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Ridgewood Trainer Renews Life For People With Parkinson's

Ridgewood's Hilary Wallace faces Midland Park's Donald Demers, 73, in an arm wrestling match.
Ridgewood's Hilary Wallace faces Midland Park's Donald Demers, 73, in an arm wrestling match. Photo Credit: Hilary Wallace
"Once people find out you have Parkinson's they treat you differently — whether you show symptoms or not.—Hilary Wallace.
"Once people find out you have Parkinson's they treat you differently — whether you show symptoms or not.—Hilary Wallace. Photo Credit: Hilary Wallace
Wallace doubles as superwoman at a Girls on the Run 5K race.
Wallace doubles as superwoman at a Girls on the Run 5K race. Photo Credit: Hilary Wallace

RIDGEWOOD, N.J. — Donald Demers could barely get in and out of a chair when he began training with Ridgewood's Hilary Wallace two years ago.

The Midland Park resident was 71 years old and reeling from a bad reaction to anesthesia during knee replacement surgery, intensifying neurological issues associated with Parkinson's disease.

These days? Demers can do much more than get in and out of a chair — and training with Wallace has been the difference.

"Consistency is key," said Wallace, a personal trainer with a knack for helping people with Parkinson's.

"Inspiration and motivation are key as well. No Debbie Downers. No pity parties."

Just a will to fight — literally.

Wallace, a lifelong athlete, found strength training in 2010, after the birth of her second child. She was suffering from postpartum depression and her weight was more than 200 pounds — the heaviest she'd ever been.

"My shrink told me to stop running and join a gym," said Wallace, who started at Ethos in Midland Park.

She lost the weight doing CrossFit type workouts with a trainer, and then went on to get her CrossFit certification.

Wallace picked up some group exercise classes here, some private clients there.

It wasn't until one summer when she began training a family friend on Cape Cod, who was suffering from Parkinson's, that Wallace had her first taste of what would soon become her passion.

"When he walked in I didn't know what to do with him," Wallace said. "I called my trainer friend and he explained: he needs mobility, flexibility."

The goal, she says, is to make it possible for her clients to continue to be independent.

They started slow, stepping on and off of a box. Then they added light weights, and practiced getting down on the floor and back onto his feet.

After two months of training with Wallace on vacation, the client's doctor back home in Ridgewood was amazed at his progress.

"I was thrilled," Wallace said.

"It's great training with someone who wants to get better. Someone you can see progress with. Not just a 30-year-old mom who wants a tighter butt."

It wasn't long before Wallace became certified for the "Delay the Disease: Exercise and Parkinson's Disease" program at The Valley Hospital.

Then Rock Steady came out: a new boxing program designed specifically for people with Parkinson's.

Wallace says boxing has become the most popular exercise regimen for her clients.

Why? It's cathartic.

"It's fun and it's great aggression therapy," she said. "Boxing has impact obviously for the hands and wrists, but it's not high impact on the knees or hips, which become issues as we age, like running."

Remembering the combinations also helps strengthen the mind and brain-body coordination, she said.

She's learned a thing or two about what it's like to have the disease.

"They try to keep it a secret," Wallace said.

"Once people find out you have Parkinson's they treat you differently — whether you show symptoms or not.

"Additionally, many People with Parkinson's suffer from a 'facial mask'.... they lose expressiveness in their face. They may look angry or sad or distant, when in fact they are anything but.

"So I do my best to tell sometimes saucy jokes, keep things funny and throw in the occasional arm wrestle or butt-kicking. "

Wallace says she gets more from her clients than they do from her.

"They make my day more often than I make theirs," she said. "It's exciting as a trainer to have someone who wants to be there get better.

"It helps keep their facial muscles working, and who doesn't need a good laugh or smile?"

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