Jerry Courtemanche


By Jason Carrell NSCA-CPT, TFW-1

It’s Thursday at 10:30am at MaxFit-TFW in Long Branch. It’s a beautiful day one block from the beach and the town is as lively as it gets in the middle of the summer. A White sedan pulls up and my next client comes walking in for his workout with about as big of a smile as you’ll ever see. Every day that he walks in we have the same ritual saying to each other. It never changes and I never want it to…”What’s up bud, how are you?”….”I’m good, just working to beat this”….”well ok then let’s get to work.” It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the most important conversation I have every week.

4 months ago I received a call from the social worker at Joan Dancy and PALS (People with ALS) Association.  She said she had a patient that she thought could use my help.  I immediately volunteered.  One of the reasons I was excited to get involved is that my mother was diagnosed 5 years ago with ALS.  I’ve had to sit by and watch this disease strip a woman who was the rock of the family of all of her independence. It has been a battle every day since.  I haven’t had to do this alone however.  PALS and the ALS association are made up of the most caring and selfless people I’ve ever met.  My family would be lost without them.  So when they called for help, I jumped at the opportunity.

In 2005 Jerry Courtemanche was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is a disease of the parts of the nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement. In ALS, motor neurons (nerve cells that control muscle cells) are gradually lost. As these motor neurons are lost, the muscles they control become weak and then nonfunctional. There is currently no known cause for ALS nor is there a cure. The average lifespan after diagnosis is 2-5 years.

At the time of his diagnosis, Jerry was a Physical Therapy technician. He did everything from putting patients through their exercise routines, setting up the patients with modalities (hot packs, electrodes, ultrasound etc.) to assisting the front office.  Jerry was in great shape. He was constantly in the gym trying to get stronger while remaining functional. Growing up, Jerry was always fascinated with bodybuilding and strength training. His role models were Steve Reeves and Rich Gaspari.  Gaspari always used to say “Walk the Walk”, and believe me that quote stuck with Jerry. He was focused on his body and his career and had a goal to become a physical or occupational therapist. His goals quickly changed.

He went from being in great shape, working out on a regular basis and lifting very heavy weights to not being able to walk without help from a walker. His speech is slurred and he often gets contractions in his hands and feet that are very painful. It takes the help of many to help Jerry everyday. Fortunately, he has the help of his sisters Michele and Renee as well as his brother Lawrence. Once a very independent person, Jerry is now dependent on the aid of others. His goals now, are from day to day working to get through this disease. He strives to have some sort of a semblance of a normal life, being able to complete daily tasks we take for granted on his own. These are his warrior challenges.

A warrior is defined as an individual prepared to work hard and develop oneself in an effort to battle against his or her particular challenges in life. At TFW we meet all kinds of warriors: high-level athletes, aspiring athletes, housewives, beginners looking for a new start and many more. Every day put them through a variety of exercises that test their physical and mental fortitude. They aspire to climb up the charts in our multileveled warrior challenges. Jerry’s warrior challenge is simple in theory; beat this disease. Every day he is working as hard as he can to meet this challenge. In my mind Jerry is a warrior in every sense of the word. Everyday tasks that most of us take for granted like getting dressed, getting out of a car, walking to the kitchen to make food, etc. are his challenges. Instead of accepting that this disease will determine his life path, he has decided that he is going to take the reigns back and control his life.

I asked Jerry what motivates him the most. (Before I asked him, I already knew the answer because of the type of person he is). He responded, “A positive, you can do this atmosphere which is tantamount to my tenacity to drive myself every second to every minute to every hour to get this disease in the past. Coming to Maximum Fitness gives me something to look forward to each week. It gives me hope to be able to do something about this disease, that I am in control of my future that I can make a difference. Jason puts me through quite a rigorous routine. I love the intensity of pushing myself as hard as I can, but not too hard so as to short circuit my muscles and nervous system. I love the feeling of my hands wrapped around cold steel of the Olympic bar, such an exhilarating feeling.”

Jerry has that mentality that if something is difficult he wants me to push him to face that obstacle instead of using me to get around it. I LOVE THAT! Because of that attitude, the improvements Jerry has made are astounding.

  • He’s able to eat almost any type of food (before he had to watch out for anything that could lodge in his throat (rice, lettuce, etc.)
  • Balance has gotten much better.
  • Posture is more aligned.
  • Strength has increased
  • More Muscle, Less fat and a better physique
  • Breathing has improved drastically
  • Most importantly a positive frame of mind

One of the mantras of Martin Rooney and the TFW organization is “get comfortable making yourself uncomfortable”. Gerry took this mantra and ran with it. The easy way would be to accept his fate and let nature run its course. NOT AN OPTION! So instead, he goes to work. He does everything that I ask of him and more. Always wanting that extra rep, or that extra challenge. Even doing it with excitement and the occasional clever line like, “I’M GETTING HUGE!”

At 11:15am Jerry’s brother Lawrence comes to pick him up. He helps Jerry get in the car and they go home. The work is done right? Not for a warrior. Whether he’s emailing me about different exercises he can do at home (just bought a new TRX system) or on his iPad looking at the muscle app, he’s always working to make himself a little better. By the way, if you have an iPad or an iPhone what’s on your home screen? Chances are it may be Angry Birds or Words with Friends, or some other game app. I looked at Jerry’s the other day. It’s filled with Training Apps and Paleo diet links!! He is a role model for not only ALS patients, but for anyone who is looking to accomplish something that is not easy. I want to thank Jerry for making me a better trainer and a better person.

As a sidenote, Jerry and I would like to thank the Joan Dancy and PALS  Association, especially Patricia Schaeffer, RN, Kathy Valentino, LCSW, Sean Magovern, President and Executive Director. They have helped both Jerry and my mother in many ways from monetary help with the many bills incurred, to visits where they provide support and friendship. They answer any questions with regard to this disease. The list of what they provide for ALS patients and caregivers/family goes on and on – a truly caring and genuine organization.