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Bodybuilding mom provides muscle and inspiration

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia-NEW

Cheryl Harris is a personal training director who has been competitive bodybuilder for the past three years.

 

 

Cheryl Harris of Chicago had no idea she was a source of inspiration to me until now. She’s a personal training director at LA Fitness in Oak Lawn. I have to drag myself through their doors most days. I’m primarily there to deflate my stubborn muffin top. About 30 minutes, three times a week, and spanx can usually keep everything in perspective.

However, for Chery, there is no corset required. She paces LA Fitness like a lioness commanding the jungle. She’s altogether different than us average cubs on the gym floor.

“Wow! You’re a beast. You look amazing,” I told her recently.

She was fresh from competing at the Gary Udit 2016 National Physique Committee (NPC) Teen, Collegiate and Masters National Championship in Pittsburgh, which was held July 22.

Many consider the NPC the largest amateur bodybuilding organization in the United States. Amateur bodybuilders compete from local to national competitions sanctioned by the NPC.

Cheryl is a NPC Master Figure Competitor in the category for those age 45 and over. Contrary to what one may believe is possible for themselves after a certain age, Cheryl’s bodybuilding has revitalized her youth. This just shy of 48-year-old mother of two daughters ages 20 and 27 has only been competing professionally for three years.

“This is my fifth competition,” said Cheryl. “The first was a local, amateur competition. I placed first in all categories taking home a trophy for Overall Fitness, Miss Figure and Master Figure. The other four have been National NPC competitions. Much harder, my recent show was a Masters National Pro show. There were over 1,000 competitors. It’s hard to get noticed among that many people. It was my first attempt at getting my Pro Card.”

A Pro Card could open the door for Cheryl to earn a primary income from bodybuilding. Competition winnings, sponsorship by local companies and supplement manufacturers are just a few income streams that could result from a Pro Card. Not to mention print marketing, television and in some cases feature film opportunities.

“I just want the street credit. I placed much lower than I expected in this recent show,” explained Cheryl. “I was ranked 16 of 28 in my category. The judges’ feedback was for me to work on getting smaller, leaner and tighter. They said I need to focus on my hamstrings and glutes/tie in -- that’s the muscle between the hamstring and glutes. You know, that hook the sisters have,” she said with a giggle. “That muscle needs to be smooth and tie in with the glutes and hamstrings.”

“What in the world,” I wondered? “Everything looks perfectly tied in to me!”

I wanted to know the cost. Not just monetary but the full spectrum price tag for the excellence before me.

“Growing up, I wasn't athletic; didn't play sports, but I was fit. I focused on maintaining my health and well-being. I even worked out during both pregnancies up until my ninth month. Fitness has always been important to me,” said Cheryl.

Sometime the thing we find most important becomes the very thing we neglect.

When circumstances in Cheryl’s life began to change rapidly beyond her control, she said her fitness regimen and desire for wellness went by the wayside.

“I lost my job in corporate America that I’d had for 10 years. I was a single mother, things got too hard and I couldn’t maintain. I depleted my savings, lost my house, my truck and even my relationship of four years went sour," explained Cheryl. “I started eating emotionally until it was out of control. At the height of my weight, I was 166 pounds, which was what I weighed nine months pregnant. My body fat was over 30 percent. For my optimal health, it should’ve been between 23 to 25 percent. I suffered from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, migraines, and shortness of breath. I couldn't run a half-block without being exasperated.”

Cheryl’s turning point was watching a bodybuilding competition.

“Just after my 45th birthday I attended my youngest daughter’s godfather’s bodybuilding competition. During his show I began to wonder what it might be like if I were on stage; I’d always been drawn to the sport.”

A nine-month training regimen with a professional trainer followed a meal plan, dietary supplements, cardio and strength training. Cheryl said her workout schedule at its peak was six days per week, three times a day with workout durations of 70 to 90 minutes per session.

“Training for competition is hell. It drains your body, mind and your pocket.” Cheryl said, “The cost to compete for a local show could be $1,500 to $3,000 and Nationals range $3,000 to $7,000 easy. We’re paying for airfare, hotel, ground transportation, makeup, hair and bronzer. Our bathing suit costumes can cost $200 to $2,000.”

