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Innovative Fitness Program Helps Young Cancer Survivors Get Back in the Game

Kids generally have an uncanny ability to bounce back after illness or surgery. However, jumping right into a sport or activity after cancer treatment is not easy.
Many children would like to join their friends in football, softball or another team sport. Maybe they feel like shooting hoops for fun or want to hop on a skateboard. However, surgery and several rounds of chemotherapy can drain their energy, affect their general fitness level and make them less mobile. Their self-confidence can be shaky.
“Back in the Game,” a program at the Professional Athletic Performance Center in Garden City, Long Island, helps young people get back to activities they once loved or start a new sport after treatment for cancer or a blood disorder.
The innovative 12-week fitness program is designed to help them recover strength, balance, flexibility and confidence, while improving overall fitness, according to Rob Panariello, co-owner of the Center and a licensed physical therapist.
“Back in the Game” was conceived when a Long Island dad was searching for a program for his son who had undergone surgery and chemotherapy to treat neuroblastoma, a common childhood cancer. The boy was eager to play football, but lacked the strength and stamina needed for the rough sport.
“Back in the Game,” believed to be the only program of its kind, was developed by the Center’s physical therapists and fitness experts in conjunction with prominent pediatric cancer specialists. “It is designed to help children accelerate their assimilation into everyday sports and physical activities,” says Panariello.
Peter Menges’ son Bobby went through the program when he was eight years old. “His physical strength and stamina increased exponentially, as well as his self esteem and confidence,” Menges says. Another former participant, 12-year-old Conor Lundy, is now involved in team sports. “Conor loved the program. It gave him the confidence to participate in group sports,” says his father, John Lundy.
The program launched last year and has served 44 young people, ages 5 to 18, to date. “We start with a careful physical evaluation to determine their fitness level and what they are capable of doing,” says Paul Fick, director of the program.
“We give them a series of physical fitness tests, and after the evaluation, we design a program specially tailored to meet their individual needs. It’s terrific to see their progress, and as they become more physically fit, their confidence gets a big boost,” says Fick, a certified athletic trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist.
“The emotional and physical challenges facing these children can be enormous, and this program was created to help them get back to activities they can enjoy with their friends, and just be kids again,” Panariello says. “We give them the opportunity to regain strength, balance and overall fitness with their peers in a fun and safe environment.”
“This kind of program is really needed for children that want to get back into sports after an extended time away from such physical activity,” says Dr. Geoffrey Westrich, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery, with offices in Manhattan and Fresh Meadows. “Stretching, strengthening, and general conditioning are essential to any sporting activity to prevent injury. As such, this program is a wonderful idea and would be extremely beneficial to children who are ready to resume physical activities after an illness.”
Once they receive medical clearance from their doctors, children and teens receive a one-on-one evaluation and consultation, individualized physical therapy to meet their specific needs, group fitness training and conditioning exercises. