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Elena Delle Donne works to inspire seriously ill students

Courtesy of Delaware Online:

Persistent health conditions shouldn’t keep someone from achieving goals, WNBA star Elena Delle Donne told students at Wilmington Hospital’s First State School, a program for chronically ill children.

The Ursuline Academy and University of Delaware grad and Olympic gold medalist told students how suffering from Lyme disease, which can cause long-term joint, heart and central nervous system problems, didn’t keep her from pursuing her dreams. The key, she said, was to set goals and surround yourself with great people.

“There might be days that you don’t feel so hot,” Delle Donne told nearly 20 students Wednesday morning. “Tell someone. It helps to have someone there to support you and guide you. Just be honest and open with them about what you are feeling or what you may be nervous about or upset about that day.

“They can help you get through those toughest times, because we know we can’t get through them alone.”

Located in Wilmington Hospital, the First State School gives children and adolescents who would otherwise be homebound with serious chronic illnesses the chance to attend school with their peers while they receive medical treatment. The school offers kindergarten through high school education to children with diabetes, sickle-cell anemia, severe asthma, cancer and other illnesses that preclude regular school attendance.

The 31-year-old program, the first such school and one of only three in the country, is a collaborative effort by Christiana Care and the Red Clay Consolidated School District. The school has a camp that encourages students to adopt healthy lifestyles, another reason Delle Donne was there.

“Bringing Elena in today to help with some of our activities … really shows the students that they can overcome their chronic illness and work on physical activities, maybe in a modified version of what the typical student may do,” said Elizabeth Houser, the school program director. “But that there is still the ability despite their chronic illness to be able to participate in health and wellness.”

The visit touched 17-year-old Telyka Brooker-Parquet.

“I have asthma so it’s really hard for me to do any sports, and I’m really scared so I just give up,” Brooker-Parquet said. “But [Delle Donne] didn’t give up. She said anybody can do it, and I guess I can do it, too.”

Brooker-Parquet, who has been in the school for four years, suffers from chronic asthma and severe allergies that cause her to go into shock if she smells anything she’s allergic to. The teen said Delle Donne’s visit allowed her to see there are others like her, including people who have family members with disabilities.

Like Delle Donne’s sister Lizzie, who is deaf, blind and has intellectual disabilities, Brooker-Parquet said her brother is also disabled.

“This was especially important to me,” Brooker-Parquet said. “I’m a sick child that has a brother with autism, and I’m scared of almost everything, to see her and how she can do everything she wants to do … Why can’t I?”

Delle Donne, a Delaware native who serves as a Christiana Care spokeswoman, is no stranger to providing young children help. This summer, she turned the U.S womens basketball team’s gold medal win in Brazil into a win for babies born on that same day by gifting newborns at Christiana Hospital miniature green, fuzzy Nike Waffle 1 sneaks.

Nike and Delle Donne, Delaware’s first Summer Olympic gold medalist in 16 years, had promised to donate the kicks if her team took the gold.

 

Original Source: http://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/local/2016/12/07/elena-delle-donne-visit-seriously-ill-students/95051100/

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Delle Donne, Ambassador for Special Olympics

Via ESPN

Standing 7-feet tall and weighing 280 pounds, Andre Drummond is one of the most physically imposing big men in the NBA.

Put him in a gym with 400 Special Olympics athletes, and the Detroit PistonsAll-Star center turns into a little kid again.

Drummond, 23, was named as the newest Special Olympics ambassador on Thursday, and he celebrated his new role by hosting a pep rally and basketball clinic in Detroit.

“It’s a feeling you don’t forget. It’s a genuine look and genuine excitement,” Drummond said with a chuckle in a telephone interview. “They don’t see me as just a basketball player, they see me for who I am and the amount of time and effort I put into being a supporter of the movement.”

Drummond was first introduced to Special Olympics as a rookie when he attended an NBA Cares event. From that moment on, he was determined to be as involved as he could in promoting the cause and working with the athletes all over the world.

“Just seeing how much they love the game and the excitement they had just drew me to them,” Drummond said. “Year after year I continued to do it, and I tried to be more involved, and now it’s kind of like that next level being an international ambassador.”

