How Belonging at the Y Helped Restore a Man’s Health and Hope

September 08, 2017


Carlos Montenegro suffered a stroke about a year and a half ago. He then decided to return to the Y, where he found encouragement and camaraderie from staff and members. Today, he can walk up to 4 miles per hour when before it was only 1 mile."

Carlos Montenegro has been a member of the Elmhurst YMCA since his now-grown children were in grade school. He always enjoyed working out but it was only after a stroke a year and a half ago that he learned just how essential the Y community would be to his fitness, wellness and happiness.

After staying in the hospital for ten weeks after his stroke, Carlos felt that he was not recovering as well as he hoped he would and he felt lonely and isolated. It was difficult for him to walk or move his left arm without assistance. He then decided that he would return to the Y and start his workouts again.

Because of his previous experience of working out, Carlos felt comfortable in setting his goals and exercise plans. Even so, trainers and staff at the Y noticed his frequent visits and often provided tips and encouragement. “Any questions I had, I knew they’d tell me what to do,” Carlos says. “I don’t have any words, they were so nice to me.” He felt heartened knowing that people were cheering him on and he felt motivated to come to the Y almost daily and continue his challenging road to recovery.

“The ladies at the front desk were outstanding to me. They told me to go to the swimming pool and start going to the classes and doing extra work myself, and it turned out to be great again.” Carlos had never integrated swimming into his usual workout routine before his stroke; now it’s an important part of it.

Today, Carlos estimates his recovery to be about 95% and he is able to walk four miles per hour on the treadmill and is even considering running again, when before, as a cause of the stroke, he was only able to walk one mile. His progress in the weight room is equally dramatic. “My left arm was completely paralyzed. Now at the Y, I pull cables and lift weights. I started with two or three pounds and now I can pull twenty and forty pounds easily.”

The camaraderie and encouragement of the staff has been a crucial part of Carlos’ recovery. “Without their encouragement I don’t know what I’d do.”

Carlos is paying it forward now by talking to people about the signs of a stroke and about the value of eating right—and of persevering despite obstacles. He says he has befriended another man at the Y who is recovering from a stroke. “I keep pushing him and making him laugh,” Carlos says. “I tell him not to give up, to come every day.”