When Gerhild Ulrich’s husband bought their family a YMCA membership about 20 years ago, she had no idea it’d get her through a near-death experience and give her a community where she could build her physical, mental and emotional health.
“I’ve had numerous people make comments to me how I’m an inspiration to them, knowing that I have MS and I come every day, five days a week. They realize if I can do it with my limitations, they have no excuse,” she said.
Gerhild, 62, and her husband, Thomas, have been married for 30 years and have two sons in their 20s. They live in St. Joseph.
After their second son was born, in July 1998, Gerhild’s energy level started to deteriorate.
“When he was about 8 months old, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease,” she said. “After we got the Y membership, I decided to bring the younger one to a gymnastic class. I was struggling with doing physical activities.”
In early 2003, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“I started treatment then. I continued coming to the Y ever since. The boys still like to come, too,” she said.
Andrews University brought Gerhild to Southwest Michigan in 1977 for nursing school. She earned a Bachelors of Science in Nursing, and has worked at the old Mercy Hospital in Benton Harbor and Spectrum Health Lakeland in St. Joseph.
In 2012, Gerhild was admitted to the hospital for three and a half weeks because her bowel had ruptured. She had three surgeries in six days.
“I got very debilitated, very weak. I had to walk with a walker and had physical therapy at my house. Just walking from my couch to the back door was difficult,” she said.
The first day she came back to the Y, she remembers being on the seated stepper and could barely do two minutes.
“I was winded,” she said. “But I just gradually kept building it up and kept getting stronger. I almost died and I didn’t give up on exercising.”
In fact, she picked up a new activity about five years ago – pickleball.
“I tended to mostly use the cardio equipment and machines that I could sit on,” she said. “One of my legs gets weak on me from the MS.”
Gerhild was working out one day when she noticed the people playing a game in the gym.
“They were laughing and having a good time,” she said. “I just popped my head in there one day and they welcomed me in and taught me how to play. And I really loved it.”
She said she realized playing pickleball helped her balance.
“The thing is, I can’t play for hours at a time and everybody knows that when I play,” she said.
It’s helped her mental health and given her comradery with the people she meets.
“We talk about all things in life,” Gerhild said. “When the Y was closed during COVID, I was just walking at home for exercise, and it just wasn’t the same. I even felt like I was getting weaker.”
Coming to the Y is what helps her get up in the morning.
“Right now, I’m working from home, too, so I don’t like doing my exercise at home,” she said.
Gerhild said she is always encouraging friends to join.
“I tell them, it’s an important part of life–it helps you physically, mentally, emotionally,” she said. “The benefits of exercise are wonderful and doing it with other people is a little more motivating than just doing it at home.”
*Story published in 2021 Annual Report.