One look at Dawn Davis and you’re instantly struck by someone who is the picture of health. At 45, toned and tan, her resume reads like a Jack LaLanne novel. She is a certified personal trainer, teaches yoga, Pilates, tai chi, senior fitness, nutrition and more.But the road that led her to superb fitness came out of a near-death experience. It is a story about perseverance, willpower and dedication. Nothing could have prepared her for the agony she would endure one night nearly two years ago.
By all accounts, life was good. She was living with her “better half,” Roger, and their blended family of three children and two grandchildren. She was working as an accountant and worked out at a gym on a regular basis. But one night around 3 a.m., she was jolted awake from a deep sleep. An agonizing and intense pain in her back was like nothing she ever felt before.
“It was like somebody was jabbing a knife in my back,” Dawn recalls. “I had gone dancing the night before and I thought that maybe I had pulled a muscle. I took some Aleve and tried to sleep on the couch, but that didn’t work.”
The pain continued to intensify through the next day and into the evening. The realization that something was terribly wrong became apparent from a simple question around 9 p.m., some 18 hours after the pain started. “Roger called me on his way home and asked: “Does it hurt when you pee?”It was a frightening discovery when Dawn realized she had drank “gallons of fluid,” through the night, but hadn’t urinated at all.“Not only had I not gone to the bathroom for 24 hours, but I didn’t even have the feeling of needing to go,” Dawn said. “I was getting really scared and weaker by the minute.”
When Roger arrived home that evening, Dawn still stubbornly refused to go to the emergency room. But by the next morning, her condition was worsening and getting to the emergency room was imperative. Once there, her blood pressure was dangerously low at 56/30. “I was white as a sheet and having a hard time breathing. I just wanted them to make the pain go away.” An ultrasound quickly revealed a kidney stone that was blocking her urinary tract, causing kidney failure. “I just thought ‘kidney stone, great! Let’s get it out.’”But because Dawn’s blood pressure and heart rate weren’t stable, surgery wasn’t an option. The only alternative to get the kidneys functioning as quickly as possible was to use a stent to break up the stone.
Fortunately, the procedure worked, and Dawn spent five days in intensive care. But another problem was brewing. “I wasn’t out of the woods yet,” she recalls. “I guess I just didn’t realize how close I was to death. I waited way too long, which almost cost me my life.”
It turned out that when the kidneys stopped functioning, the failure caused e-coli, sepsis and blood poisoning.She received the treatment needed for those conditions, and when she was finally released, Dawn was told to return in a week to remove the last of the kidney stone.
But upon returning, more bad news: Dawn had developed pneumonia and strep throat. “I didn’t feel well, but I just thought I had the flu, “ she said. “ I just wanted to get the surgery over with.” But the doctors weren’t willing. Medications were prescribed and again, she was sent home. Finally, four weeks after the whole ordeal began, Dawn had the much-needed surgery to remove the remainder of kidney stone, as an outpatient. Weak and exhausted, she went home to convalesce. “ I couldn’t believe everything that happened. I lost 25 pounds and couldn’t walk to the mailbox. I was totally out of breath,” she said. “I was so weak I couldn’t even lift a gallon of milk.”
Dawn eventually returned to work as an accountant. But more importantly, she began to reevaluate a new course for her life. “I was so discouraged at the shape I was in that I decided to join a local boot camp. I wanted something intense to get me back into shape as quickly as possible. I felt I needed to go to the extreme and I needed to be pushed.”
Just two months after surgery, Dawn found what she was looking for at a boot camp in Clayton County. It was the perfect place to jump start her on the road to physical and mental health. There were intense jogging sessions, speed and agility drills and hill training. After six long hard weeks of physically demanding workouts, a new Dawn was beginning to emerge.
“My results were phenomenal. I couldn’t walk to the mailbox before I started, but now I was jogging 5 miles. I went from not being able to lift a gallon of milk to doing 50 military presses with five pound weights. I was changing physically and emotionally for the better.” She was so encouraged by her results that she started to teach for them.Her hard work and perseverance were paying off, and quickly, Dawn was realizing her new direction and passion.
“It was like an epiphany; this is where I want to be. I thought ‘I want to change somebody’s life like mine was changed.’” With her sights on a new and challenging career, she quit her job as an accountant in July of 2007, and forged ahead. “I went nuts. I grabbed every certification I could,” she laughs. “I now have 10 certifications in personal training, group fitness, senior fitness, sports nutritionist, yoga, Pilates, tai chi, zumba, boot camp, and aquatics.” By the fall of 2007, Dawn’s fitness wings were spreading far and wide. She opened her own Boot Camp in Fayetteville and later a location in McDonough. She also added Maximum Output Family Fitness Center in Fayetteville to the list. One loyal boot camp attendee, Jan O’Hara, has attended every session since the beginning.
