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One step at a time: Greensburg man with cerebral palsy on journey

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - 8/27/2019

Aug. 27--Bobby Mihalko makes his way across the uneven pavement behind Piff's Power and Fitness in Youngwood on a hot July day in 90-degree weather, wearing a weighted vest and pulling a tire along uneven pavement.

The bumpy gravel road and the sweat across his forehead are symbolic of the way he has learned to overcome obstacles in his way, one step at a time, with braces on his legs and forearm crutches in his hands.

Mihalko, a Youngwood native who lives in Greensburg, was diagnosed at birth with cerebral palsy. He turns 34 Aug. 30.

He refuses to let that stop him from working out to help improve his strength and mobility. On this day in July, he pulled a tire wearing a weighted vest as personal trainer Lou Rocco walked alongside, carrying a bottle of water.

"I needed somebody to get me motivated to move," Mihalko says of Rocco. "It is a different atmosphere working out with him. He understands what I am trying to do. He listens to what I tell him I want to work on. He helps me achieve my goals."

Reaching the goal

The temperature reached the mid-90s, but Mihalko wasn't about to stop short of the goal that day. Rocco offered encouragement as he has done for the past six months two to three times a week working with Mihalko. The two have become friends.

They laugh and joke, but they also work hard to achieve the goal of helping Mihalko improve his quality of life. It's working.

What was difficult is not as challenging anymore, Mihalko says.

"I have worked with other trainers, but no one compares to Lou," Mihalko says. "He pushes me hard. I feel strong in my legs. We have a lot more work to do."

After a workout, Mihalko climbs on a table so Rocco can help him stretch his muscles. The two communicate to make sure Rocco isn't pushing or pulling too hard. He also helps massage Mihalko's back and shoulders to loosen the tightness and help with his mobility.

Inspiring everyone

Mihalko's dedication doesn't go unnoticed.

"Bobby inspires everyone here," Rocco, of Greensburg, says. "He's made many friends here. Bobby gives just as much effort as anyone I work with, if not more.

"He has motivated me to do another triathlon," Rocco adds.

Mihalko hopes he can be an inspiration.

"Most guys in my position would not be pulling a tire with a weight vest on, but I want to get stronger," he says. "Some people don't understand I have to make an effort to do this. I make the best of what I can do."

He wishes he could help friends in similar situations.

"I want my friends with disabilities to come here and meet Lou and work with him," Mihalko says.

Mihalko says people should never say they can't do something, because if they tell themselves, "I don't know if I can do this," then they won't.

"I did that for too long in my life and I am getting better with that now," he says. "Things are challenging, but I don't really make a big deal about it. I have to do it anyways. It's a part of my life. I wish I could drive and get around on my own and not have to wait for someone to take me places, but I have transportation so I can get out and do things.

"I have to adapt," he adds. "I used to sit around and mope about things, but I learned you can't do that. It's time to figure things out."

Doctor's orders

Dr. Timothy Leichliter, movement disorder specials for Allegheny Health Network, treats people with Parkinson's disease and other neurological disorders. He recommends exercise to patients.

"I always talk to patients about better lifestyle choices, which includes physical activity," he says. "Some will say 'just give me a pill, that is way easier.' The exercise requires a lot of effort. That is some of the best medicine."

Working with a trainer is good, because the trainer knows how hard to push the person. Those with medical issues can still get their heart rates up, which is important for a workout to be successful, he says.

"Just like you need the right doctor, you also need the right trainers," Leichliter says. "You need someone who understands what you are trying to accomplish. Someone who sees eye to eye."

People can get even more than the physical benefits, Leichliter says. Exercise can help improve mental spirits, he says. It's the best anti-depressant.

Never back down

Ronda Hauser of Shaler stopped by that hot day when Mihalko was working out to give him a ride. She is his personal assistant. They met through Uber where she is a driver.

"We take for granted our health and what we can do," Hauser says. "We get caught up in the little things but when you watch him, you realize how fortunate you are and you don't take those things for granted anymore. He inspires me to push myself."

He doesn't want anybody to feel bad for him. He is becoming more independent having worked with Rocco, Hauser says.

"Bobby is great to work with," Rocco says. "I am only as good as the person who is willing to do the work and put the time in. It's a team. I can't do it without someone like Bobby.

"He never backs down from a challenge."

Like walking outside in 90-degree weather wearing a weighted vest and pulling a tire along uneven pavement.

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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