Can do

Dur­ing 13 years of cop­ing with mul­tiple scler­osis, Terri Ku­biak has done her best to strike the word can’t from her vocab­u­lary. Wheth­er kayak­ing on a river or work­ing out, she’s a wo­man in mo­tion.

Terri Ku­biak grew up as an act­ive girl, win­ning the Tor­res­dale Boys Club Girl of the Year award and play­ing soc­cer, bas­ket­ball and soft­ball at St. Hubert High School.

Ku­biak’s good health con­tin­ued to age 30, when she was en­rolled in Com­munity Col­lege of Phil­adelphia’s nurs­ing school.

One day, while serving an in­tern­ship at Jeanes Hos­pit­al, she felt weak and dizzy and be­came a pa­tient in­stead of a care­giver.

Soon, doc­tors had a dia­gnos­is for her sud­den weak­ness and dizzi­ness. She had mul­tiple scler­osis, a chron­ic dis­ease that af­fects the cent­ral nervous sys­tem and of­ten res­ults in speech de­fects and loss of mus­cu­lar co­ordin­a­tion.

Ku­biak spent the next three months in the hos­pit­al and, over a three-year peri­od, was in hos­pit­als a total of two years, at times bat­tling tem­por­ary para­lys­is.

For the last dec­ade, she has got­ten around in a wheel­chair. She doesn’t like the word “can’t”.

“I think about what can I do today,” she said.

Now 43, the Tor­res­dale nat­ive lives an in­de­pend­ent life. She re­lies on SEPTA’s para­t­rans­it vehicles to take her places, such as the su­per­mar­ket. She rows and kayaks on the Schuylkill River, went scuba diving on a re­cent trip to Hon­dur­as, and for a long time prac­ticed yoga. She is act­ive with her church, Dig­nity Phil­adelphia, per­forms vo­lun­teer work and likes see­ing shows at the Wal­nut Street Theatre.

However, one thing she couldn’t do was walk for a con­sid­er­able dis­tance. The dis­ease is crip­pling in sev­er­al ways.

“It af­fects my bal­ance, strength and en­ergy,” she said. “My biggest chal­lenge is bal­ance.”

Last Novem­ber, she learned about It Fig­ures, a wo­men’s fit­ness cen­ter in the shop­ping cen­ter at Grant Av­en­ue and Academy Road.

Al­though it was quite far from her home in South­w­est Phil­adelphia — a two-hour ride each way on the para­t­rans­it van — she took ad­vant­age of a sev­en-day tri­al mem­ber­ship.

In a po­lite tone, she told own­er Bettylynn Sz­al, “If I need your help, I’ll let you know.”

The tri­al mem­ber­ship turned in­to a full-time mem­ber­ship, and today she works out three times a week, usu­ally Mondays, Tues­days and Thursdays.

Sz­al, who has been in busi­ness for nine years, en­joys Ku­biak’s pres­ence. The mem­ber likes the own­er’s hands-on style.

Ku­biak enters and leaves the fa­cil­ity with a smile on her face. In between, she mixes ex­er­cises that strengthen her ab­do­men muscles, back, arms and legs. She uses free weights and a sta­tion­ary bi­cycle, and does squats us­ing a chair. She can com­plete an im­press­ive 25 pushups.

“She knows the workout,” Sz­al said. “She gets right to it, works hard and isn’t afraid to ad­vance.”

Un­til re­cently, Ku­biak’s biggest ac­com­plish­ment prob­ably was mov­ing about 200 feet with use of a walk­er.

That was un­til two weeks ago, when she summoned enough phys­ic­al and men­tal strength to get on a tread­mill.

The ma­chine’s speed isn’t im­port­ant. The key is that Ku­biak is put­ting one foot in front of the oth­er on a mov­ing sur­face.

“I nev­er dreamed I’d be walk­ing on a tread­mill,” she said. “I went sev­en­teen minutes today. I can’t be­lieve it.”

Now, the sky’s the lim­it.

“I feel stronger than I ever have,” she said. “I want to keep in­creas­ing my time and speed. My goal is to run on a tread­mill. My dream of run­ning is go­ing to come true.”

Out­side the gym, she’d settle for be­ing able to use a walk­er or, down the road, a cane.

The cred­it, Ku­biak says mod­estly, goes to the fit­ness-cen­ter own­er. She’ll gladly cris­scross the city for a good workout.

“It’s so def­in­itely worth it,” she said. “Bettylynn is awe­some. I cred­it Bettylynn way more than my­self.”

Sz­al pushes Ku­biak, but only when she knows the mem­ber is strong enough to reach the next level.

The busi­ness­wo­man has nev­er heard her cli­ent ask, “Why me?”

“She’s come a long way, and she’s not stop­ping,” she said.

Sz­al, who has had more than 2,000 mem­bers since open­ing in 2002, paid Ku­biak a nice com­pli­ment.

“You stand out as one of the most hard-work­ing, com­mit­ted mem­bers,” she said. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­

You can reach at

comments powered by Disqus