by David Cruz, Personal Trainer and Life-Changer
My name is David Cruz. I am a personal trainer, group instructor, strength and conditioning coach & corrective exercise specialist at Elevate Fitness Club in Dewitt, NY. I’ve been part of the fitness industry for almost 13 years now and it’s my absolute passion to be a part of people’s lives and journeys as well as taking charge of their health and fitness goals.
One of my strengths is working with individuals and helping to create change from the inside out. I do this under the umbrella of health and fitness but has to be a lot deeper than that for us to reach the goals that we have set before us.
So what brought me to Syracuse New York..? To tell you that story, I’d first have to tell you the story of my very first client. The person who I consider my very first client is one of the strongest, most stubborn, beautiful, unbelievably dedicated individuals I’ve been blessed to work with. Her name was Carmen.
Carmen was born in Puerto Rico where she was raised by her aunt Chére. She bounced back-and-forth to New York City (Spanish Harlem) to visit her dad who had moved from Puerto Rico for work. She grew up on what I considered a normal Puerto Rican diet which consist of rice, beans, chicken, some vegetables and so on. If you’ve ever eaten in a Puerto Ricans’ home or have been to Puerto Rico, you know what I’m talking about: a standardized carb, grease filled diet, high in sodium most of the time, not what would be considered healthy.
On top of that she had a body type that was very similar to mine. Endomorphs tend to be bigger, are often pear-shaped, and have a high tendency to store body fat. So between the genes that she was dealt and a poor diet, Carmen was always on the heavier side (as was I) growing up. Fast forward into her teenage years, she picked up smoking cigarettes along the lifestyle that comes with being a teenager. You can just imagine that as she got older, things got worse. She attended Columbia University in NYC for business before moving back to Puerto Rico, getting married and having kids – 4 boys to be exact.
Sadly, things with her husband did not work out. She ended up leaving him and moving back to NYC, to the Bronx to be exact. So was now a single mother raising 3 boys full of energy and testosterone, you can imagine that stress levels would have been high. Around this time in her life she had packed on a few more pounds due to stress and lifestyle and before anybody knew it, she found herself getting sicker and sicker as time went on. At first no one ever thought anything of it. She became incredibly fatigued and was in a lot of pain in her lower back, neck, shoulders and fingers.
With that came a more sedentary lifestyle and she ended up on bed rest for a good majority of the time which also led to more weight gain. Before we knew it she was close to the 300 pounds. Because it happened little by little no one really noticed it until she starting experiencing a hard time breathing and sleeping. She was developing sleep apnea along with diabetes.
To her, and everyone around her, it seemed like it was just a weight issue. Lose the weight, get the energy back and solve the weight problem right? Wrong!
In order for her to get up in be active, she would’ve needed more energy than she could muster at this stage in her life. It got to the point where it hurt for her to even get up and use the bathroom. No one had any clue what was going on. At first it seemed like it was a motivational issue. We even considered that she was being lazy at times, not even imagining that there could be a bigger issue lying underneath it all.
OK, let’s fast-forward a little bit. At this time in her life, she was still a single mother, taking care of her three boys (before the fourth one came along), and living in the Bronx. Her three boys starting to run wild and out of control with no positive male role model in sight. They began adapting to their not-so positive environment. Carmen was not going to let the streets of NYC raise her children, so she decided to pack up, move away and start a new life for her family. A friend always told her about a beautiful state where she’d vacation: Maine. Her friend convinced Carmen to visit Maine for a short vacation and she fell in love. The lifestyle was something that she felt would only benefit her, but her boys as well, getting them off the streets. So she packed up her family, moved to Maine and began anew.
I wish that at this point I could tell you that they lived happily ever after. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Carmen moving out of state did not solve her health issues and on top of that her boys were now full-blown teenagers with a NYC mentality living in the suburbs and running wild. You can imagine how, on top of her health issues the struggles of a being a single parent to teenaged boys was adding to her stress, making her sicker. There were countless visits to countless doctors, trying to see what was the underlying issue causing the weight issue. The doctors didn’t clarify much – at first they told her it was a thyroid issue, then changed their minds, finally deciding that Carmen was ” just too overweight”, and that losing the weight would make her well again.
Little by little, Carmen started chipping away at it: being more active by going for small walks, moving around more and tackling her day-to-day activities. She always complained of being extremely exhausted and felt that she was barely walking as much as she used to (and was in excruciating pain throughout her body). When she began to be more active, she felt like she was in more pain, she expressed this to her doctors and they gave her pain medication and bed rest. She always had a funny feeling that they never really knew what was going on. They just saw an overweight woman and didn’t look any closer.
Slowly but surely, she began to develop a hole-like ulcer in her left leg. It was really weird, I don’t remember exactly when we first noticed it, it started off looking like a rash and it spread like wildfire, from the size of a dime to the size of a half dollar and eventually becoming a half-inch thick full-blown “deep hole” that became terribly infected.
