Worth Her Weight in (Zumba) Gold – Sandra Coopersmith

Yvonne with “before” pictures showing her at her previous weight

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, if you were to ask Yvonne Beraldi of Culver City how she’d rate her gratitude on a scale of one to ten, she could justifiably respond “200 plus” since that represents the pounds she’s lost from a high of 350 to today’s vibrant 142.

So how does she plan to navigate the culinary quicksand of the holidays?

“I’m going to enjoy myself and eat what I want, including dessert,” Beraldi replied. “I still like to eat, but now I plan. Weight Watchers has taught me that. I have been mentally planning my strategy for the past few weeks. First, I’m going to ‘survey’ the food that’s presented. Second, I’ll select or request a smaller dish. It will look like I have a lot of food while tricking the senses. Third, I’ll choose foods that I usually eat only during the holidays, using portion control. The reality for me is that after the first six or seven bites of an item, the taste buds have been satisfied. Beyond that, I’m crossing the thin line of overindulgence.

“If I get to that point, and I have on numerous occasions, I’ve learned to stop, take a step back and conduct a personal assessment, i.e., Yvonne, what’s really going on? Are you upset about something? Are you really still hungry? If so, why is that? Did you develop a plan or a contingency plan? Are you sticking to that plan? If not, why not? It seems like a lot, but in reality it takes less than one minute to perform. I challenge myself with the ‘why’ a lot. It forces me to think before acting and holds me accountable to self and others. I am not on this journey alone. I will not go back for seconds, except for fruits and vegetables.”

One of those “others” to whom she holds herself accountable is husband Robert Beraldi, who can attest to the stressful and frightening existence that comprised the “before” era.

“Yvonne and I have been married for 33 years,” he said. “In the earlier years her health problems were at a minimum. As the years went on and her weight began to increase, she started to experience numerous life-threatening health issues. Oftentimes they were of a magnitude that had us rushing to Kaiser Hospital. As her weight spiraled out of control, going to the emergency room became a ritual for us. The visits were so numerous, one watched the hours change into days.

“With her weight escalating, it reached a point where I could no longer lend a hand when health emergencies arose. For time and safety’s sake it was imperative that I call the ambulance to transport Yvonne to the ER. In like manner, the Culver City Fire Department’s visits got to be so frequent that I lost count. The sound of the sirens was likened to our theme song. As her weight soared upwards of 300-350 pounds, it took the strength of two, three and sometimes four paramedics to try and get her massive frame out the door, on a stretcher and down the stairs. The trauma of seeing those paramedics trying to get Yvonne the much needed help and assistance left an imprint that is etched in my memory forever.”

Adding that “I am extremely proud of Yvonne,” he lauded her amazing accomplishment.

“Losing over 200 pounds was not an easy task that she undertook, but a very necessary one if she was going to survive,” he said. “I don’t know of anyone who has taken on an assignment of this magnitude. I witnessed firsthand the highs and lows of her weight loss journey, and constantly encouraged her. Sometimes she didn’t like what I had to say, but I felt it was necessary, and I know her well enough to know that she did not want to be pacified with platitudes and kind words. Yvonne has always been a tenacious individual, many times to her detriment, but in this case it was and is one of the most powerful tools readily at her disposal. We’ve lived in Culver City for over 25 years, and have come to know many people. As I take my daily walks around the neighborhood I’m frequently asked about her, and with great pride I tell of her victory and continued success.”

Beraldi noted that even positive lifestyle changes can require a period of adjustment in a marriage.

“I know the Yvonne my husband married no longer exists and I know he doesn’t want her back,” she said. “I think he’s constantly plagued with the thought of wondering if the Yvonne he now has will remain. Statistically, more than half of the people that lose weight regain it, so his fears are valid. I’m learning how to be more sensitive, understanding and not to take every nuance personally, giving him the same space that I needed and still need in order to adapt to this transformation. It’s his timing, not mine. In reflection, I realize, recognize, accept and appreciate how much he really loves me. He stayed with me all those years, going through all the insanity, did not throw up his hands in disgust, nor walk away and leave me.”

Her son, Martin Goss, clearly remembers the front row seat he had during “the struggles that she has gone against for the 39 years that I have known her,” and expressed his concerns regarding the obesity epidemic in this country.

“Obesity is a major issue in America that has affected not only adults of all ages but has also reared its ugly head in all our schools across the land,” he said. ”The elimination of Physical Education in our educational institutions and sub-par meals that have very little nutritional value have spawned a generation of adults that have no idea of how to be healthy. I understand that very well, remembering Mom to be one of the individuals whose days were so busy that it was just easier and less time-consuming to pick up some pizza or other fast food item to feed the family. This is a pattern that a good portion of Americans follow, saying ‘My day is too busy; with all I have going on I have no time to prepare a well-balanced meal.’