Drummond joins other high-profile ambassadors such as Michael Phelps,Damian Lillard, Yao Ming and WNBA star Elena Delle Donne.

“Andre has experienced firsthand how sports can build fitness, confidence and skills among Special Olympics athletes and how playing unified and being unified can break down barriers and help build respect and inclusion in every neighboring school and community across the nation,” Special Olympics CEO Mary Davis said.

Unified programs work to pair students with and without intellectual disabilities for education and sports.

As much as Drummond enjoys playing basketball with those he met on Thursday, he said the real experience comes in the conversations and interactions away from the court.

“Anybody can shoot and throw the ball around,” he said. “But when you get the time to really speak to them and hear their stories and see the kinds of personalities they have, it’s something you can’t really describe. You have to be there for the moment.”

Original Source: http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/17966083/andre-drummond-detroit-pistons-named-ambassador-special-olympics

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Elena & Lizzie in For The Wind

Via Chicago Tribune

Elena Delle Donne has always been protective of her sister Lizzie.

Yet when Gatorade approached her to do a commercial with Lizzie, who is blind, deaf, and has cerebral palsy, Delle Donne didn’t hesitate to say yes.

“It was really exciting to see it all come together,” Delle Donne said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Friday night. “With Lizzie I’m very protective and general turn down interviews with her. But this was such a special concept so worth sharing with the world. She’s so inspiring and if I can share her gift with as many people as possible and she can inspire some people it’s so worth it.”

The 2-plus minute short “For the Wind” that debuted Friday on the internet shows how the siblings communicate through hand over hand sign language. The reigning WNBAMVP says how wind itself plays a part in her life.

It’s been a rough week for Delle Donne. She had surgery on her injured right thumb and is recovering in Chicago. Then also there was a leak of her health records after a hack into the WADA database that the agency says Russia is to blame for.

“In the end they can say all they want. I’ve never cut corners, I play this game to the best of my abilities and respect the game,” Delle Donne said. “Thanks for showing the world what the doctors have diagnosed me with and the medicines they’ve put me on. It’s sad we live in a world where you can attack people through the cyber world.”

Filming the short with her sister was extremely important to Delle Donne.

“It’s put so much in perspective,” Delle Donne said. “This one was special because it was supposed to come out before playoffs and be a little bit of a pump up. But now it’s pumping me up in other ways. I can talk about her all I want, but until you see the way she interacts with not just me, but my family as well, it’s a really powerful thing to share that with everyone.”

The digital short is the first solo one by Gatorade with a WNBA player. The sports drink company has long been supportive of female athletes having commercials with Mia Hamm, Serena Williams and Abby Wambach.

“Gatorade is committed to the development and advancement of women in the game and we’re proud to their stories on and off the field of play,” said Kenny Mitchell, who is the head of consumer engagement for Gatorade.

Delle Donne said she flew home one day during the season to film the commercial with Lizzie, who she said really enjoyed it.

Original Source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/basketball/ct-elena-delle-donne-gatorade-digital-short-20160916-story.html

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Young Sky fan gets her day in the sun

Courtesy of Chicago Tribune:

The Sky will make Friday a special day for one of its fans. Taliyah Jackson, 17, will sign a one-day contract, address reporters during a news conference and join players in the locker room and on the bench when the Chicago Sky play the Seattle Storm 7:30 p.m. at Allstate Arena.

Jackson, who has muscular dystrophy as well as other debilitating medical conditions, was chosen for the honor as part of a partnership between the Sky and La Rabida Children’s Hospital, where she receives physical therapy. Last year the team gave Kiara Hood, another La Rabida patient with hemiplegic cerebral palsy, the VIP treatment.

On Jackson’s big day, she’ll meet Elena Delle Donne. “Her uncle’s been talking to her about her,” said Denise Smalley, Jackson’s mother. “She knows she’s a good player. Then she also knows she went to the …”

“Olympics!” Jackson chimed in, finishing her mom’s sentence.

On Thursday, Delle Donne said via email that she admires Jackson’s strength and courage and called her an inspiration.

