By Gary Nager

When I first met personal trainer Shandra Valenzuela a year or more ago at a New Tampa Chamber of Commerce event, she was promoting Isagenix, a company which sells dietary supplements that the company claims can help people lose weight and cleanse their systems.

I didn’t buy any Isagenix products from Shandra, who lives in Tampa Palms with her husband José and their four children, but I was impressed with not only her fitness level but also her knowledge of nutrition, metabolism and health and fitness in general.

We hadn’t spoken for a while, so I was a little surprised when she called to pitch a story idea. Although I get a lot of phone calls and emails pitching stories, some of which can be kind of self-serving for the people calling or emailing (or for a member of their families), which is understandable, Shandra’s request was different because she wanted the focus to be on the New Tampa Family YMCA in Tampa Palms, where she is a personal trainer and also one of several certified trainers for the New Tampa’s YMCA’s Livestrong program, which is a partnership with the Livestrong Foundation started by seven-time Tour de France-winning cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong.

The New Tampa YMCA is one of 50 YMCAs throughout the U.S. that offers this program, which allows cancer survivors to receive three free months of personal training (and other services) with a Livestrong personal trainer, whether (at the New Tampa Y) Shandra, Marianne, Lisa or someone else.

“It’s such an amazing program,” she says. “So many of these cancer patients have no idea how to get themselves back into shape or regain their strength and stamina after they start their chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments. It’s amazing to see the progress they make once they realize they’re still alive and need to take better care of themselves and retrain their muscles so they can continue to be cancer survivors.”

Shandra has been a happy participant in all three years of the New Tampa YMCA’s annual “Spinathon,” a four-hour test of fitness and endurance where people raise money to benefit the New Tampa YMCA’s Livestrong program. To date, more than $20,000 has been raised (including $7,000 at this year’s Spinathon), which is important because the New Tampa YMCA graduated more than 50 cancer survivors from the free-to-the-patients program in 2011 (and more than 100 in the three years the program has been at the New Tampa Y), providing more than $22,000 in much-needed-and-much-appreciated support for these patients, many of whom receive their treatments at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute on the USF Tampa campus.

“As a certified Livestrong trainer, I have seen the kind of changes these very determined people make in their lives,” Shandra says. “When they first come here, most have spent so much time and energy with chemo and radiation, and fighting the effects of those treatments, that they can’t help but lose not only their desire to stay in shape, but also the muscle tone and stamina they need to just jump back into it.”

She adds, however, that while she wishes the program would allow her to work with these cancer survivors for more than just twelve weeks, “I have seen so many of them make these incredible life changes in their commitment to eating healthy and exercising regularly. And, the good news is that they can continue to work out here at the New Tampa Y and I can still work with some of them as their personal trainer when they complete the Livestrong program.”


Real Men Get Breast Cancer!

One of Shandra’s success stories is a gentleman named Frank Harmon, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last November and has had a radical mastectomy. Yes, you’re reading that correctly. Once he got over the stigma of being a man stricken with a disease most people associate with women, Frank realized he needed to make a change in his life, too. He began working with Shandra and the other Livestrong trainers at the New Tampa Y and hasn’t looked back since.

In fact, Frank wrote a book you can purchase online entitled Real Men Get Breast Cancer, which outlines his struggle and some of the facts and myths about the disease, including that although women are much more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer (nearly 300,000 new diagnoses in 2011 for women, only 2,100 in men), the numbers for men are rising and, just like with women, checking yourself for lumps or swelling around the breast area is the most likely way to find it.

Frank, who today is tall and lean and looks like he could run a marathon, is happy to be able to work out three days a week at the YMCA, even though he completed his free Livestrong sessions a few months ago. “I give Shandra and the YMCA all the credit for both pushing and supporting me,” he says. “It shouldn’t take a diagnosis of cancer for more people to make this kind of change in their lives.”

The Lance Armstrong Foundation was created by the world’s most famous cyclist, who of course, won his seventh and final Tour de France after being treated for testicular cancer.

According to its available literature, the Foundation was founded by Armstrong in 1997 to “unite people through programs and experience to empower cancer survivors to live life on their own terms and to raise awareness and funds for the fight against cancer.”

In its 15-year history, the Foundation has raised more than a quarter of a BILLION dollars and a partnership with the YMCA — which provides health and social service needs to 20 million people in 10,000 U.S. communities — and with Moffitt locally, was a natural fit for all three organizations.

Congratulations to everyone involved on the success of the recent Spinathon and to the cancer survivors, their caregivers and the trainers and staff at the New Tampa Family YMCA and the Tampa Metro YMCA regional umbrella organization, for showing yet again what an outstanding community partner the YMCA continues to be.

With the New Tampa Relay for Life coming up on Friday, May 18 (at Wharton High), and with my father, Jack Nager, being a 45-year cancer survivor who never had a recurrence at a time when the “cure” rate for all cancers was about as high as the cure rates for lung and pancreatic cancer are today, this is one subject that pulls at my heart every day. So, to be able to help promote not only New Tampa’s Relay, but also the two Relay for Life events in Wesley Chapel — and literally anyone else trying to raise money and awareness of any major illness or legit community cause — is not only my pleasure, it’s my honor and privilege.

And, speaking of the New Tampa Relay (see details on our Community Calendar pages, 16-17), I hope that anyone planning to participate in that great event will check out a song on, written and performed by my friend from junior high school, Carine Ulano, called “Ribbons of Hope,” which Carine wrote for a friend of hers who is a breast cancer survivor.

Everyone who sends us an email saying that they “liked” the song (which I hope will one day become the theme song for ALL Relay for Life events) to our new editorial email address ( or on our website ( will be placed in a random drawing to win a pair of tickets to see “Broadway Comes to Tampa” on Saturday, May 12, plus other restaurant/spa prizes! See page 50 for details about the show!

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