“Being overweight has been a battle Mom has fought since her early teens and continued to fight into late adulthood, a battle that has created and continues to send a barrage of dangerous health issues that have taken the lives of many, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, just to name a few. I’ve been there when she battled chronic pain and other health problems created from being overweight, to the point I had mentally prepared myself that her life would be cut shorter than it should be. That deeply saddened me to a point I can’t even begin to explain. Then one day, with her very strong faith and the mentality that ‘I am sick and tired of being sick and tired,’ the long hard road to transformation began.”

Goss emphasized that “this road could not and should not be traveled alone, and she reached out to support groups that she is now involved in to help others navigate the tough road in eliminating obesity in their lives. With hard work and a ‘never give up’ attitude that she has instilled into me, she has won her battle against obesity and has created an entirely new lifestyle of living that has benefited not only herself but her family as well.”

It’s a mind-bending effort to reconcile today’s Beraldi, a staff member at Weight Watchers since March as well as a Zumba Gold instructor at Kaiser Hospital and LA Dancefit in West Los Angeles, with her previous incarnation as a despondent woman afflicted with chronic morbid obesity and its attendant host of problems: sleep apnea requiring the use of a CPAP machine; diabetes with complications including Stage 3 renal failure; COPD with emphysema; fibromyalgia; congestive heart failure; mini stroke; and extreme hypertension.

Contributing to this desperate scenario, Beraldi’s working career had been cut short because of an auto accident.

“An 18-wheeler tanker truck hit our car and I was forced to go out on a disability retirement,” she said. “Now to add to my already emotional state, I was racked with physical pain 24/7, in places where I didn’t know a body could hurt. I underwent numerous surgeries. I also received a total of 64 spinal injections, only to be told in the end that the only other thing that could be done was to put a rod in my spine. I wasn’t going for that, thus the beginning of my long career with prescription pain pills. This eventually led to an addiction to morphine and Vicodin and my weight began to soar out of control.”

She was a pharmaceutical company’s dream customer, ingesting 25-30 prescription pills a day, excessive medication that frequently caused chemically induced seizures. Ambulance drivers could find her home blindfolded.

“Today I take 1/2 of a cholesterol pill and 1/4 of a high blood pressure pill,” Beraldi said. “Is that awesome or what?” And the CPAP machine now lives in the closet.
This 5’6” dynamo is still learning, by the seat of her trim size 6 pants (down from a high of size 30), how to navigate within this brave new world of good health and vitality, a process that will be an ongoing journey in a life that has had an abundance of horrendous experiences, starting when she was a little girl.
“I was physically, mentally and emotionally abused as a child,” Beraldi explained. “From the ages of six to nine I was raised by my grandparents because my mom had to work. The atrocities my grandmother did to me would have warranted her to be under a jail, not just in it. I became an emotional eater at the age of seven, learning the comfort of food.”

As a young woman she was date-raped by a boyfriend and his friend. Humiliated, she never reported it. Her increasing and intense emotional pain led to suicide attempts. Because of the many abuses endured at the hands of family and the men with whom she was involved in her teens and 20s, most of her decisions became self-destructive. “I merely existed, with an overwhelming abundance of fear, anger, self-loathing and manipulation,” she said.

She would lose weight and try to keep it off but “whenever another disease would arise I would sink into depression and pray to God that if He would get me out of this I would be good. That good behavior never lasted beyond six months.”

Beraldi’s turning point came in December, 2009 following a bleak prediction from her vascular surgeon.

“My legs and feet were so swollen they’d lost all human form and resembled those of an elephant,” she said. “I had cellulitis for the fourth time in approximately five months. My vascular surgeon informed me there wasn’t any surgery for my condition and I would be in a wheelchair before long. I could hardly walk to the bathroom, let alone anywhere else. I argued the point, saying I could use a cane or crutches, to which he emphatically stated, ‘No, a wheelchair.’ The disease was progressively getting worse, with complications of lymphedema, and the effectiveness of the antibiotics was growing slim. I knew if the infection entered my bloodstream, I could die.”

Recalling a cousin whose obesity required a special coffin to be made to accommodate her large frame when she died, Beraldi concluded she “didn’t want to have to be in an oversized coffin. By now I was down to 285 pounds, still chronically morbidly obese. And the thought of being in a wheelchair petrified me. Again I prayed, not bargaining with God this time. I was even thinking of weight loss surgery, but my Lord wanted me in Weight Watchers again. I knew this was my last chance!”

Continuing to pray and lose weight, she walked into Weight Watchers on Feb. 3, 2010 at 252 pounds. Her world changed radically as, with the help of her Weight Watchers leaders, she learned to confront the root causes of her obesity and, while losing pounds, regained and reignited her self respect.

