Theresa Saxton, a physical trainer who owns Fitness Success in Yarmouth, devotes her boundless energy to motivating and inspiring people to be their best – in body, mind, and spirit.
In great shape herself, it would be difficult to imagine Theresa ever feeling helpless. She does. A lot. Ever since her mother, now 68, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 54.
“My dad takes care of my mom at home,” Theresa says. “He feeds her, bathes her, he does everything. It’s part of his love for her. My sister goes to the house to help every day, going on four years. She’s amazing.”
It’s a close family, but Theresa lives in Yarmouth and everyone else lives four hours away in New York. She goes home once a month. When her mother was still able to communicate, she urged her to stay in Maine and grow her business. Even knowing it’s the right decision, Theresa says she often feels helpless.
“I don’t know what to do. There’s a part of me that’s grasping at anything to feel like I can be a part of something that I’m not good at. I’m not a good caregiver, and I’m not going to close down my business.”
Instead, Theresa has taken her boundless energy and in the past two years has raised a little more than $22,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association.
Last year, she held an event at her fitness studio called “Train the Trainer.” Friends and clients paid her to do things like an hour of rowing on the rowing machine or a series of jumping jacks, or pushups or treadmill climbs.
“People came and watched me during the whole time,” she says. “It was a great day. My sister came. She surprised me and helped me pull it off and it was a great success.”
Theresa raised $5,300 in just three hours. A representative from the Alzheimer’s Association suggested she do something for its Longest Day Campaign in 2013. The Longest Day encourages people to form teams, do whatever activity they love, and raise money for Alzheimer’s care, support and research.
Theresa’s love is fitness. She already had it in the back of her head that she wanted to do a personal Ironman Triathlon. She decided to turn it into “An Ironman for Alzheimer’s,” which she dedicated to “my mum Linda Sue Saxton and her two caregivers, Padre, my dad, and Deborah, my sister, as well as all of those affected in some way by Alzheimer’s disease.”
The idea became a reality on June 22 (the day after the official Longest Day, but it still counted). Theresa told people she would do her solo Ironman and they could join her as they saw fit. They could swim, bike or run or they could watch and cheer her on. They did both and managed to raise close to $17,000 – it was one of the top Longest Day fundraising events in the country.
“The money came from a bazillion individuals,” Theresa says. “A couple of donors gave $1,000, everything else was donations from $10 to $500. I had a jar in the studio and used the platform from the Longest Day’s website so people could do online donations.”
The Ironman course began at Crystal Lake in Gray, where Theresa swam 2.4 miles, joined by some of her friends and supporters. She and a friend then hopped on their bikes and rode 23-plus miles back to her studio in Yarmouth. The studio was home base, where Theresa changed clothes, used the bathroom and refueled. She did several loops on her bicycle for a total of 112 miles and then ran a 26.2-mile marathon. The grand total was a little over 137 miles in 13 hours, 29 minutes, 25 seconds.
Theresa’s boyfriend drove a support car during her run and friends sometimes biked and ran with her, but mostly Theresa was solo. It didn’t mean she was alone. Far from it. Back at the studio, a Zumbathon was going on and people stopped by to hula hoop and play games. A friend who also has a parent with Alzheimer’s drove up from Massachusetts.
“I came back from one of my bike loops and she was standing there outside my studio. She came up just to see me for five minutes and had to drive back. I finished another loop and another friend whose father died of Alzheimer’s a month ago was there. That love and support – it’s hard to describe, it’s so powerful. It carried me.”
Supporters spent the entire time at the studio waiting for Theresa to reach the end. “They created a finish line for me and cheered for me,” she says. “So many people I didn’t even know. It was a spectacular event.”
Theresa Saxton gave it her all, from planning the event and lining up sponsors, to motivating other people to participate in any way and finally crossing the finish line with a smile on her face. From her point of view, the challenges of completing a solo Ironman don’t begin to compare with the challenges her father and sister and other people dealing with Alzheimer’s face every single day. “I didn’t have to do it by myself,” she says. “I had a thousand people cheering for me. You don’t get that as caregivers.”