Hill instructor uses fitness to fight disease

  • Published
  • By Beth Young
  • Hilltop Times staff
"Are you guys ready?" shouts Devin Gongora, before warming up her aerobics class at the Hill fitness center.

Members of her class know that this fit, perky redhead can get their heart rate going, but what most don't know is that she has Multiple Sclerosis.

MS is a disease that affects the central nervous system. Those with the disease can experience mild to severe unpredictable symptoms, ranging from fatigue to blindness. MS is not contagious, but the cause of this disease is currently unknown.

Now 25, Mrs. Gongora was diagnosed at the early age of 17. Although it was frustrating at first for this life-long dancer, she has not let it slow her down. Not only does she teach fitness at Hill, she is also married, has another full time job, and is about to go back to school to finish her degree in health promotion.

"My attitude has totally changed since I was 17," Mrs. Gongora said. "I asked myself, am I going to let my life stop here? Or am I going to live it? When I was in college I changed my degree from (public affairs) to health promotion and fitness mainly for that reason. To show people even if you are sick or have a disease, live your life while you can."

Mrs. Gongora finds that fitness helps her with her main symptoms, numbness in her lower legs and feet. It also helps her stay positive, not just with her disease but throughout her life.

"I stumble, I trip but I still do aerobics, and yes I have my bad days," she said. "You just have to be positive. If you don't, you're going to waste however many years you have your good body -- a moving body, a walking body. I don't know if I am not going to walk tomorrow, so I have to live my life today."

Four years ago she had an attack that left her unable to walk for four days, but she doesn't dwell on this and credits exercise with keeping her feeling good both physically and mentally.

"It has a lot to do with my attitude," Mrs. Gongora said. "When I don't go to the gym, I don't feel good about myself. I think it does help battle my MS. Everyone has problems; mine is no bigger than any one else's."

In her position as lead fitness instructor, Mrs. Gongora has 15 nationally ranked fitness certifications, can teach every aerobics class the gym offers, teaches physical training to the commander and his staff once a month, and has brought the program from 32 classes up to 50. She says being this busy can be challenging, but that is the way she likes it.

With her enthusiasm for fitness - her attitude seems to be contagious - it's not a surprise that her classroom is full.

"Going to the gym gives you an hour away from the world to just focus on you," Mrs. Gongora. "I love aerobics and I am a firm believer that aerobics can help anyone. That is why I do what I do."

It doesn't have to be aerobics; Mrs. Gongora recommends exercise of any kind.

The first step to get fit is to make the decision to do it. She recommends that people write down their goal so they can track their progress, then figure out the steps that will get them there. She also says not to go it alone. For motivation, talk to a trainer and find a partner.

"I hope I motivate people with what I have, to show them that they can do it too," Mrs. Gongora said. "You can't just expect it to happen. Find your motivation."

Because MS is such an unpredictable disease, Mrs. Gongora's future is somewhat uncertain, so she lives in the moment.

"To be honest, I never have thought about what may happen," she said. "Everyone has what-ifs. I hope that the dreaded 'won't walk' or 'go blind' -- the different things that happen with MS - won't happen. My future is just to keep pushing my career, get my degree, and still hope to motivate and inspire people."

Even with MS, she may be luckier than most as she has found the secret to her success.

"Fitness is my key to living, being positive and happy," Mrs. Gongora said.