people with disabling illnesses, has been Randall’s personal trainer since the fall of 2005.

“I have lupus, so I’m very familiar with how to manage life with a debilitating disease,” Adrianne explains. “I know when to push people and when not to, and I’ve done a lot of reading on certain medications, how people respond to them and how that affects their workouts.”

Randall is Adrianne’s oldest client. At times, he can also be one of the most recalcitrant. Until he joined the gym, he’d never been on a regular fitness regimen, and it was hard for him to make the adjustment. “He just doesn’t like working out,” Adrianne says. “He doesn’t enjoy exercise. But he likes talking to me, and once he gets going he says, ‘Oh, I feel so much better.’ And at the end of a workout he seems to have a better attitude.”

At the same time, Randall doesn’t expect or want any special treatment. “He always wants me to challenge him,” she says. “He’ll push hard to make sure he can do the exercises.”

The exercises vary depending on how Randall feels: He and Adrianne might throw a ball back and forth, or he might ride the stationary bike or work on the rowing machine. He’ll often lift machine-attached weights and, every now and then, lift free weights, though they tend to be more difficult for him because they pull him off balance, says Adrianne.

At first, Corky watched from the sidelines, but as time passed and she saw her husband’s health improve, she decided to give exercise a try.

“I thought I might as well do something for myself,” says Corky, 65, who decided to join a Pilates class. “I was very pleasantly surprised by the whole experience — by how much my body changed, how much sharper I felt. I now find myself feeling more confident in my mental abilities and, of course, in the way I look.”

She credits Pilates and water aerobics with helping her get rid of the chronic back pain she’d suffered since being in a car accident years before. These days, she’s continuing with water aerobics and, after some convincing by Adrianne, also working out with weights in the gym. The effort shows.

“I’ve dropped from a size 8 to a 6,” says Corky. “My back feels wonderful. I feel like a normal person again.”

The Reward for Hard Work

Not only did Corky find herself feeling sharper mentally and physically, she noticed the differences in Randall, too. “He didn’t used to be able to keep up with the conversation. He used to just drift off and be in another world somewhere,” she recalls. “Now he’s more alert. And he has more energy, too. He can walk around the house, from room to room.”

Now and then, Randall still loses his balance, and after each fall he has to struggle to regain his mobility. “He’s had some pretty bad falls that have set him back,” Corky says. But with each one, she notes, his exercise routine has helped him regain lost ground.

“You can’t just sit down and feel sorry for yourself,” says Corky. “If you can get with a good personal trainer and keep at it, it enhances your quality of life so much.” And while Randall feels much the same way about exercise as he does about his dog, Spike, he recognizes its importance to his health and quality of life, and he’s continued to make his way to the gym twice a week.

Now the Pledgers are talking about taking a cruise, something they couldn’t have considered two years ago. They might go to South America or, perhaps, up the North Atlantic coast. Whichever direction they set sail, Corky thinks they’ll feel right at home on the ship. She laughs, “There are wonderful gyms on cruises!”

Success Summary 

Meet: Randall Pledger, 77, former owner of an aviation electronics company in Dallas, and his wife, Corky, 65.

Big achievements: Finding an exercise routine for Randall that allowed him to regain mobility and balance after surgery and slow down the debilitating physical effects of Parkinson’s disease.

Big inspirations: For Randall, wanting to improve quality of life; for Corky, the idea of supporting Randall while also doing something positive for herself.

What worked: For Randall, having a dedicated trainer who has experience with debilitating diseases; for Corky, the power of Pilates.

What didn’t: Settling for a sedentary life and diminishing capacity.

Words of Wisdom: Says Corky, “Don’t ever give up. You’re never too old.”

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