Patricia Massey Welter shows off some her most accomplished clients from her Florida studio, Suncoast Pilates. But don’t expect perfection: These athletes have “real” bodies with real limitations.
We all know that the media usually portrays beautiful people in perfect form while exercising. Although there has been more diversity—older adults, people of all races, ethnicities and figures—in recent years, these “models” still look pretty darn perfect.
As an instructor and a teacher of teachers, people often ask me, where are the photos of people who don’t look perfect? Where are the “real” people? How do instructors learn if only perfect form is demonstrated? The goal of this blog series is to highlight the client who walks through the door—with back, neck, knee, shoulder and hip issues, poor posture, osteoporosis, scoliosis and spinal stenosis—and to show how Pilates can change lives.
Long time Suncoast Pilates client Sonja had been diagnosed with breast cancer during a routine mammogram, experiencing no symptoms or family history, in February 2015. Her husband Doug, an Interventional Radiologist, happened to be assigned to read her mammogram, and was the one who had to break the news. With no history and no symptoms, the diagnosis was a jolt. One’s entire world is changed instantly in one routine mammogram. The day prior to her surgery, we taped Sonja doing almost every exercise in the repertoire on the Reformer, Cadillac and Chair, to show how strong she was going into surgery. This established a base line for goals for her post rehab. She has been a studio client since late 2006, taking Pilates sessions two times weekly, and had been undergoing Pilates instructor training as a thought for the future after her kids graduated from college.
After a biopsy confirmed the diagnosis, she opted to immediately have a double mastectomy, which was performed March 30, 2015. The day after surgery, Sonja was walking laps in the nursing station. Within two weeks of surgery, Sonja began to resume her daily walking regime, slowly and shorter distances. At five weeks post surgery, she was released by her physicians to do Pilates half hour lower body workouts at the studio. It was wonderful to see her enjoyment at simply lying on the Reformer carriage and moving her legs, sitting on the Pilates Chair and doing footwork, and to stretch her legs on the Ladder Barrel. Each session we added an exercise, slowly progressing. With proper progression, she achieved the goals of regaining range of motion, regaining her strength and endurance and to her surprise, being able to do many exercises she thought that she may never be able to do again.
At nine and a half weeks she was released to add light upper body work, twice weekly workouts, 45 minutes to hour sessions. Supine arm work with light resistance, chest expansion and light tension and range of motion exercises were added. Each session we evaluated her progress and slowly added additional exercises and resistance. Sonja first goal was to attend the 75th Pilates on Tour in Sacramento, which was held close to four months post surgery. As her Pilates instructor and her Balanced Body Faculty member, I was proud to attend Pilates on Tour in Sacramento with her. She attended many workshops, only participating in what she felt comfortable and observing when needed.
Upon returning home, we continued to add and progress her workouts and evaluated five months post-surgery. She achieved the goal of regaining range of motion, strength and endurance and to her surprise, being able to do many exercises she thought that she may never be able to do again. On September 2, 2015, Sonja underwent a second planned surgery to remove the breast expanders, insert implants and shave a little more tissue off the left breast, to avoid chemotherapy. She was released to once again return to her Pilates workout exactly four weeks after her second surgery. This procedure, though invasive, was much so as the first when she had to undergo a double mastectomy. We properly progressed her Pilates sessions, as she began to fully heal. She continued her weekly Pilates workouts, incorporating the CoreAlign, and walking and bicycling daily. Her goal was to once again perform everything in the Pilates repertoire on all the equipment, which we had filmed her doing in the studio the day before her double mastectomy on March 30, 2015. And for her to finally take her Comprehensive Pilates Instructor Test Out.
On October 6, 2015, she visited her oncology surgeon for a follow up to her second surgery. The surgeon pronounced that no chemotherapy or radiation was necessary and that she would see Sonja yearly for follow up. Sonja’s breast cancer had been detected in the early stages. She took immediate action, choosing to have a double mastectomy. Each person who is faced with such a decision makes a personal choice. Most doctors feel that early detection tests for breast cancer save thousands of lives each year.
Sonja is a remarkable woman, and she attests her astounding recovery process to all the Pilates she had done prior getting her in shape….and now the power of Pilates in aiding her recovery. Her post-surgical progress has been incredible. She and her doctors credit her prior physical fitness and her dedication to Pilates. And at the time of the anniversary of her second surgery, Sonja tested out as a Comprehensive Pilates Instructor. Sonja teaches weekly, continues taking Pilates sessions, and we have long deemed her the nurturer and mother at the studio. After raising three children, now all adult, as well as taking care of all our guests at the studio with her special touches, we are proud of our Super Hero – Incredible Mom from the “Incredibles” movie!
Patricia Massey Welter co-owns Suncoast Pilates in Palm Harbor, FL, with her husband Robert. She is the director of Pilates instruction at Suncoast, a Balanced Body master instructor for Pilates and CoreAlign, a Pilates Method Alliance Certified Pilates Teacher and a Lolita San Miguel Pilates master. Suncoast Pilates is a Balanced Body Pilates Instructor Training Facility, and as a Balanced Body Host site, Patricia teaches Pilates and CoreAlign instructor-training modules and workshops.
Patricia is one of the area’s most experienced Pilates instructors, and has owned a studio for more than 20 years. In addition to her Pilates background, which has spanned 26 years, she holds certifications in personal training, fitness, post-rehab fitness and aquatics. Patricia works with clients ranging from individuals new to Pilates to teenagers to post-rehab to professional athletes. She has worked with MLB baseball players, PGA pro golfers, triathletes, pro skaters, runners and tennis players. For more information, visit suncoastpilates.com.