And she has certainly made her mark at Weight Watchers.

“Yvonne attended my meeting many years ago,” said Diane Elias, a Weight Watchers leader. “I always was impressed with her commitment to the meetings. This was long before she lost her weight. I always knew she could do it and would do it. Like most people, sometimes you have to start and stop the program several times before you finally find that reason why it is time to get serious. Well, fortunately she found it. I was so thrilled when our paths crossed again when she went on staff with Weight Watchers. Her journey started many years before her final success. I’m happy to have been a part of it.”

Sherry Green, a Weight Watchers Territory Manager, commented on Beraldi’s enthusiasm.

“Prior to joining our staff she was a member for several years and ultimately lost
over 200 pounds following our PointsPlus Program,” Green explained. “She exudes a remarkable zest for life and actually credits Weight Watchers with saving her life. After getting her health back, Yvonne has not only become a real cheerleader and role model for Weight Watchers but for all things healthy, most notably her work after becoming a certified Zumba Gold instructor while she was losing weight. She smiles all the time, has an infectious laugh and just shares these and so many more positive traits with everyone.”

Beraldi has been and continues to be a source of hope and inspiration to many.

Alicia Stanley remembered going to church with her husband, Jim, 16 years ago and meeting Beraldi there.

“We were new to our church, my husband was a new Christian, and Yvonne had just given testimony about her life and was walking back to her seat when my husband got up, walked up to her, a complete stranger, and hugged her,” Stanley recalled. “She touched our lives and our hearts that day and became a loved and cherished friend. Her love of God, her courage, determination and the love of her family and friends have kept her going. At her age she is in better health and shape than most people half her age. She gives all the glory to God for putting Weight Watchers and Zumba in her life and she is now attempting to help me get where she is. She is the person you talk to when you are down, the person you request prayers from since she is a prayer warrior, the person that will give you that special hug that tells you everything will be okay, a blessing to so many people, most of all to us.”

Beraldi’s friend JoAnne Trieber says that when she “met Yvonne, she was already on her journey. At first meeting I knew she was a success story just waiting to be told. I know Yvonne to be dedicated, persistent and loving. When she sets her mind to something she does whatever it takes to make it happen – but all in the name of God. At the onset of her weight loss regimen there were times she would miss important functions because her legs were so swollen and painful she could not walk. But that did not stop her. She continued on and even though there were times she wanted to give up, we always heard how God kept her on the right path and the many blessings she had because she did not give up. ‘Give up’ is not really a part of who she is. ‘Give in’ is not really a part of who she is. ‘Get it done’ is. And get it done is exactly what she did.

“She surrounded herself with positive, spiritual fellowship and continued her journey one day at a time. Now she is helping others master their journey. One day it seemed she was struggling to keep going and the next day she was successful – doing a 5K walk in record time; getting ready to begin Zumba classes; even preparing and dragging others into the next 5K walk.”

That 5K walk left a lasting impression on Treiber.

“Yvonne was on fire and so was everyone associated with her,” she recalled. “In fact, a group of us did the next 5K walk with her and although we had finished, and we didn’t really know anyone else at the walk, when she heard of a young lady coming across the finish line long after we had, Yvonne rallied us together to cheer the young lady as she crossed the line. We found out later that she had come all the way from San Diego to do the walk and that she was just starting on her journey. She was so uplifted by the encouragement and cheering that when she crossed the line she wept. Yvonne hugged her, introduced herself and us as though she had known this young lady for a while, continued to encourage her to stay the course, and then summarized her story. We all hugged and cried with love and excitement. That is the type of person Yvonne is, always thinking of how she can help and encourage others so that they too don’t give up.”

Another friend whom Beraldi invited to share in her newly found joy of walking is Joyce Mundle.

“One day at church in the spring of 2010, Yvonne asked me if I would participate with her in the Weight Watchers 5K Walk,” Mundle said, “so that June we successfully completed our first Weight Watchers 5K at the Culver City High School track. It was so enjoyable that we decided to continue walking together several days a week. In June, 2011, we completed our second Weight Watchers 5K Walk at Griffith Park. Witnessing Yvonne’s enthusiasm, perseverance and steadfast faith in God on her path to accomplishing her goals has been an extraordinary adventure. She has been an inspiration to me. It is an honor to be her friend.”

“Yvonne Beraldi is my weigh-loss mentor, my sister, my friend,” proclaimed Terri Monk. “Instant was our connection nine months ago at Jennifer Hudson’s book signing in Culver City, and our bond continues to grow. As my weigh toss mentor, Yvonne has reached her goal and she eagerly shares personal strategies that are helpful to me as I near my goal. As my sister in the journey to healthy living, she stands with me through trials and cheers me along in triumphs. As my dear friend, Yvonne encourages and inspires me to keep my eyes on the prize of optimum health. She’s always positive, supportive and she genuinely cares about everyone around her. Yvonne Beraldi is a remarkable human being and I adore her.”