Carmen took this to the doctors and they gave her antibiotics more and more and more pain medication and told her to wrap it. So 90% of the time her infection was wrapped with some sort of ointment,which in my opinion only made it worse. They blamed the lack of healing on her diabetes, and while all of this was going, all of the attention was on her leg and the fear of amputation if the infection continued to spread – her weight continued to rise. In the midst of all the confusion and the worry about her leg, she went for a normal physical and was informed that her weight had climbed to almost 500 pounds.
At that massive weight along with sleep apnea and all her other physical conditions, she had no choice but to get a tracheotomy. This was an incredibly difficult time. No one around us ever had anything like that – we just didn’t see how that would help, and in fact, it seemed like it was getting worse. (I can see now that tracheotomy because of her massive weight actually saved her life in a way and allowed her to continue to fight.)
Now with a new issue in her throat, her leg being out of commission and adding a respirator to the mix which did her breathing for her at night, it seemed like Carmen was ready to throw in the towel. But I’m here to tell you that she was not about to quit… She continued to get up every morning and simply sit up and do something; whether it was to kick her legs, stretch her arms or just move anyway she could. By this time she was living in a one bedroom apartment where her kids frequently visited, helping out with meals and anything they could.
Around this time I was graduating Personal Training School in Boston and going into the fitness field professionally so naturally I took her on as my first official client. Although I knew Carmen, in order for me to work with her on a professional level I had to literally separate our relationship in two parts, so when I was working with her as her Trainer, I was just that! It’s all serious, I am in charge of her fitness, her health, her nutrition and anything that comes along with that and any other relationship that we have had take the back burner. I was fresh out of school, I was hungry and my energy was contagious. Finally I got her excited and she just listened to everything that I had to say. She really practiced every advice that I gave her and she was ready to move forward. Although we had many obstacles, we were ready to move on and conquer this and get her life back on track. Instead of visiting her sporadically, I ended up setting up a specific appointments for when I would visit her to work out! This plan seemed to work perfectly..
Slowly but surely the weight began coming off, and more importantly she just seemed more alive and more vibrant. She was moving more and being involved in all aspects of life, the way it should be. Unfortunately while all this is going on she was still wheelchair-bound because her leg the infection continue to get worse we didn’t know what it was (no one did – not even the doctors).
We got a call one day where they had the miracle fix it was called Maggot Therapy where they would insert maggots in her wound (leg) and monitor her and the maggots were supposed to eat the infection. She agreed. We all did. This seemed very effective at first- like everything did, but although the infection on top of her leg was being eaten, underneath it didn’t seem to be getting any better. The hole was not shrinking and the excruciating pain continued, even with all the pain med. But we continued with our plan, we continued to workout and she continued to chip away at her weight. Some days were better than others. Sometimes her energy decreased and was extremely low so we did only what we could. After that first year it seemed like Carmen just couldn’t muster any energy, and no one really knew what it was. We were on a good streak: her weight was coming down, she was more alive and present but although her energy didn’t completely fizzle out, it definitely slowed down. I noticed this and I just didn’t know what to do.*
All of the sudden, a miracle (disguised as disaster) struck! A pipe burst in her building and because she was on the first floor, it ended up flooding her apartment and she was forced to move out for a few weeks. She was given the option of a hotel, but I spoke to my fiancé Dessa and immediately jumped on the opportunity to bring her home with me where I would have 24 hour complete care of her. Now mind you, at this time I was working as a personal trainer and group instructor at a big box fitness facility, so my idea was that I could take care of her before work, go to work and then come home and care for her – not just make attempts to go and catch her at the perfect time. I would be in complete control of her lifestyle. I just wanted to be more involved. I didn’t know what the issue was I believe that if you move, break a sweat and have a vision, you will see real results! It really is that simple… for me. I was very naïve to think that it’s that easy for everyone.
Fast forward to … she moves in, and we start on her fitness and health journey full-time. My vision was to treat it like the show the biggest loser but at a more appropriate level. I was well aware that this was not Hollywood, we were not on TV and I was not dealing with somebody for whom it would be appropriate to be as extreme as what you see on TV, but that does not mean that we took it easy. We started with bodyweight movements in her wheelchair and from there we graduated to working with household items like cans of beans, gallons of milk and things that had any type of weight to them, along with resistance bands.
We’d start each morning together, before the sun rose, with a health, plant-based breakfast. Finally, the weight started to drop at a rapid pace. Carmen’s energy levels went through the roof and she was happy everything was going so well. When I tell you the weight was coming off fast, I mean it was coming off fast and we weren’t working out 24 hours a day, we just dedicated one hour of physical activity but because she felt so good after our workout, she would go about her day being more active and more positive.