She said sponsors are a huge help. “It’s all worth it. I’m not giving up on my goal to earn my Pro Card. My story isn't over. My next show will be in November.”

Cheryl had no idea I was being positively motivated by her fitness success from afar, but she told me she feels obligated to stay the course. She said, “I know people are watching.”

I told her, as I now tell you. Our lives are always on display. It’s never too late to make your influence a positive one.

Cheryl is the owner and founder of Cheryl Harris Enterprises C.H.E. Knows and Profound Touch Mobile Spa where she’s a massage therapist. She’s also a self-proclaimed health, wellness, fitness and lifestyle expert who gives various talks throughout the Chicago area. Learn more at www.profoundtouch.com.

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author and runner whose columns appear in The Reporter the second and fourth Thursdays of each month.            

Evergreen Park keeps steering toward progressr

  • Written by Joe Boyle

I went on a journey of sorts last Thursday with Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton. He wanted to show me some of the projects that have been completed in the village, including the first phase of the new Evergreen Marketplace that replaces The Plaza.

Sexton was provided with a sledgehammer and given the privilege you could say of striking the first blow of the demolition process of The Plaza last October. Sexton put a large dent in the old Montgomery Ward’s building that had been vacant since the department store went out of business in 2001.

Montgomery Ward’s departure seemed to escalate the eventual end to The Plaza, the brainchild of developer Arthur Rubloff. The Plaza opened in 1952 and continued to grow through the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Competition from newer malls and the recession that began in 2008 led to The Plaza’s demise.

But Sexton added another culprit to that mix.

“It was 9-11 that changed everything,” said Sexton while we took a tour of the new Evergreen Marketplace and other locations where businesses are now thriving in the village. “We are finally starting to recover.”

Sexton pointed to the Standard Bank building at 95th and Western as one of the first to come on board and show confidence in doing business with the village. Many businesses and developers were shaken after the terrorist attack on American soil that resulted in 2.996 people killed and over 6,000 injuries. Sexton said that Standard Bank’s involvement was a turning point.

Before we drove down 95th Street, he wanted to show me the new Carson’s, which represents the first phase of the retail businesses that will replace The Plaza. I was initially struck by the new Carson’s sign on the second floor of the façade. Workers were coming in and out. Equipment was on the first floor and second of this sparkling looking interior. This will be an anchor for a series of stores that will extend from 98th Street on the south and Campbell Avenue on the north.

Carson’s will be joined by DSW, Petco, T.J. Maxx, 365 by Whole Sale Foods and a Dick’s Sporting Goods Store, to name a few. For the time being, those eventual stores are blank spaces for now. Hovering in the background to the north were large piles of concrete that was once made up The Plaza. The old and the new could be viewed in an instant. The old Carson’s that was one of the anchor stores of the old Plaza is still standing across the parking lot just a block away, facing Western Avenue.

The old Carson’s will make way for the new Carson’s, which will open for the first time on Wednesday, Sept. 14. The doors to enter the old Carson’s will then be shuttered for good and will meet the wrecking ball as early as next January.

While Sexton misses The Plaza, he does not have time for nostalgia. We drove north along 95th Street to the site of the old Evergreen Park Golf Course that extended to north to 91st and Western and as far west as California Avenue. I golfed there a few times over the years and I mentioned that to Sexton. I did not tell him that I would often hit a few trees and lost a few golf balls.

But like The Plaza, I had not been there for a long time. The family-run course had fallen into disrepair over the years and negotiations were made to purchase the land and have it developed. The mayor admits that upset some people but he could not allow sentiment to impede progress.

“What people don’t realize is that you if sit around and wait for something to happen, another village will come in and attract businesses,” said Sexton. “You have to be aggressive. Over $100 million in sales are generated from this golf course property.”

He pointed to some of the businesses that have generated that revenue, like Meijer’s grocery store, Firehouse Subs, Crazy Crab, Michael’s, Menards, DXL men’s apparel, and a Triple AAA project that has yet be built.

