"On a scale of one to 100 (100 being least-interested in exercise), I was a 97," said south Charlotte resident Sally Kovach.
Now Kovach, 65, is a "three" on her scale, thanks to her work with personal trainer Sally Lucas, 47.
The two women met in August at the Sandra and Leon Levine Jewish Community Center. Kovach was searching for an aquatic-therapy program per her orthopedist's advice, because her bones were not healing well after a life-changing car accident.
After retiring as head of the art department at UNC Charlotte, Kovach liked to take her four dogs on trips. About two years ago, "I drove my motor home off a cliff into a canyon on Idlewild Road, south of Margaret Wallace Road," said Kovach. She and a friend were returning from a national dog convention in Rhode Island and were just coming off Interstate 485.
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"I don't know what happened," said Kovach.
Kovach, her friend and the dogs survived. Kovach was airlifted out. Her pelvis was crushed. She suffered a head injury, fractures in her left femur, left knee and face, and nerve damage to her face, right foot and left wrist.
Her road to recovery has been complicated by repeated surgeries and four stints in rehabilitation.
Kovach's bones were not healing. Her orthopedist prescribed water therapy to improve bone density while Kovach was non-weight bearing. In the water, she could exercise her muscles without putting extra stress on her bones.
"It was difficult to find where to have (water therapy)," said Kovach.
Since she was wheelchair-bound and could not put weight on her fragile bones, Kovach needed a facility with a lift that could take her from her wheelchair into the pool.
Kovach found the LJCC after researching several facilities. The LJCC paired Kovach with Lucas, a personal trainer with extensive aquatic experience.
"It was serendipity," the two women said. They live near each other, so Kovach pays Lucas to drive her to therapy.
"I adore her," said Kovach. "She's cheaper than a cab."
The women laugh a lot during their sessions. Lucas said she believes a sense of humor is important to the healing process.
In August, Lucas and Kovach started working together five days a week. Initially, Lucas designed a program that addressed Kovach's weaknesses, nerve damage and progressing Parkinson's disease. They used the chair lift to get Kovach into the pool.
Kovach used the chair lift for the last time in October. Now able to put weight on her bones, Kovach can get in and out of the pool without the lift. She has progressed to walking short distances with a three-wheeled walker. She continues water therapy, weight and balance training and walking on a treadmill.
Kovach's progress has not been without setbacks. A few weeks ago, she hurried during her walk out to Lucas' waiting car and lost her balance, falling flat on her face. She broke her nose and damaged her face and teeth.
Consequently, Lucas adjusted her exercise plan to include teaching Kovach how to fall without hurting herself.
"I train that person based on their needs," said Lucas. "I treat them in a way that's personal, heal in a way that's personal, find what someone needs and give them what they need."
Kovach can now walk a maximum of three minutes and 30 seconds while holding onto the treadmill. Kovach and Lucas are working on building Kovach's endurance.
Kovach's long-term goal is "to live life freely and independently."
With Lucas' expertise and encouragement and Kovach's hard work and dedication, Kovach has gone from someone who doesn't do gyms to someone who likes exercise.
"Yes, I now like exercise, which I never thought I'd say," said Kovach.