A big win for us was when a home-care nurse came to the house to re-dress her wound and noticed her transformation. The nurse couldn’t get over how great Carmen looked and how vibrant her skin looked (that was one of the comments that we got most) in such a short period of time!
All of that attention lead to more motivation which meant more dedication and the weight continued to melt off. Eventually, word reached the local news stations. We were contacted by Tracy Sable, a news anchor for channel 5 local Portland news. They knew that I was a trainer at a local gym and wanted to do a piece “separated from this” on athletic training which I was involved in at the time.
They also wanted to know if Carmen would be interested in sharing her story for a future weight loss segment. I spoke to her about it and the answer was an enthusiastic YES!
Carmen was excited about sharing her story in the hopes that if there were others out there going through something similar they’d see they weren’t alone. They’d see that you can fight, you can move forward and you can stay in the game. She wanted to make that clear. So she did it, we did it, and it was a huge success – and a good motivation to continue to move forward. The story aired and so many people came forward showing their support and love. I hadn’t seen Carmen that alive and excited in a very, very long time.
Although progress naturally slowed a bit, we stayed consistent with the workouts and we literally worked off half her weight – we were almost to the 250 pound mark!
Everyone was so excited we couldn’t wait for her next physical (which was coming up) to do an actual weigh-in at the doctor’s office. I remember that day like it was yesterday. We were so happy everything was perfect she was up and dressed, I was at work and I came home early and took the rest of the day off to accompany her to her doctor’s appointment. I couldn’t wait to see the doctor’s faces. Doctor visits before had been completely hopeless, but not this time… I wanted them to know that “it ain’t over, till it’s over!” I know Carmen felt the same way. So we go in, she gets on the scale and … Boom! Target hit, we’re in the 250lbs club!
Everything was going as planned, she is a rock star in there … no, not a rockstar – a miracle, an ambassador of hope! Through all the smiles and all the celebrations before the doctors visit was over they drew some blood to make sure that everything was going well. They took some blood, and off we went. For the rest of that week everything went back to normal until few days later when Carmen got a phone call.
I was at work, but when I got home she said that they got the blood work back and that the doctor wanted to speak with her face-to-face. We were both confused, but because of all the stuff that she’s been through, it didn’t seem all that strange -so we didn’t give it much thought and just continued to stay positive.
They wanted some more tests, more visits and then they dropped the bomb. Carmen was diagnosed with stage 3 cervical cancer. They said that because of her massive weight they were unable to detect it before, but because she lost all the weight, they were able to go in and do more thorough testing leading to the diagnosis.
They felt that radiation therapy would be best, everyone seemed very optimistic. I didn’t see fear in her face so I tried to hold back my own fear for her sake. The doctor expressed that cervical cancer is usually something that in most cases can be controlled or taken care of but because she had been overweight for so long they assumed that she may have had it for as long as 10 years. To me that sounded crazy – how can something so serious go undetected for so long? I didn’t get it but I also couldn’t be the one breaking down … if she was strong enough to take this then I had to be strong enough to stand behind her and continue to fight.
When we got back home nothing really changed. It was almost like just a normal day at the doctors. She still wanted to continue her workout routines. She still wanted to keep things the way they were and continue fighting, moving forward with her weight loss even though the fight had become so much more serious.
After countless radiation treatments and doctor’s appointments, the cancer wasn’t letting up, and it had begun spreading as Carmen grew weaker and weaker. I remember at one point the doctor gave her six months to live. I found this out after the fact, because she never said anything. She kept everything from that point a secret even the fact that she had given special orders to her doctors indicating she did not want to be revived in the event that it came to that.
As her son, I now understand why she did that, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a bit angry after the nurses told me everything she really knew about her condition and her remaining time here with us at her funeral.
Carmen Maria Diaz was my mother…
My mother passed away March 3rd 2015 at 5:03 am even though her death certificate and other hospital papers say 5:15 am.
I was there … I held her hand and watched her stomach go up and down until it finally stopped moving. My brothers were all sleeping around me at her side, but I was up … I saw it, I held her hand and it suddenly got very cold. I didn’t want to make any noise and wake anybody up, I didn’t know what to do – I just sat there, broken.
I would like to tell you that it was some positive and beautiful moment, but it wasn’t. I felt like we’d lost and that I’d failed her. All this fitness, strong, healthy eating and all this fancy mumbo-jumbo failed. I was angry and I was lost and a part of me died in the bed with her. After five minutes had passed, I nudged my older brother Luis awake, we didn’t say a word to each other, he just looked at me and looked at mom and cried. By now my little brothers, Juan and Tiger, heard us, woke up and joined us. It’s crazy we didn’t even call the nurse we just sat there while the machine made this long beep and showed a flatline…
I can still hear that respirator machine beeping in my head as I type this. The beeping meant “No oxygen” I don’t really remember what happened after that, I know that one of the nurses came in to do her routine check and saw us and immediately sprang to action and followed protocol. I know that at this time we sat back at our chairs until we were eventually escorted out of the room. To be honest with you everything from that moment until the actual funeral was a blur. I couldn’t tell you what happened in those days if I wanted to – or maybe it’s just in the back of my mind and I just don’t want to.