He then drove west along 91st Street and pointed out that the village has three separate dog parks, a disc golf course that kids can play on for free, a farm in which vegetables are grown and are brought to pantries. Sexton pointed to the new driving range at 91st and Rockwell that is temporarily closed to make more improvements to the property that he said is a work in progress.

We then drove down 95th Street and he pointed to an empty business that could house a Wu’s House Hibachi Grill and Sushi that has received rave reviews at other locations. The Japanese steakhouse and sushi bar could be located at 95th and Sacramento. Sexton said the restaurant would be a great addition to Evergreen Park.

While The Plaza and the Evergreen Park Golf Course are now just memories, Sexton said the future looks bright for the village. After about an hour-long drive through the southwest suburb, I would have to agree. Memories are great, but progress is better.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Spending a water-logged White Sox weekend

  • Written by Joe Boyle

In some ways, it was just perfect. I guess you could say it was a perfect storm.

I had purchased some tickets to a couple of White Sox games earlier this year. On this occasion I asked my friend Bob Ward to go with me. I go a long way back with Bob. I’ve known him since we attended St. Margaret of Scotland Elementary School at 99th and Throop in Chicago.

But the real reason why I asked him is that he is a White Sox fan. We both played baseball for the Longwood Manor Athletic Association. So, we have that common thread. I may have mentioned to him that I have not seen the Sox win since 2013. You would think I would have seen a victory in the past three years but the reality is that the White Sox have not been that good. This year they have been all over the board, a .500 team up to this point.

James Shields, who was acquired earlier this summer from San Diego, was on the hill for the White Sox. Most Sox fans know that Shields was shelled in his first four starts. He was a launching pad for opposing hitters. Since then, he has resembled the old James Shields, going late into games. He has been outstanding in his last four starts. But in keeping with this strange season, Shields has no victories, losing games by the scores of 1-0 and 2-0.

He was outstanding last Thursday night against the Detroit Tigers. Bob and I were having fun on a warm, humid night at the ballpark. The Sox had a 1-0 lead that was wiped out on two solo home runs by the Tigers.

And then the rain came down in the seventh inning. And it just kept coming. We waited until about 10:10 p.m. and decided to leave. Fortunately, the rain had briefly stopped as we went back to our car. On the way home, we turned on the radio station but instead of hearing an update, it was none other than Donald Trump at the microphone. The GOP presidential candidate was just winding up his hour-long speech at the convention’s conclusion.

It was not until I got home that I learned that Sox lost 2-1 in a rain-shortened contest. Oh well, another loss and this time it did not go nine innings. On Saturday, I was considering some other plans that evening. However, my son, Sean, wanted to attend a Sox game. Feeling sorry for me, he wanted me to come. My son is also a huge White Sox fan played playing baseball in high school and in college. He purchased some great seats behind home plate.

He wanted to get a good look at Chris Sale’s pitches, the scheduled starter that evening. He believed, and I had no reason to doubt him, that I would break that losing streak. We arrived at the park and got situated in our seats. They were indeed great seats. We left briefly for some concessions and as we came back, the rain began to fall. The look in my son’s face was priceless. I mean it has to stop, right? Well, it did about 10 minutes later. The game started about 15 minutes late.

But as we were going over the lineups on the scoreboard, we were confused. Sale’s name was originally on there. Then his name disappeared and was replaced by Matt Albers, who has not started a game since 2008.

Rumors began circulating in the stands that the Sox ace had been traded. I felt myself becoming angry. My son buys these great seats and Sale is not on the mound? I was beginning to wonder if I was cursed. Then my son looks at his cellphone and informs me that Sale is not pitching because he reportedly cut up the uniforms the Sox were supposed to wear that night.

The Sox gave out replica 1976 jersey tops from that year. Those were the pajama top shirts that hung over the pants. They were comfortable but they looked ridiculous. They still look ridiculous. Apparently, Sale thought so, too. We just wished he could have controlled his rage.

