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Learning for Life–Pushing past fear for lifetime enrichment

The first time Gini Fischer stepped into a four-person shell as part of a rowing crew, she was 54 years old and not entirely confident. “At first it was disconcerting,” she says. “No one knew what they were doing.”

Fischer and her crewmates shared more than inexperience; they were all breast cancer survivors who first met in February 2018 for winter training.“Smilow Cancer Hospital Centers offers opportunities for survivors to practice self-care through integrative medicine; they want you to take on a challenge, go through conditioning,” Fischer explains. “We competed, we pushed ourselves.”

While discovering a love of rowing that continued beyond the program, Fischer says she also formed valuable connections on and off the water. “Coming through breast cancer and spending time with a community of fellow survivors–training, joking, socializing–we had a wonderful sense of support,” she says. “I will always remember that time with great fondness.”

Much like Fischer, Greg Feldmann pushed past newbie jitters when he decided to give comedy a shot after spotting an ad for a standup class being offered at the Ridgefield Playhouse. “My humor was always off the cuff. When I tried to be funny, I couldn’t think of anything. So standup was very daunting,” he says.

Mining their own lives for material, Feldman and his classmates collaborated for eight weeks, graduating with a live showcase.“The result was amazing. That time up on stage, delivering the bit you worked so hard on for so long, and having hundreds of people laugh right on cue, it’s truly intoxicating,” he says. “I never wanted to get off the stage.”

Cory Lee also walked across a stage recently–to get her diploma after earning a PhD in nursing. Finding her passion early as a 14-year-old candystriper, Lee earned her nursing degree and eventually her master’s. When she began teaching at Sacred Heart University in 2008, she had the opportunity to pursue her doctorate degree–her final educational goal.

There were definitely mental obstacles along the way. “My children were in middle and high school. I thought, ‘Am I being selfish? Are my motivations selfish?’” she recalls. “The three roles–mother, professor, student—often hindered motivation.”

An athlete and natural competitor, Lee refocused her mental tenacity on her coursework…all the way to the finish line. Looking back, she believes taking on a difficult challenge should be a thoughtful choice. “Take some time to reflect and contemplate: Why am I pursuing this? What will I do with this education?” she says. “From there, it unfolds, and you begin your journey.”

Tara Walley also personifies the life-changing power of a competitive spirit. “I had never run any type of race before age 40,” she says about her first event in 2015. “But once I did one, it sparked a fire. I wanted another, and I wanted to do better.”

Walley has since competed in nearly 150 events, from road races to Spartan challenges–incredible achievements for a woman who was once told she may eventually lose the ability to walk. “I was sick for awhile with no real answers. Doctors had narrowed it down to lupus or MS. I was always in pain and just tired of the fishing expedition,” she says.

Walley’s physical difficulties were compounded by the stressors of a high-pressure job, which she eventually left for a more positive environment. Throughout any changes, she says training has helped her focus.

“Four years since that first race, it’s been a long journey with a lot of training and a lot of learning–about nutrition, fitness, and mental strength,” she says. “People ask why I get up every morning at five am and train for two hours. It’s to be strong. Being strong helps everything; it means being able to help an elderly person or to lend a hand to somebody.”

Now, Walley is pursuing her passion by becoming a certified trainer by the National Academy of Sports Medicine and a Spartan SGX obstacle specialist. Her mental strength and dedication is as focused on her goals as on her physical regimen.

“Studying for NASM is like med school—for a girl who didn’t take a bit of science! But certification is another level I want so I can use it to help others find their path, to find their joy, to be active.”

Rowing, joking, studying, training…these Wiltonians love to learn and were up for a challenge. Gini Fischer probably puts it best. “Obstacles get bigger as we get older. We don’t want to risk being vulnerable or exposed,” she says. “But it’s thrilling and wonderful to push past fear and anxiety, and there’s so much to be gained by not letting it stop us.”


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