A Heart for Fitness

Max Results Training Team Goes The Extra Mile 

written by POINTS NORTH ATLANTA STAFF | photography by ALAN BROOKS PHOTOGRAPHY

The game of Dominoes can be both thrilling and incredibly frustrating. Anyone who spent countless hours of their youth placing individual rectangular wooden pieces over and over (and over) until they were spaced just right knows the feeling. Armed with only a modest amount of confidence that such persistence would finally pay off, we gently nudged the first domino as needed, then watched with nervous excitement as the chain reaction worked like a magic trick. Sure, it’s mechanical engineering for some; for the rest of us, it’s seemingly simple motivation with a visible cause and effect.

Jim Harris, who with his wife Marian has owned and operated Max Results Training in Gainesville since 2014 does not claim to be a mechanical engineer or even particularly partial to the game of Dominoes. As a master motivator, he plus his wife equate to exactly the right amount of confident force and gentle encouragement their clients need in order for their health to fall into place.

“The hardest part of any client to train is the 8 inches between their ears,” Harris said. “We took a look at our client base and realized that 75 to 90 percent of them came to us after previous training relationships didn’t produce results.”

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the countless stories his clients continue to share. When asked which ones he is most proud of, Harris couldn’t say, beaming that all of them are equally significant and that they — not him — are the ones who have the ability to knock down another line of dominoes.

“You never know who you’re going to inspire,” Harris said.

SWEAT AND TEARS

Take for instance, the story of Vester Lewis. The Murrayville resident and then-­children’s minister at Hopewell Baptist Church went for a jog during his lunch break on a Wednesday in May of 2008. Suddenly, a drunk driver in a Pontiac Trans Am hit him.

“It cracked three ribs, destroyed my left knee, knocked a tooth out, punctured my lung – all kinds of good stuff,” Lewis said.

It took three days in the hospital to stabilize him before they could do surgery on his back. He had spinal swelling and when it came time to do post-operation therapy, he was paralyzed from the waist down.

During that time, he started out in an electric wheelchair then went to a wheelchair, then to a point where he could move his toe just a little, then his foot, then pretty much move from the waist down. But due to that spinal swelling, the nerves still weren’t communicating correctly.

“I had to think about it – take a step – and my balance was way off,” Lewis said. After many months, he came home on crutches, but was in and out of The Shepherd Center for therapy as well as met with a specialist for stretching and to monitor his diet. When this woman announced she would be moving, Lewis’ daughter – who previously had trained with Harris – suggested the two men meet.

“[Jim] was gracious enough to come all the way out to Braselton when I was working with this lady just to meet me and see what I was doing, which I thought was really super,” Lewis said. “He told me, ‘I think I can help you.’”
The first time Lewis came to Max Results, Harris had him stretch and find his “limits” — how many times the crash survivor could sit and stand. Eventually, he insisted Lewis use just one cane. Before training with Harris, Lewis had not walked unassisted for 6 years.

“[Over the course of a year,] he made me leave my cane and he had me walk up and down all kinds of terrain outside, with the [40-pound vest] on and with him behind me. He was pushing me to walk without it … and that was amazing. I ended up walking almost a mile and a half.”

Lewis didn’t stop there. At one point, they met three times a week, before tapering off to less frequent sessions.

“Any exercise he had, he said ‘You can do it.’ He and Marian are both just like [that]. They help anybody … I had confidence in him. He’s a big guy and I figured he could pick me up off the ground if he had to. So I tried everything that he asked me to do and there were so many things I ended up doing.”

Today, Lewis has returned to work at the church and still uses a cane, but can take steps around the house without any apparatus, something he said he would never have done without Harris and encouragement from his wife and daughter.

THE LONG HAUL

“We are not given a good life or a bad life. We are given a life. It’s up to us to make it good or bad.”

Lisa Sims logged the sentiment in her journal on her one-year anniversary of joining Max Results Training. The entry, along with a photo of Sims, Harris and his wife hangs on a Wall of Fame inside the facility.

Sims’ battle with her health started much earlier, however. When asked to recount the nearly 20-year journey, she laughed before warning, “It may take a long time.” As she started to divulge the details of her life since a multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis decades earlier, the lightness she maintains in her voice became more surprising – and all the more uplifting.