Well, I still felt there was more to this story than Sale cutting up a jersey. But I eventually got over it and decided to focus on the game. The Sox once led but the Tigers came back to tie the game at 3-3. And as we entered the ninth inning, the rain came again. We were now in another rain delay. My son and I strolled around the park as the wind whipped up followed by thunder and lightning. We were not going to stroll outside even if the game did not resume.

Then about 11:15 p.m., the game was called. Just like last Thursday, we were able to leave with just a mist falling. The rain returned but we were on our way home at that point.

Needless to say, we did not want to return to the ballpark the next day, although we could have. The Sox, of course, won the suspended game the next day in their last at bat. They won the next game that day in walk-off fashion. They even won the opener against the Cubs Monday night in the bottom of the ninth. Three straight walk-off wins for the Sox. Perhaps their luck is changing.

Maybe it will be my turn next. I will be going to another Sox game soon with my son. But before I go, I will take my son’s advice. I will get a weather report before I venture outdoors.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Grateful for accommodations during family trip to Las Vegas

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia-NEW

When my husband, Don, agreed to speak at the Staff Development for Educators (SDE) 2016 National Conference held at the Venetian in Las Vegas, I strolled into my closet and pulled out suitcases for me and the kids. “We’re coming with you,” I told him.

As a speaker, Don was told by an SDE event planner we would receive two of our three-night reservations, complimentary.

Upon entering the room I expected to see two double beds, a fridge and microwave. Nope. What I got was an eye of wonder. A luxurious suite, with Egyptian linens, separate living and dining area, a marble bath accented with gold fixtures, a fireplace, whirlpool tub and a fully stocked refrigerator with drinks and boxed snacks. I only learned after my daughter, Donae, drank a $6 bottle of FUJI water that there’s a weighted sensor on those items and once you pick them up, your credit card is automatically billed.

“Soooo, this isn’t complimentary,” I inquired. I took my tail straight to the local Walmart after that.

The entire hotel is stunning and apparently a magnet for celebrity guests. LeBron James was staying there while we stayed there. A constant conversation atop the pool deck was who had seen him walking through the casino and, of them, who had been lucky enough to score a selfie. I wasn’t one of either.

We were basking in the life of being high rollers, that is until the front desk called. We presume there was a miscommunication between the Venetian and SDE event planners. Our third night was never booked in their system. We were told they were completely full and asked to kindly vacate the room.

What?

Yep, we were homeless in Vegas, for about four hours.

Our saving grace was being timeshare owners. After explaining our desperate situation to the Holiday Inn Vacation Club they were able to accommodate us with a room using vacation points at the Jockey Club Resort through RCI, which is a resort exchange company. It was only a mile from the Venetian and also located on the Vegas strip. A downgrade in décor but top-notch service.

Guests of the Jockey Club get to access some of the amenities of the adjoined Cosmopolitan. Their lobby is incredible. The varying contrasts of metallic silver and glass with columns of moving photo graphics makes you feel like you’re on the set of a science fiction movie. We spent the entire morning on their swanky 14th floor rooftop pool deck. A large portion of the pool is just one foot deep. Sunbathers stay cool in their sophisticated submerged lawn chairs. With a bar and grill on opposite ends of the pool, we could've easily stayed all day. It was like a beach party in the sky without sand. My kids loved the music pumping their latest pop chart hits.

Before we arrived they had just eaten a Burger King breakfast and still had their beverages in hand. The Cosmo staff didn’t give us a spiel about bringing in outside food or beverages. They discretely requested we transfer our drinks into their glasses and discarded the evidence of not having purchased theirs.

Tastefully done Cosmopolitan. Way to keep the clientele happy, especially the ones who don’t know the lay of the land.

Sorry!

We left the Jockey Club grateful for an experience we wouldn’t have had had we stayed at the Venetian. Then, we went home. Not Chicago, but our vacation club home at the Holiday Inn where we’re owners. Our reservation with them was always for the weekend. When they learned of our homeless mishap they upgraded our villa siting. “Maybe this will help you forget the trauma of being uprooted.”