“I know what it’s like to dream about something your entire life like playing professional basketball or playing in the Olympics,” Delle Donne said. “And I can’t wait to watch Taliyah’s dream come true tomorrow.”

Jackson, who starts her senior year at South Shore International College Prep on Tuesday, has come a long way since October 2013, when she first started having seizures, adding a new neurological disorder.

Doctors at Rush University Medical Center diagnosed Jackson with mitochondrial encephalitis and ataxia, which create a rare, degenerative brain condition that, among other things, slows her walking and speech and causes other abnormal movements.

Jackson was hospitalized at La Rabida until February 2014, and during her stay she was visited by Bulls star Jimmy Butler and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. She continues to work on her rehabilitation there and hasn’t had a seizure since that time.

Jackson is walking again, and can even run and dribble a basketball, but still requires a wheelchair at times. “If I go to a mall, I know I have to take her wheelchair with me because I know she wouldn’t be able to do a whole mall,” Smalley said. “But she can get around.”

 

Original Source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/chicagoinc/ct-sky-teen-chicago-inc-spt-0902-20160901-story.html

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Elena & Nike Give Sneaks to DE Newborns

Delawareans are quite familiar with Elena Delle Donne’s heart of gold.

But the homegrown superstar has gone a step further.

Delle Donne turned the U.S women’s basketball team’s gold medal win over Spain on Saturday into a win for babies born on that same day by gifting newborns at Christiana Hospital miniature green, fuzzy Nike Waffle 1 sneaks.

Nike and Delle Donne, Delaware’s first Summer Olympic gold medalist in 16 years, promised to donate the kicks if her team took the gold.

Families received the cute sneakers on Sunday with a note:

“It all starts now,” the note begins.

“26 years ago, it started in Wilmington for a little champ just like you. And today, Elena Delle Donne conquered the world. Maybe someday that could be you.”

“Or maybe you’ll choose to do something else. There really are no limits to your potential.”

Delle Donne, a spokesperson for Christiana Care Health System, was born at Christiana Hospital on Sept. 5, 1989.

The former Ursuline Academy and University of Delaware All-American appeared in her first Olympics this summer and scored 10 points, including eight in the second half, in her team’s gold medal-winning game against Spain.

“I kept having to look at it. Is this real life?,” Delle Donne said in the postgame interview area, still clutching the best addition to her jewelry collection. “Just taking it all in, like ‘Oh my goodness. Somebody pinch me. Did this really happen?’ ”

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Meet the Basketball Star Who’s Poised to Take the Olympic Games by Storm

Via Vogue

As the U.S. team heads to Rio in pursuit of its sixth back-to-back gold, all eyes are on Elena Delle Donne.

By the time their daughter was standing two heads above her fellow kindergartners, Elena Delle Donne’s parents knew she was an unusual child, and were not terribly surprised when, aged ten, Elena joined a basketball team and led it to place third in the national championships. Recently voted Most Valuable Player of the Women’s National Basketball Association, Elena is currently poised to lead the U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team to collect its sixth consecutive gold in Rio. “She is a once-in-a generation type of player,” says NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum. “She’s a Steph Curry.”

In an unlikely twist for somebody with Marvel-comic physical gifts, Elena’s life has also been shaped by extreme physical disability. Her older sister, Elizabeth—or Lizzie, as everybody calls her—was born blind, deaf, and with cerebral palsy. Now 31, Lizzie can communicate only with a handful of signs, and people relate to her through touch and smell. (Elena and Lizzie’s mother, Joanie, has worn the same Chanel perfume all of Lizzie’s life so that her daughter will always know when she is near.) Lizzie has had more than 20 surgeries, most to try (unsuccessfully) to give her limited sight, as well as a successful ten-hour spinal operation at the age of eight, performed by former presidential hopeful Ben Carson.

The two sisters are extraordinarily close, often literally so. “We can’t text or Skype,” Elena says. “The only way to be with Lizzie is by physically being with her.” So while many female basketball players spend the off-season playing overseas, where salaries are lucrative, Elena divides her time between traveling with her team, the Chicago Sky, and her family’s home in the rolling green landscape of Wilmington, Delaware. She and her fiancée, Amanda Clifton, keep apartments in both Chicago and Wilmington. In order to spend as much time as possible with Lizzie, the superstar athlete works out not at a pro-athlete training complex but at the local sports center, building her core strength and running speed while her neighbors take Zumba classes and throw birthday parties for their children.

