When Aaron Grunke, now 39, was recovering from testicular cancer treatment over a decade ago, one of the biggest losses he experienced was his fitness.
“After chemo, surgery, and sitting around for two years fighting this disease, feeling fit had been taken away from me,” Grunke, who was diagnosed at age 21 and gained over 20 pounds during treatment, says. “I didn’t realize how much it had happened until all the dust settled and I was getting back to normal life.”
He also wondered why there weren’t any programs that helped cancer survivors get back in shape.
With this in mind, Grunke and his wife, Meg, launched Survivor Fitness Foundation, a Nashville, Tennessee–based nonprofit, in 2013. The foundation’s goal: to help other survivors get healthy after cancer. To accomplish this, they have partnered with hospitals throughout Tennessee and networked with cancer nonprofits to spread the word about their 12-week scholarship-based program, which combines personal training and nutritional guidance for survivors of all ages.
“You’re so vulnerable when you finish cancer treatment. You’ve lost your hair, you’ve gained weight. What we offer is a chance for you to get to work on yourself — and get right back into feeling fit,” Grunke says.
Because the needs of survivors vary, each trainer must get certified to work with cancer survivors who may be experiencing far-reaching impacts of cancer treatment, including the aftereffects of surgery, lymphedema, and range of motion issues.
“Our goal is to meet our participants where they are,” Grunke says. “We don’t want survivors to think their past is holding them back. We don’t want anyone to be afraid to come to the gym and learn something new, and we want our participants to feel proud of seeing improvements in mobility, strength, and mood.”
Anyone who wants to access programming virtually can do so as well. And, upon request, gym equipment and daily exercise plans can be sent to your door. “Virtual training has really taken off,” Grunke says. “We work with each person to find out what they have in their homes that would enable them to exercise, such as stairs, and then build a plan for them.”
Best of all, since this is a scholarship-based program funded by donations and corporate support, most participants receive a full or partial scholarship to participate. “We don’t want medical bills or job changes to hold you back,” Grunke says.
Ultimately, Grunke is eager for his nonprofit to expand to other states and continue to help other cancer survivors. “I wish I had had something like this when I was 23,” he says. “It’s a wonderful feeling to help others.”