Monday, November 24, 2014
LEAVING A MARK: Fitness “Mayor” Joe Galante Leads by Example
The 34 year old Conesus man recently rewarded himself with a dream tattoo of his favorite zoo animal, a rhinoceros, for losing more than 30 pounds through a daily exercise regimen.
"It took a long time, but it was worth it," Joe says. "I go to the gym every day. I weigh myself when I get there and then again when I leave. I write it down, and show it to my 'buds.' When it was down to 175 pounds, I could go to Crazy Joe Tattooing (in Avon) for my tattoo."
Joe, who has Down syndrome, is a participant in The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming's Recreation Program, and a regular customer at Livonia Fitness, where he is not only a success story, but the club's unofficial social director.
"He's actually the mayor of this gym," says fellow member Bob Mulvihill. "He introduces people who don't already know each other. That's just the way he is; he wants everybody to be friends."
Joe has worked out religiously at Livonia Fitness since 2004. More than just a way to get lean and build muscle, the gym provides Joe with independence and a support network of friends.
Each weekday, Joe takes an RTS bus to the gym, where he weighs himself in at 8:00am. He's greeted by his regular community of "buds," as Joe calls members and staff — and an hour and 45 minutes of weight training, cardio, and friendly banter ensues.
As Joe strives to advance his own health, he creates an inspirational atmosphere for others, according to Personal Trainer Terri Mingus.
"Joe has a lot of friends here," Terri says. "He has always introduced himself to other members, but I think that he's become even more outgoing as he sees that he's well accepted here. He has become a big part of the gym, and I think people look forward to seeing him."
Over time, Joe's gym friends have become more like an extended family. In recent years, Joe, his mom, and dad have opened up their home for an annual picnic, which offers gym-mates a glimpse at another aspect of Joe's life. More than a dozen Livonia Fitness “buds” typically attend.
At home, they've learned, this gym mayor governs a different kind of flock.
While there are no rhinos to be found, Joe's large backyard is a sanctuary for dozens of other animals, including chickens, geese, cats, dogs, a donkey, and a pony.
Joe's parents, Joseph Senior and Sue, established the farm as a job opportunity for Joe. Each day, Joe tends to all of the animals, and gathers eggs from the henhouse that he ultimately sells to earn spending cash and develop money management skills. In fact, some of his gym buds have become his best customers.
"I don't care whether he makes a whole lot of money," Sue says. "What's more important is that he is fulfilled, doing something useful, and has responsibilities that give him purpose. To us, the most important things are to have a purpose and enjoy life."
When he's not working out or working on his farm, Joe enjoys professional wrestling, movies, and video games in a "man cave" located in the lower level of his family home. Through the Arc Recreation program, which receives United Way funding, Joe is also able to take part in outings such as bowling, ceramics classes, dinners, shopping trips, parties, and dances.
The dances, in particular, give Joe the chance to expend the extra energy that has come with his significant weight loss — and to do so in his own inimitable style.
"He's a high-energy guy who you want there when you throw a party," says Arc Recreation Department Life Skills Assistant Gary Buchanan. "Especially the Halloween dances. He always has one of the best costumes there. Joe has been Jigsaw (from the 'Saw' movies), and (WWE wrestler) The Undertaker."
Joe currently weighs in at 170, down from his peak weight of about 210 pounds. His next goal is to get down to 160, at which time he'll treat himself to some additional ink.
He's tight-lipped about his next tattoo design, and laughs when one of his buds jokingly suggests that he complete the rhino motif with the tail end of the animal on his left arm.
Whatever his decision, if history is any indication, Joe's action will make a mark on the people around him, too.
"The funny thing is, I was meaning to get a tattoo of my own," Gary says. "One day in the Recreation van, Joe rolls up his sleeve and says, 'Look what I just got.' So I went through with it, too. I got an Irish cross and the Pittsburgh Pirates insignia. Joe gave me the guts and inspiration."