When I visit one recent morning, Elena, who has come from a hot-yoga class and lifting weights at the gym, arrives with her mother for lunch at a bustling restaurant nearby. Slightly tan, with her long blonde hair pulled back into a high ponytail, she looks as if she might have come from a run on Venice Beach rather than rural Delaware. Between bites of Cobb salad, Elena, who is six feet five and 26 years old, remembers her height being a difficult issue to manage as a child. “My mom always said, ‘It’s good. No one’s like you.’ But I wanted to be like everyone else,” she recalls. It wasn’t until junior high school, around the time University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offered her a full basketball scholarship, that she accepted that her height was an advantage.

After lunch, mother and daughter retreat to the Delle Donnes’ 35-acre, multi-home property. Elena has a few free hours to hang out with her sister before she is due back at the athletic center, to coach a session for the De11e Donne Academy (her jersey number is eleven), clinics she and Clifton—who played college basketball—run for children ages seven through eighteen. After leading 30 girls through conditioning exercises and drills, Elena poses for selfies with the star-struck students, including one who brings along an oil painting she created of her idol.

Elena’s balancing act will come to a standstill this month so she can focus on securing a victory in Rio. “There’s going to be some tough competition—particularly from Australia, France, and Canada,” she says. Though she is concerned about Zika, “it will not stop me. I have been wanting to compete in the Olympics as long as I can remember.” Elena’s parents and her older brother, Gene, will join her in Brazil, as will Clifton. Her sister can’t travel, but when Elena needs an extra jolt of energy, she will rub the tattoo on her left ribs. It says: Lizzie.

Original Source: http://www.vogue.com/13463188/elena-delle-donne-rio-summer-olympics-us-womens-basketball-team/

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Chicago Sky Player Starts Charitable Foundation

As a professional basketball player, Elena Delle Donne puts her heart and soul into more than just the court she plays on.

The forward guard for the Chicago Sky WNBA team and U.S. Olympian is in the early stages of the Elena Delle Donne Charitable Foundation. The foundation aims to raise money for Lyme disease research and giving back to the special needs community.

“[These are the] two avenues it will attack because both of those are near and dear to my heart,” Donne said. Donne has dealt with Lyme disease every day for eight years.

“It’s definitely tough, there are good days and bad days,” Donne said. “There are days I’ve relapsed and missed several games and practices.”

Lyme disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks.

The other cause Donne is raising awareness to through her foundation is based around her older sister who has special needs. Her sister Lizzie is both blind and deaf.

Donne and Lizzie can only communicate in person with hand over hand sign language.

“I can just remember growing up with her [and] the impact she had on my life, not just her but being around her peers and what that meant to me,” Donne said.

Despite their struggles, Lizzie and her friends always stayed positive.

“[They were] going through days with struggles but were always so bright and happy and I feel like it’s a gift that needs to be shared,” Donne said.

Through the foundation, Donne hopes to bring her love of sports together with those who have special needs.

“For me I would really like to see programs with more unified sports and that’s something the Special Olympics do and I absolutely love it,” Donne said.

Unified sports are when special needs athletes play along normal able athletes.

Donne hosts basketball camps where she also has Special Olympics athletes participate.

In order to raise awareness for Lyme Disease and special needs, Donne is in the early stages of planning a golf tournament and auction for fundraising.

“I love golf,” Donne said. “It’s one of my other passions and something I like to.”

While she enjoys golf, Donne jokes that she is not good enough to play professionally but plays as a hobby.

Donne first began thinking about starting her foundation when she entered the pros. Within the past year, it all started to come together.

“A lot of times unfortunately if you don’t have this platform it’s hard to be heard,” Donne said. “I’m not exactly sure what I would be doing but I think I would be a special education teacher.”

