Cliff Schoen, who was severely injured in a car accident, is staging a comeback with the help of Fitness Together

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After a devastating car accident, Cliff Schoen (right) wanted to build strength and gain back weight and muscle mass he had lost. He went to Fitness Together in Brecksville to get help from the professionals. Above, he’s working with FT trainer Scott Willis. (Photography:Benjamin Margalit)

By Patricia Nugent

It’s a beautiful day…(extended pause)…It’s a beautiful life! Please leave a message.”

You would never guess from Cliff Schoen’s cheery voicemail greeting—or sweet, infectious smile—all that he’s been through.

On the chilly early morning of March 27, 2012, when he was driving from his home in Brecksville to a job in Michigan, Cliff fell asleep at the wheel and hit the guardrail at high speed. He was life-flighted to the hospital, where doctors told his family that 90 percent of patients with the severity of his form of traumatic brain injury never wake up.

After laying in a coma for a week, he did wake up.

Though most patients who survive after this injury remain in a vegetative state the rest of their lives, Cliff’s never-give-up attitude, bolstered by his devoted family, led him down a slow and arduous road to recovery and rehabilitation.

At MetroHealth’s Brain Rehabilitation Center, he underwent daily physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy, relearning even the most basic functions.

Regaining What Was Lost
In addition to daily functions, Cliff wanted to build strength and gain back weight and muscle mass he had lost while in a wheelchair.

However, with the lingering effects of ataxia, which impairs his coordination and causes muscle spasms and tremors on his right side, it wasn’t safe for him to lift weights or perform basic exercise moves. So, he went to Fitness Together in Brecksville to get help from the professionals.

“Working with Cliff and watching his gradual improvement has been amazing,” says Scott Willis, who, along with Juliet Giganti, trains him twice a week. “Our challenge is to improve balance and coordination.”

The trainers say they use the mirrors a lot in training, so Cliff can visualize the differences between his right and left side.

And the program is working. For instance, over the course of the summer, he’s gone from lifting 20 pounds of weight in bench presses to 85 pounds.

FT’s Juliet Giganti (right) uses mirrors in training so Cliff can visualize the differences between his right and left side in order to improve balance and coordination.

“Proper form is key, and we are very gradually increasing reps before adding weight,” says Juliet.

Cliff mentions that in addition to strengthening his muscles and coordination, he’s in sharper tune with the mind-body connection.

“What’s good for the body is good for the mind,” he says. “On days I work out, my mental processing seems faster. And it helps with my overall energy level as well.”

Today, Cliff is able to live on his own, drive a car and work part-time. His mother, Janet, calls his comeback miraculous.

“I want people know that things will get better if you work at it,” he says. “I plan to keep on keeping on.”

Making the Training Fit the Trainee
Fitness Together owner Sean Sullivan says that, over the years, the studio has been able to work with folks of all ages and capabilities and trainers are adept at customizing individual programs that produce results.

“Using the latest science and methodology, with super-focused, one-on-one training, we can put anyone on a path to becoming their own success story,” says Sean.

Three nicely appointed private training suites are loaded with state-of-the-art weight sets, kettlebells, balance balls and every other tool geared toward making a client’s workout plan come to life and keeping them motivated.

Fitness Together is located within Chippewa Commons at 8251 Chippewa Road in Brecksville. Hours are Monday-Saturday, 6 a.m.-9 p.m. For more information, call 440-550-4862, or visit the website at FitnessTogether.com/brecksville. To find out more about the non-profit organization LoveYourBrain, visit LoveYourBrain.com.