Sure did help. It was a newly renovated villa with all of the luxuries of being in a full residence. Yet, we didn’t spend much time in the unit. We explored the Vegas shows, shopping and dining. Don and I were also celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary. We spared no expense to indulge in having a great time. If only I’d read our return flight reservation properly, perhaps then we would’ve remained in our happy place.

“You’ve missed your flight. The next one out is Monday at 5:45 p.m.,” said Susan, a Southwest Airline attendant.”

“Oh my God. Oh my God…” I just kept repeating that over and over. It was 10 a.m. on Sunday and she was telling me we’d be there for another day and a half. An attendant named Faye stepped over, “We’re going to see what we can do.” There were obstacles on every side. Every flight to Chicago was sold out. Having a child with special needs can be difficult in an unpredictable environment. Once they learned that, they worked some kind of magic and got Rhonda-Rene and I confirmed on a Sunday flight at 5:45 p.m.

However, immediately after two standby seats opened up for an 11:30 a.m. flight. It was 11:07 a.m., not enough time to change our tickets, get us through security and to the gate before departure. But, Don and Donae didn’t have confirmed tickets so they were able to make that flight. Faye, whose shift was ending, was on her way to church. She stayed to help expedite Don and Donae through security and to their gate. They only had 23 minutes. They made it.

Southwest Airlines has a policy. You can’t check luggage more than four hours prior to your flight. At that moment, Rhonda-Rene and I had seven hours to go. To accommodate me, they checked my bags on an earlier standby flight so I didn’t have to haul them around while tending to Rhonda-Rene. Luckily, she and I made it as standby passengers on that flight as well. Typically, standby passengers board last.

However, we were allowed to board first because of her disability. I hugged those Southwest attendants before I left. I was so grateful.

Our entire Vegas experience taught me to be more sensitive about meeting the needs of others. The seeds we plant are what will grow. If you want to be accommodated, look for ways to accommodate.

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author and runner whose columns appear in The Reporter the second and fourth Thursdays of each month.          

Youth baseball should be fun first before worrying about wins

  • Written by Joe Boyle

When I was a kid, we were still playing baseball at this time of year. I recall that youngsters who excelled on the diamond were selected to all-star tournament teams usually late in June or early July. I was fortunate to be on some of those teams in the major division (ages 11-12) pony division (ages 13-15) and the traveling league (ages 16-18).

I recall regular season games went right through July. All-star games would continue in July until we were eliminated. We would play 20 to 22 regular season games or so during the summer. Teammates would leave for a while due to family vacations.

I played in the Longwood Manor Athletic Association in Chicago's Washington Heights neighborhood. Games were once played at Oakdale Park at 95th and Genoa and later moved to Mount Vernon Park at 105th and Morgan, which is now Jackie Robinson Park. I spent a lot of time at those fields and later at Brainerd Park at 91st and Throop.

Summers were dedicated to playing baseball with football practice beginning in late August. But there is a difference in our baseball seasons back in the 1960s and early 1970s in relation to today. Many more kids are now playing for traveling teams as well as playing in their own leagues. These kids are now playing with more skilled players on a team that competes against other suburban communities and clubs throughout the state and elsewhere.

In some instances, some of these kids are playing solely on traveling teams and skipping competing in local leagues entirely. And I have to admit that concerns me.

I don’t begrudge anyone who wants the best for their son or daughter. If parents believe their children can play at a higher level, that’s great. However, too many kids are playing in these traveling leagues exclusively and that eventually waters down the talent in local baseball organizations. I think kids should play with kids from their neighborhoods and local schools. They should have fun while learning about the importance of teamwork.

When I was growing up, you had star players alongside kids who struggled. But I think it is a good learning lesson for everyone. Baseball is unique that way. In our league, managers were encouraged to play everyone so that they can learn about the game and improve. Some of these kids would eventually develop into good ballplayers through hard work and the fact some managers took time to work with them.

It seems today at some levels there is too much of an emphasis on winning. That’s why we now have these specialized traveling league teams. That can be great but what does that mean for kids of average talent who do not get the chance to play with some of these gifted players?