The story starts in 1997 when Sims was misdiagnosed with shingles. “I had been hurting for a couple of weeks, but it never turned into the shingles,” she said. “I started losing mobility and feeling from my waist down on Monday and by Friday I didn’t have any.”

It would be another week of two different hospitals, six MRIs and seven spinal taps before she was given an answer, although not the one anyone wants to hear.

Simply put, The National MS Society defines the disease as an unpredictable and disabling of the central nervous system that disrupts flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body.

“The doctor said, ‘You will probably be bedridden or wheelchair-bound the rest of your life.’ This all came as a blow. Nobody knows what’s wrong with you to ‘You’re not going to walk again.’”

At the time, Sims was a mother to young children and was devastated by the thought. With support from her husband and the doctor, Sims endured new medications, unconventional prescriptions in lethal-risk doses and steroid treatments.

Currently there is no cure for MS, but once a week, Sims takes a shot to help slow the disease’s progression. She’s been taking it for 19 years, but the first five were particularly tough and began what she described as a vicious cycle of side effects: flu-like symptoms, a depressed mood, stress eating and a lack of exercise coupled with her severe asthma. “I just kept gaining weight, gaining weight – but I could walk, very slowly,” she said.

It would be another 10 years before Sims woke up one day, miserable, and enrolled herself in a WeightWatchers program, where was able to lose 65 pounds and later began Pilates classes to build her strength and mobility. Still, it wasn’t enough.

When she came across Max Results on the internet one day, she picked up the phone and called them. As he does with all clients, Harris asked her to come in for an assessment. But Sims wouldn’t be like any other client. Harris had never worked with an MS patient before and after their initial meeting, was direct: he didn’t want to waste her time and he didn’t want her to waste his if she wasn’t serious about getting healthy.

“We agreed to try it for one month,” Sims said. “I’ve never looked back. I’ve been with him about 18 months now and in this, I’ve lost close to 100 pounds.”

Building on his background repertoire with research, Harris designed a plan specifically for Sims. “When I went to him, I was beginning to lose some mobility in my right side again … [He] literally picked up my leg for weeks and weeks doing an aerobic step up. I can leg press – at times, I’ve done 320 pounds and I couldn’t even pick up my leg previously. That is a success story within itself; he knows how to adapt a plan for every body.”

In addition to workouts, Harris’ plans include a change in the way clients see food. Sims meets with Harris a few times a week for both personal as well as group training; on other days, he still texts her for updates on at-home routines or checks her food log through the MyFitnessPal mobile app. Harris has also encouraged Sims to set a new goal for herself every three months. Even when she didn’t think she was ready for the challenge, she has been surprised to hit the target ahead of schedule – every time.

“One day, he looked at me and said, ‘I want you to start running.’ At the time, I was 54 years old and I said, ‘I haven’t run since high school and I’m not running now. I have MS and I’m not supposed to be walking. I’m surely not going to run.’ ”

When he convinced her to try, Sims began running on the treadmill in intervals, just one minute at a time. “We did it at a very low pace and I did this for three or fours months and gradually, I would increase and increase – 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes until I could run a mile on my own,” she said. “Now I run about three to four times a week, about 7 miles at a time without stopping. That’s in addition to everything I do with [Harris].”

She joined an online running group last year that aimed to run/walk 2016 miles in 2016. She surpassed the mark by October and ended with 2150. This year’s goal was to run a half marathon, which Sims completed on Jan. 1. Outside of the gym, Sims has experienced joys she never thought she would again, like riding a bicycle this past summer, sometimes for 20 miles at a time and taking a cruise vacation last September.

“My body has changed so much in different ways. I’m just amazed at how your body does change when you’re healthy.” Sims isn’t the only one to notice. She credits her colleagues, her husband, her children and grandchildren for motivating her to live her healthiest life. Fellow MS patients who are moved by her story have even reached out to Sims for support.

Most of all, she credits Harris and subsequently, her friendship with Marian.

“Jim helped me to do this. I couldn’t be sharing my story if it hadn’t been for him helping me to get healthy so I can help someone else.”

Such is the beauty of dominoes — all it takes is one nudge for that positive energy to affect another. 

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