Via Chicago 5

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Delle Donne, Battling Lyme Disease & Inspiration

Via ESPN

Three-time WNBA All-Star Elena Della Donna has faced her share of body challenges — from being teased for her height as a kid to her ongoing battle with Lyme disease. For this summer’s Body Issue, she talked to ESPN’s Morty Ain about how she’s coped and what serves as her inspiration.


We play an amazing caliber and brand of basketball, and people try to cut that down because they are just comparing it to the men’s game. “Oh well, she didn’t dunk in that game!” “Whatever, they’re just girls, nobody wants to watch that.” That’s pretty frustrating. We are the most elite players in the world. This is my life, and it’s what I’ve put in 22 years of my life doing.

I support lowering the rim. When you think about it, there probably isn’t a guy in the NBA who can’t dunk, so it should be the same way for the females. If we lowered it to 9 feet, maybe even lower, we can have our point guards getting up there and dunking the ball. I think that would make our game extremely fun to watch.

I have a pack of game gum. I go to the store and stare at the gum until I pick out the right one — somehow one will pop out to me. Once I buy it, no one is allowed to touch the packet or it’s ruined. I’ll take a piece and chew it in the first half, and if things aren’t going well and we aren’t playing well, I have to change the piece of gum. Because obviously, it’s the gum’s fault; it’s not our fault that we’re playing bad [laughs]!

My biggest challenge is trying to stay healthy with Lyme disease.At my worst, I have muscle aches and fatigue and various symptoms, like you get when you have the flu. Then there are days I’ll wake up a little bit tired or my muscles aren’t recovering as well, but I keep that in mind and will alter my training. I also have to eat really well and stay away from foods that will make my inflammatory system go crazy.

I take around 50 supplements a day to battle it. I think it’s always surprising to people that I have a chronic illness and I play a professional sport.

It took the doctors two months to figure out what was going on with me. I had my first relapse my sophomore year in college. A lot of tests can’t detect it, especially when it’s gone chronic and reappears. I was sleeping probably 18 hours a day, not eating much, and I lost probably about 35 pounds. I had literally told my parents, “I think I’m dying.”

I said I wanted to be the best female basketball player in the world when I was 4. I’ve always had really lofty goals.

I’ve worked with the same personal trainer since second grade. My brother, who was three years ahead of me in school, played basketball, and I always would tag along to his workouts or games. He was doing a workout one time and I just asked, “Hey, can I hop in?” The trainer was in shock. But he let me continue to work with my brother and come along. I still work with him today. He’s like family now.

My entire day revolves around stressing my body, putting it through rigorous workouts and then giving back to it. It can be up to four and a half hours a day. This sport takes so many years and hours of training.

When I first got to the WNBA, I felt like throughout a game I was losing my endurance. I wasn’t performing nearly as well in the third and fourth quarter as I was in the first half. So I got a new strength coach back in Delaware, and we really worked on core stability and endurance, doing circuit training. People wrote that I put on 12 pounds of muscle. That might have been a bit of an exaggeration. But I definitely put on muscle and lost body fat.

I used to tell my mom all the time that I wished I were shorter. She’s 6-2 and my dad is 6-6, so she understood. She was like, “I’m telling you, one day you are going to realize how beautiful your height is.” She would always tell me how unique I am and say, “Why try to be like the rest of the pack? Be your own person.”

It used to be annoying when kids would make fun of me for my height. It’s funny because height is an attribute where people feel like they can call it out. Like, if I’m at a grocery store, someone will be like, “You’re so tall!” Kids would be like, “Oh my god, you’re taller than my dad.” “Oh, you look like a monster!” “I don’t look like a monster, I’m just tall.” Those would be hurtful things that kids would say, but I don’t think kids even understand that that comes off as rude.

My dog’s huge. He’s a Great Dane, so I knew he was going to be huge, and it’s something that I absolutely adore. When he stands up on his hind legs, he is my height. And when he’s on four legs, his head comes up to a little above my hip. He also thinks he’s a lapdog, which is comical at times.

His name is Wrigley. I got him my first year in Chicago for my rookie season, so I figured a Chicago name would work well. But when I would take him to the dog beach in Chicago, everyone else had a dog named Wrigley too.

