Member Spotlight: Richard Robinson

Personal Training Through Life’s Ups and Downs

As an avid athlete participating in half marathons and endurance bike riding, Richard Robinson has always led an active lifestyle. Looking for a place to maintain his fitness, he and his wife joined the First Coast YMCA. Richard would come to the Y about once a week for a spin class while his wife could’ve been described as a “gym rat”, working out about 5-6 times a week. That is until she unexpectedly passed away in March 2022.

Grieving from a tragic loss and looking to fill his time after retirement, Richard returned to the First Coast YMCA two months later. However, he needed something different. He needed professional guidance and someone who was going to push him physically and give him an outlet to process his trauma. After assessing Rich’s situation, Director of Community Integrated Health Programs Connie Smith paired him with personal trainer Shelley Zawatsky.

“What Rich was looking for was for an individual that would help propel him to do the races,” said Connie. “But he was also looking for someone who would push him since he is pushed all the time.” Shelley did not hold back. With 17 years of experience as a personal trainer, she knew how to challenge Richard with full body workouts, while keeping him accountable to continue his sessions. Shelley used Richard’s athletic background as motivation for his upcoming races to train him with a goal in mind.

Because of these training sessions, Richard found a place that became his community and gave him not only a place to exercise, but a place to create friendships. Making the YMCA part of his routine helped him feel like he used to.

Ready to be back on the bike, Richard embarked on the Three Rivers Ride in St. Marys, Georgia. After completing the 62-mile race, Richard was celebrating with friends and fellow racers, including Connie Smith, when the unexpected happened. Instead of enjoying a well- earned beverage, he was being rushed to Baptist Medical Center after suffering a stroke.

Thankfully, Connie had recognized the symptoms of a stroke early enough and Richard was treated quickly while enduring minimal physical damage.

The stroke didn’t stop him, and Richard didn’t want all of his hard work to go to waste. After only four weeks, he was already back training with Shelley. “He has done better than I could ever imagine,” she said. “All we did was lower the weights, but the workouts were the same.” Through these ups and downs of life, the sessions continued to give Richard the need for consistency to help him feel back to where he was pre-stroke. “I’m still a slow runner though,” he joked.

No matter what is going on in your life, the First Coast YMCA will be there if you are ready to train and put the work in. The Y will meet you at wherever you are physically and push you toward your goals. Richard is back to running and biking, and even led a pacing group in the 2023 DONNA Half Marathon.

Richard’s athletic background made him a great candidate to continue with Shelley on his road to recovery through personal training. However, his case is not the same as for all stroke survivors. Those looking for recovery through physical activity should consider the Stroke Wellness program partnered with Brooks Rehabilitation. Individuals can participate in this program as long as they need to with the goal to restore strength, endurance and agility. Learn more about this and other adaptable wellness programs here.