“Oh, I’m hooked,” she chuckles. “Before I started, I was in fairly decent shape, but I certainly couldn’t run three miles. I was just a big time walker. But since I started, I’ve grown by leaps and bounds. No matter what your level is, she will work with you and won’t push you beyond your limits.”
While running her own boot camp was gratifying, in the beginning it only took up two hours a day – not enough for someone like Dawn, a high energy and enthusiastic athlete. She wanted to offer more opportunities but didn’t know where to turn, until she found an advertisement: senior fitness instructor needed at Heritage Senior Center in McDonough. She was hired, and both parties continue to reap the rewards.
“I have fallen in love with the seniors,” Dawn said. “I don’t care what kind of mood you’re in, they will always lift your spirits. I challenge them constantly and they welcome the challenge. When they tell me they’re off their blood pressure medications because of my class, there’s no money that can replace those words.”
Besides the physical workout Dawn offers the seniors, they also share their humor with her. During one class Dawn remembers an amusing comment from a 93 year-old woman. “She told me ‘if you don’t pick it up, we’re going to find a replacement.’ That was all I needed to hear,” she laughs.
Susan Craig, Executive Director for Henry County Senior Services, says that Dawn is an extraordinary individual who does so much for the seniors in so many ways. “She simply has a heart and a passion for seniors,” Susan said. “She knows how to develop relationships with the senior population, and believes in fitness and that it is going to help people live longer and healthier lives.” By the beginning of 2008, the list of classes Dawn was teaching had grown exponentially. She was teaching at Heritage Senior Center, Maximum Output Family Fitness, and her own business, GetFit Boot Camp. But with an intense drive to share her wealth of exercise knowledge with others, Dawn again took her talents to the then newly-opened Fayette Senior Services.
Now, nearly a year later, Dawn teaches a total of 18 classes at the state-of- the-art facility, including three levels of aerobics, tai chi and yoga. Debbie Britt, Executive Director for Fayette Senior Services, is thrilled with the woman they have dubbed the ‘fitness diva.’ “What sets our health and wellness program apart with her at the helm is the fact that she is so personally dedicated to the health and wellness of the people we serve. She has a lot of knowledge about the aging process and what happens to the body as it ages. And what really impresses me is that she is so personally involved and concerned with our members. It is amazing that she teaches hundreds of men and women and can personally tell you about each one of them and how they are progressing.”
Even Debbie takes a class from Dawn. “I take the Zumba Gold class, “ Debbie says with a smile. “It’s like combining Latin dance with aerobics. In the past, I was never motivated to work out regularly, because it wasn’t exciting. But with this class I get a really robust workout while having a blast.”
One class in particular, intermediate aerobics, has some grateful and energetic participants whose ages range from late 50s to 88 year-old Grace Arnold. “She inspires me to move, “says Grace with a sweet smile, “She’s got a lets-go-team attitude. This is one class I hate to miss.” Another participant, Judy Smith, 60, says Dawn’s personality suits the class perfectly. “Dawn keeps it light. There’s no pressure and she makes it easy to endure,” Judy stated after a recent workout. “I never thought I’d be in an aerobics class, but I knew it was important to exercise. Now, I feel better and feel good about doing something for myself. “
The union between Dawn and Fayette Senior Services has been a win-win for both. “They’ve embraced me and I’ve embraced them. It’s like home to me,” Dawn said. “Teaching senior fitness is my passion, not a job. They drive me and motivate me. They think I’m there for them…but in fact they are there for me.” As 2009 gets underway, Dawn’s enthusiasm to share fitness is just as strong for the 28 classes she teaches each week, as it was when she taught her first class.
“There is a reason I was given a second chance at life, and maybe that was to impact other people’s lives and to give back to others,” she muses. “It’s never too late to start anything. After what I’ve seen, age can’t be an excuse.” Dawn continues to keep up her own physical regime by running 5K races each month, having regular check-ups and “most of all listening to my body.”
Without a doubt, Dawn never forgets the frightening experience that led to her passion for fitness. “The lesson learned is to listen to your body. Pain isn’t good. It’s your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. I’m reaping the rewards daily when people tell me about the wonderful and positive and medical miracles they are experience all the time.”