Leslie Gaska photo1.jpg

Leslie Gaska and her new feline friend.

Several years ago, Leslie Gaska of Rochester experienced a year of great hardship that included the deaths of Vern, her partner of 25 years, her mother, and her two cats.

As she and Vern had enjoyed many years of travel, she was eagerly anticipating her trip of a lifetime to South Africa, thanks to an inheritance from Vern. Unfortunately for Leslie, she developed a serious lung infection and spent 14 days in ICU in Cape Town. While she never saw a single wild animal, Leslie’s overseas health crisis changed her life for the better.

Leslie said, “It became clear that not being in the best shape was not doing me any favors.” Upon return to Rochester, she set herself on a course to improving her health. Her journey changed not only her physical health but truly altered her entire life. “Everything changed," she said, "when I took an eight-week class (at 125 Live) about sugar.”

Exploring the options at 125 Live, Leslie initially rejected the health membership because of cost and it “sounded boring and awful anyway.” However, then she learned about SilverSneakers, a health and fitness program for adults 65 and over, which was covered by her medical insurance. Leslie signed up and got a personal trainer. Not only has she lost 30 pounds, she hasn’t gained any back. “I couldn’t have done it without SilverSneakers," she said.

And then this spring Leslie received an email about the Swanson Award. She deleted it, thinking it was “junk."A week later her phone rang. Leslie took the call and learned that SilverSneakers had selected her as a Top 10 Finalist for the Swanson Award, which is presented to a member “whose commitment to health and staying active encourages others to love life longer.” Her response to becoming a finalist? “Holy cow!” she exclaimed.

Leslie said, “I quite honestly have no idea who nominated me,” although she suspects it must have been someone from 125 Live. The top finisher, a gentleman from North Carolina, was selected based on online voting. While she didn’t really campaign for herself, Leslie did ask people to vote just so she wasn’t “at the bottom” of the list.

A party is in the works this fall at 125 Live to celebrate Leslie, her selection as a top finalist, and all of her accomplishments. She said, “I love the changes. My sisters now say, 'Who are you?’” When friends ask her to go for a walk, Leslie says yes.

Healthy living has taught her a lot about herself and her body. Today, Leslie finds that there are a lot more “yeses” to things she had previously said no to. Plus her life is even more full with the adoption of a new feline friend.

Colleen Timimi is a Rochester freelance writer. Seen & Heard highlights local people with interesting stories. Send tips to life@postbulletin.com.

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