by Micah Holley
With Breast Cancer Awareness Month well underway, people everywhere are doing their parts to raise awareness about the disease and how to fight it. There is one place in the St. Louis area that dedicates its time to the cause every day—through exercise. ROCK Workout owner Val Strang is the only Cancer Exercise Specialist in the city, holding 13 certifications in the field. She opened ROCK Workout with the purpose of training cancer survivors, helping them fight fatigue, range of motion, muscle imbalances and other symptoms that come with the territory.
ROCK Workout offers cancer fitness workshops, as well as group and personal training. The workshop is a free focused group workout that is held once a month. Both the workshops and personal training sessions allow Strang to teach her clients what they can and cannot do during and after their cancer treatments. For those who cannot attend the workshops or training sessions at ROCK, Val sometimes meets with them in person or over Skype to demonstrate exercises they can perform at a different gym or in the comfort of their own homes.
Strang says she prefers training individually, because it allows her to tailor the workouts to each client’s individual needs and abilities. “Training is very specific to the person. Every cancer presents different problems. The way that your incision is, horizontal or vertical, makes a difference on what I can do with you. There are a lot of different variables to it that most people don’t even realize,” she said.
With doctor’s permission, Strang works closely with people during and after treatment. Her goal is to help them regain their stability and mobility as fully and as quickly as possible.
A client of Val’s for two years, Sandy, 53, (whose full name has been omitted for privacy), meets with Val every six to eight weeks to learn new exercise routines. Sandy was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer in 2000, only months after having her second child. Chemo and radiation were completed and she thought she had kicked it, but 10 years later she went to her annual checkup and her doctor discovered another tumor. Soon after, she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.
In 2010, after her re-diagnosis, Sandy tried engaging in a healthy lifestyle by going to the gym. It wasn’t long before she discovered ROCK Workout through the Cancer Support Community. That March, she got an individual assessment and received a customized workout routine, which she calls her “prescription.” Sandy schedules an appointment with Strang, meets with her at ROCK Workout to get trained on her prescription, then takes it home. Six to eight weeks later, she calls Strang up again and schedules another appointment. “She invents a lot of routines and exercises, which makes it a fun relationship,” Sandy says.
Mary Simmons is another of Strang’s clients who had breast cancer. She commutes 35 minutes to ROCK Workout from Illinois to attend group classes twice a week. She began personal training with Strang after being diagnosed with stage two breast cancer and completing radiation. After three months of personal training, Mary wanted to be around more people and began going to boot camp twice a week—sometime with her daughter. “I feel like I’m getting stronger all the time,” she says. “I feel like I’m in control of my life.”
It is people like Sandy and Mary who keep Strang doing what she loves—she says she never understood what a calling was until she began cancer exercise.
“I don’t believe in ‘can’t.’ I have been shown time and time again with breast cancer conquerors that they can get back to doing the things that they like to do. It takes patience, which is so frustrating for them, but they can. It might not be as much as they had before, depending on how bad the cancer is, but they will be able to be functional,” she says.
ROCK Workout (3001 Locust St., 314.531.7625) holds group classes like boot camp, kickboxing and yoga along with cancer exercise. Val plans to hold another cancer exercise workshop this month in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.