by David Mendez, Easy Reader News
As Tom Bakaly bashfully approached the lectern at the 2019 Spirit of Wellness, he had one word for his colleagues and subordinates at the Beach Cities Health District.
“Liars!,” he said, causing the room to burst into laughter.
Bakaly, a typically quiet-spoken man who shies away from the spotlight, was the special surprise guest of honor at this year’s awards. Spirit of Wellness annually focuses on those who have made great strides toward improving their health, often through the Health District’s Center for Health and Fitness gym.
Bakaly was explicitly honored for transforming himself and losing 60 pounds after joining the Health District as its newest Chief Executive Officer in 2016 — at his highest point, he weighed around 235 pounds; he’s now around 175. More-or-less jokingly, Bakaly was spurred by his son’s insistence that the “CEO of a health district can’t be a fatty,” he said, laughing.
Jackie Berling, BCHD’s Chief Wellness Officer, also found that Bakaly dove headfirst into the district’s message of wellness, immediately taking part in the “Planks for Thanks” challenge throughout the office, wherein employees would perform planks (an easy-looking exercise that tests core muscle strength) spontaneously.
“Literally, I was tripping over health. For me, it was the series of nudges that eventually got me to the point of exercising on a daily basis,” Bakaly said.
Getting with the culture has helped Bakaly personally and helped him lead by example; he’s a regular at the Center for Health and Fitness, locked into a small-group class, and often leads staff in their weekly walking groups.
The Health District also honored CHF volunteer Mary Wadman, and CHF members Nancy Clarke (who credits the Health District with helping her refine her ability to do pushups into her 70s) and Joseph David Preletz, who trains to treat arthritis and combat Parkinson’s disease.
The event also celebrated the memory of past Spirit of Wellness honoree Rick Rasnick, who died in February, at 59 years old. A Torrance native, Rasnick was once a rising star within football’s coaching ranks, working at the University of Utah and Eastern Michigan University.
Rasnick was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that caused him to lose his memory, and deteriorated his motor skills.
His CHF trainer, Derick Malit, remembered Rasnick as a man with a personality that would fill a room. All it took was finding the right trigger — and often, Malit found, it was dance, which would be incorporated into their workouts.
In Rasnick’s honor, Malit led the room in an improvised dance, snapping, head-bobbing and rolling side to side.
“Honestly, every time I dance, I think about Rick,” Malit said.
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