While your day may not always go according to plan, you know that one thing’s for sure – the minute you step into a Flywheel stadium, the instructor’s positivity and endless energy will take your mind off of everything else. A force of both inner and outer strength, the instructor often leaves us thinking, “how the hell do they do that?” Flywheel Philadelphia instructor Alanna Gardner’s past answers this very question. Alanna has overcome obstacles that many women her age couldn’t begin to imagine. A rare and undetected birth defect led to a massive heart attack that almost took her life at age 25. Rather than letting this sideline her, she was determined to fight through and become an athlete once again. With regained strength and a relentless spirit, Alanna not only challenges her riders, but encourages them to celebrate all that their bodies are capable of. Read her amazing story here.
I ’ve always been active. From gymnastics to field hockey, I loved running around. But, from a very young age, I frequently experienced fainting spells which prevented me from being as active as I would have liked. Despite the endless visits to specialists and the emergency room, doctors were unable pinpoint exactly what was wrong with me. When I became old enough to take my health into my own hands, I did just that. I started lifting weights, changed my diet and focused on hydration.
During my graduate program in Marriage and Family Therapy at Thomas Jefferson University, I was further encouraged to kick it up a notch. I was so inspired by the focus on wellness that I decided to challenge myself by doing the one thing that scared me the most — running.
Running has always been the “thing” that triggered my fainting. However, with the help of my classmates, a great training program and clean eating, I overcame my fear. To my surprise, I really enjoyed it! I was amazed at how much running challenged me both physically and mentally (what a therapeutic release!). My fears (and fainting spells) became a thing of the past. I was the healthiest I had ever been. To fully move out of my comfort zone, I signed up for the Broad Street Run, a 10-mile race that courses down Broad Street in Philadelphia.
After running and cross training for months, I felt prepared to tackle the 10-miler and on April 15, of 2012, I set out to run a final 10K before the Broad Street Run. This run was different than the others; when I crossed the finish line, I felt an all too familiar feeling. I knew I was going to blackout. When I regained consciousness, I was lying in a hospital bed with more tubes and IVs than I could count. To my disbelief, the doctors notified me that I had been in a medically induced coma for four days and at the age of 25, went into cardiac arrest caused by a massive heart attack that nearly took my life. The heart attack and the numerous fainting spells were caused by an anomalous, or misplaced artery of the heart. It was a rare birth defect that is usually discovered only after a person passes away. Fortunately, I was blessed to have survived it.
Despite what had occurred I felt a sense of relief and I was willing to undergo open-heart surgery so I could safely live my life to the fullest. The surgery and the months following were difficult. The recovery process was painful in every sense imaginable: physically, mentally, and emotionally. I struggled with not feeling like the strong, active and independent woman that I once was. However, with my renewed faith in God and the support of loving friends, family, my health care team and my amazing boyfriend Marcely, I was able to slowly bounce back. I joined Philadelphia MFT, a private therapy practice where I became an Individual, Relationship and Family Therapist. It helps to be able to use the lessons from my personal experience to connect with people who are in the midst of transitions. I was feeling more and more like myself as time went on, but I was still missing that something: fitness.
I longed to get back into the shape I was in before my surgery and when a friend told me about Flywheel I was immediately intrigued. After trying my first class in September 2013, I KNEW Flywheel was the place for me. I immediately auditioned to be an instructor, but knew I wasn’t where I had to be physically. I didn’t let this deter me from wanting to audition again. After working part-time as a club coordinator for Flywheel Center City, I focused my energy on building myself up to get back on the podium. Having amazing instructors like Hayley Broder, Nicole Hinterberger and Utley Lee as my mentors was crucial. I auditioned in October 2014 and was selected to become a part of the training program. As challenging as it was, I was happy to do something that pushed me out of my comfort zone while training with the likes of Master Instructor John Wellmann and Jess Burns-Kelly. With them, I knew I was preparing to do something great.
I taught my first class in December 2014 and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. It was truly a full circle experience because I had the opportunity to lead a class full of fly family and frequent flyers as well as my wonderful heart surgeon, Dr. Joseph Costic, whose daughter happens to ride at Flywheel Center City. Flywheel Philly embodies Philadelphia’s motto of being “the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection.” I haven’t felt anything less than that from those I have had the pleasure of teaching and working with each week. I’m blessed to be doing something that challenges both others and myself.
Being a heart attack survivor, I know I was given this opportunity to give back and be an example to others, showing them that life’s setbacks are often a set-up for something amazing.
Thank you Alana for sharing your story with us!
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