When I’m practicing on the court, I always try to play mind games with myself. I’ll tell myself, “I’m going to miss this shot,” and then I force myself to push through that. Or I’ll say, “There’s no way you’re going to make 11 in a row.” Then I have to try to challenge myself to do it. When I’m on the court, everything is positive. I tell myself, “It’s going in.” So if I can train the opposite way, I’ll be even more prepared when it’s game time.

In high school, I made 81 free throws in a row. I remember when I missed, it was kind of like, “Thank god this is over!” Literally everybody in the gym was holding their breath every time I shot a free throw. I was just so relieved for it to finally be over.

My sister, Lizzie, has always been my biggest inspiration, even though she’s never spoken a word to me. She’s deaf and blind, and she has intellectual disabilities as well. She’s probably functioning at the level of a 1- to 2-year-old. Not only that, but she’s had over 30 surgeries in her life. She’s overcome every single thing that’s been thrown her way. So many times doctors said she wouldn’t be able to walk, or she wouldn’t live to this age, and she’s surpassed all of those expectations. She’s just amazing.

On my 20th birthday, I got a tattoo of my sister’s name inside of angel wings. I wanted to put it somewhere it’s not seen every day, but I know it’s there. And before every game I pat it, or if I need to channel my sister in any way throughout a game, I’ll pat my side.

Anything I endure in a day will never be able to compete with what she has to endure each day of her life.

Original Source: http://espn.go.com/wnba/story/_/page/bodyelenadelledonne/chicago-sky-star-elena-delle-donne-talks-free-throws-endurance-dunking-espn-body-issue

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Elena continues to spread acceptance

Via ESPNW

Reigning WNBA MVP Elena Della Donne has never been shy about expressing her opinion, particularly when it comes to perhaps the one issue closest to her heart.

So when a comedian recently included in his Showtime special a bit about his “retarded” cousin, Delle Donne took to Twitter along with others to call him out.

On Tuesday, the comedian, Gary Owen, decided to remove the offensive segment.

“I’m thrilled the Special Olympics was able to reach him and make it clear how powerful and hurtful words can be,” Delle Donne said Wednesday. “I hope this will change his perspective and resonate with him in the future.”

Delle Donne, who will be making her Olympic debut this summer in Rio, is also devoted to the Special Olympic movement as a proponent of Unified Sports and a spokeswoman for those with intellectual disabilities.

“I will say something every time,” the Chicago Sky star said of speaking out when she hears someone use the R-word, as those involved in Special Olympics call it, or anything she finds offensive. “My sister doesn’t have a voice to defend herself, so I take lot of pride in doing that. … Whenever that happens, I speak out and say it was wrong and unfair.”

Delle Donne has spoken and written often of her older sister Lizzie, who was born deaf and blind, with cerebral palsy and autism, and though Lizzie is unable to participate in Special Olympics activities, Elena has consistently worked with the organization throughout her career.

Delle Donne’s devotion has extended to making sure all of her basketball clinics are unified — involving those with intellectual disabilities along with non-disabled teammates — and including unified games at the NBA and WNBA All-Star weekends.

“The Special Olympics athletes are really incredible,” Delle Donne said. “It’s really good basketball and really fun.”

On Wednesday, Special Olympics announced that it has surpassed its goal of registering one million Unified Sports participants by reaching 1.2 million, a significant jump from 500,000 two years ago. In addition, Unified Sports are now in 4,300 schools in the U.S.

“The greatest thing about it is that it’s breaking down barriers for people who are nervous to approach those with intellectual disabilities because they don’t know what to say or they’re afraid they’ll break,” Delle Donne said. “When you build relationships, you eliminate that.”

Original Source: http://espn.go.com/espnw/culture/article/16049634/elena-delle-donne-continues-spread-word-acceptance

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Working out like Elena: Intense routine will get your attention

Working out next to basketball star Elena Delle Donne showed me that we have more than a major height difference.

The 6-foot-5-inch-tall Ursuline Academy grad takes a high-intensity, calorie-torching workout called Fit Accelerated at the Hockessin Athletic Club with her mom as a way to spice-up her fitness routines. Tossing kettlebells, pulling major poundage on the rowing machine, it didn’t matter, she always had a beaming smile on her face.