Phyllis Lessin, Lifestyle Health Educator at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles, considers Beraldi “not only one of the most amazing people I know, but definitely the most inspirational! In addition to her having taken this very difficult journey to wellness, she is so open about it so that others may benefit from her experiences. She regularly hangs her ‘before’ picture in front of the class so that all are aware of her transformation. I am in awe of her unbelievable energy and her commitment to share her health and experience. She began by volunteering to teach one Zumba Gold class to our Inglewood members, many of whom are senior citizens, and her popularity grew rapidly so that she is now teaching five classes a week. In addition, she works at Weight Watchers to assist their membership.

“And if that is not enough, she is now training to become a Co-Leader with me in a class called Healthy Living for People with Ongoing Conditions, so that she can further spread her experience and joy at who she has become – all this and a warm, bubbly personality that shines through every day. I feel blessed to work with her and to know her.”

“When my Lord opens doors, He throws them wide open!” Beraldi laughed, explaining that she also recently became an instructor at LA Dancefit “by divine intervention. I was doing several Zumba demonstrations for Weight Watchers’ yearly ‘Lose For Good’ campaign. I was informed that morning that, due to schedule conflicts, I did not have to report to the Santa Monica Weight Watchers Center. With that change I was afforded some additional time to remain at the Beverly Weight Watchers Center before heading out to the next location. It was at Beverly where I met Wil and Diana from LA Dancefit.

“They invited me to join them in their Zumba demonstration, which I happily did. They shared with me that prior to our meeting, they had discussed having a Zumba Gold instructor at their studio. I requested that they consider me for the position. It was a ‘done deal’ that day. Diana and I spoke later that week and plans were underway. Had there not been a schedule conflict, I would not have had the occasion to meet them, much less be considered as an instructor, and my first Zumba Gold class for LA Dancefit was Friday, Nov 2, 2012, with classes scheduled Fridays at 11:00 A.M.”

Beraldi spoke with excitement and delight about the direction in which her life is headed.

““I’m 63 and consider it the new 33,” she proclaimed. “I haven’t felt like this since never! I used to say yes, I’ve changed a lot. Now I say, no, I haven’t changed, I’m transformed. When I think of the word ‘change’ I think of a chameleon. That animal has the option of changing back to what it once was. On the other hand, the word ‘transformed’ I associate with the butterfly. It does not have the option of changing back to what it was before, a caterpillar. Likewise, I don’t have the option of going back to what I was before.”
Ironically, she is presently facing a weight challenge that borders on the surreal.
“Never did I envision myself where I am now,” Beraldi said. “As of now I’ve lost 208 pounds, having gone from 350 to 142. My doctor at Kaiser wants me to go to 150 because with all the activity, I need a cushion. So, I’m presently working with my dear friend and Weight Watchers leader, Elaine, about adding weight in a healthy way, and also discussing this with my doctor and nutritionist at Kaiser.”

This self-described former couch potato has triumphantly transitioned from victim to victor and reclaimed her life.

“I feel like a child that has just been let loose in a toy store and told to go for broke,” she continued, describing the tectonic shift in her lifestyle. “In December 2012 I’ll be attending certification training for a class to help people with chronic conditions live a healthy life. Then in January 2013 I’ll begin by co-teaching that class at Kaiser Permanente. In 2013 I’ll also be going for additional Zumba certifications: Zumba Toning, which will lead to Zumba Gold Toning, plus Zumba In The Circuit, which will allow me to teach at facilities such as Curves. I will, in all probability, add another Zumba Gold class at LA Dancefit.

“This may seem like a lot and, truthfully, it is. But it keeps me grounded and ever cognizant that there were people for me, and a lot of folks don’t have anyone for them. I know I can’t be there for everyone, but if I can help just one other person, then everything I do is worth it.”

Acknowledging that there are advantages to having been chronically morbidly obese and having had an array of unfortunate life experiences, Beraldi commented on the benefits.

“First and foremost it made me who and what I am and secondly, it’s brought the feeling and meaning of compassion to a whole new level,” she said. “I’ve encountered what many will never experience. But, for the ones who have, or will, I know firsthand the pain, humiliation and degradation that come with the territory. I’ve been given a second chance and I don’t take it lightly. The only way I can keep what I have is to give it away.”
With her strong commitment to helping others achieve their goals and abundant gratitude for the immense support she has received, it is not surprising that Beraldi’s favorite saying is found in Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” And in her vivid workout attire, she is a well-honed and gleaming instrument embodying a force for change.

www.culvercitysymphony.org

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