We went to the funeral, that I won’t ever forget. I don’t know why but for me being at my home was the worst – so after about a week, I went back to work and just tried to pretend like everything was normal, hoping that eventually it would be. I tried to avoid people who knew me personally and only did group classes where I wouldn’t have to speak to anybody individually, because the truth of the matter is that people care and love me, I’m very personal and passionate with my coaching and everything I do, and I think that comes across in my training. I remember completely trying to avoid everyone who just wanted to give me their condolences, express their love and sympathy. I just wasn’t ready for that – I just wanted to be left alone.
I came to quickly find out that wanting to be left alone and being a personal trainer and group instructor is almost impossible. You can’t do both so I chose to continue training and running my classes and slowly continued moving forward. My biggest obstacle was to try not to cry in public, emphasis on “try” … Although things never really got easier, I continued to push through and kept moving forward. But at that time I wasn’t myself. I’d lost more than my mother and I didn’t know what it was. I kind of still don’t. I thought it may have been that I lost the true belief in health and fitness or maybe the love for motivating and inspiring others. I don’t know – I know that they were many nights that I thought, I’m just leaving the industry and doing something else. The crazy part about that was that those thoughts were only sporadic. I love what I do, I never stopped working.
I second guess if I wanted to continue to workout or train others, but as soon as I came home from the hospital after my mom passed, the next day, I got up and did a INSANITY workout. Fitness is my happy pill, fitness and working out is my go to place. I am not saying that I always enjoy it, but I never regret doing it and I know I’ll always feel better after my workout.
So all this brings me to getting a phone call. My beautiful fiancé, and the mother of my 3 kids, Dessa White is originally from Syracuse New York. She was born here and partially raised here before moving to Maine where we met and fell in love.
We have three beautiful children together: my oldest Daviel is 12 years old, my second one is DABRIEL (Cheeto) 9yrs old, and the princess of the house, my youngest is Anjaliah (Anja) 4yrs old.
In July 2016, we got a phone call that an apartment was available in her old neighborhood Springfield Gardens. Her father William V. White (Papa) had also recently passed. He was the superintendent in this neighborhood for 32 years so this whole neighborhood was extremely important to Dessa and our family. After the passing of my mom and wanting to be closer to family here in Syracuse because of Papa’s passing we thought that it would be a wise decision for us to move and change scenery.
The decision was made almost immediately. I was on the fence about it at first because I didn’t want to leave my work at they gym where I had been for 9 years where I was established and starting again from the beginning was hard to fathom. But we definitely needed to get away, so we packed our bags and came to Syracuse in hopes of a new beginning.
I’m blessed to tell you that I started to put in my resume in a few different gyms and my first choice was also the first gym that called me back which was a blessing. It was Gold’s Gym (Dewitt) now known as ELEVATE Fitness. I’d visited a few other local gyms down in Liverpool and although really nice, my first choice was to be at Gold’s Gym (Elevate) which is by far the best decision that I made.
It didn’t take long before the Gold’s Gym (Elevate) family welcomed me in and showed me love, although until this comes out nobody really knows the details of why I move down here until now. They have shown me complete unconditional love and I am internally grateful for this. I got my clients and started teaching again and although everyday is a bit different, some days I think about mom, sometimes I see people at the gym that remind me of her or her condition and there is so much I want to say to them to encourage but I hold back because they don’t know me and at the end of the day, I don’t want to make anybody feel uncomfortable. To be honest, I don’t know if I’m that strong yet.
I leave you with this, please take down my information and feel free to reach out and ask any questions or leave any comments that you want. I would love to hear any type of feedback. I’m ready for it. I absolutely love what I do. Over the past year and a half that I’ve been out here, I found the love that I thought I lost. I know that everyday is a new and beautiful beginning. Some days are better than others but everyday is a chance for change. Stay blessed & blessed those around you. Become the change you wish to see in the world.
Success is failure turned inside out, a silvertip of cloud doubt, and you never know how close you are. It maybe near but it seems so far. So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit, it is when things get worse that you must not quit…
I want to hear from you! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to chat or to set up a complimentary training session (for new clients only), visit my YouTube channel, follow me on Instagram and Facebook! And get out there, get moving and have an awesome day!
Also see our blog post, Weight Loss 101: Getting Started to get motivated to begin your journey.
Get a complimentary session with an Elevate Fitness Personal Trainer to get started on your goals. Offer limited to first-time clients, aged 18 and over who are local residents of the Syracuse area. Other restrictions may apply.