“It’s just nice to change it up,” she said after the class.

My barely 5-foot self, on the other hand, wheezed through the 45 minutes with shaky legs and achy arms when I tried the class for our Take It Off health challenge.

About 10 minutes in, I realized why people, including Elena, come back for more pain: the class is a community. Every lady and gentleman who took the class encouraged me to keep on going in between their reps with smiles and cheers.

Sure the calorie burn is a plus, but ultimately that support keeps people motivated, said Dina Saitis, the personal trainer who crafted Fit Accelerated.

“They have friendships. It goes beyond…it’s a community here at [Hockessin Athletic Center], not just in my class, but throughout the whole facility,” Saitis said. “It’s really a family.”

Throughout our 12-week challenge I’ve challenged myself by stepping out of my comfort zone and trying classes I would have never dreamed I would have participated in.

I was so excited to try Fit Accelerated I showed up a week early. Thank you, Dina, for being patient and accommodating my impatience.

Saitis specializes in small group and one-on-one training. She trains Delle Donne when she is in Delaware, too.For Fit, at most 16 people can take the class. Saitis sets up eight pairs throughout the room at different cardio and resistance training sessions.

For Fit, at most 16 people can take the class. Saitis sets up eight pairs throughout the room at different cardio and resistance training sessions.

Cardio burns more calories at first, and strength or resistance training with weights helps build muscle.

People take turns completing a Saitis-created workout from lifting kettlebells and deadlifting weights to fast-paced mountain climbers.

“When I plan a class I am thinking about hitting everything from your deltoids all the way down to your calves,” she said.

One person does cardio, while the other does resistance training. Then they switch.

Cardio workouts are done in intervals: working for 20 seconds and then resting for 10 seconds. The resistance training is consistent for a full minute and 50 seconds before resting.

Don’t feel pressured to go crazy, Saitis said. Do what works best for your health and fitness level. Rest when you want and challenge yourself if you can.

“It gives you the opportunity to explore those options,” she said.

High-intensity workouts have consistently been in the the top five fitness trends compiled by the American College of Sports Medicine. Though people need to be careful about injuries if they are not taught how to properly lift weights or do the specific movements, the journal BMC Public Health found that people were more likely to continue with high-intensity exercises over those that were less strenuous.

“It’s all the rage right now,” Saitis said.

Exercise in general burns calories and increases the body’s muscle mass, which increases calorie-burning metabolism, but high-intensity workouts go to the next level. The more muscle you have than fat will help you burn more calories after a workout, when your body is resting.

Exercising also helps burn off blood glucose as you sweat, which helps diabetics and others better control their blood sugar. National studies show that regular exercise, which means about 150 minutes a week of movements that work up a sweat whether it’s gardening or lifting weights or walking ,can help people avoid diabetes, and help those who have it feel better and stave off related problems.

People can try Fit Accelerated for free, then each class costs $20 for a HAC member and $25 for a non-member. For maximum benefits, take the class twice a week.

It may seem intimidating, but anyone can feel at ease in the class, Saitis said.

When Maureen Freeberry, 71, got questionable results from a bone density scan she used it as a wake-up call to get fit. She decided to take Saitis’ class to challenge her activity level and strengthen her bones. Protecting your bones better protects the muscles on the body.

Working out side-by-side with Delle Donne is fun, but she said she knows her limits, too. Freeberry is not afraid to modify different exercises or lower the weight amount she’s lifting.

“She’s amazing,” Freeberry said of Saitis.

Recognize that rest is important, Saitis added, to prevent injuries and help muscles recover.

“You can’t just go all out all the time,” she said.. “Just pull back. We work with everyone here.”

I definitely had to put down the kettlebells more than one time, but I decided to challenge myself by opting for a heavier sandbag to toss over my shoulder during step-ups onto a block.One thing I learned was to go at your own pace, no matter what is going on around you.

Delle Donne may have looked like she was gliding through each exercise, but she assured me that isn’t always the case. The first time was rough for her, too.

“It kicked my butt,” she said.

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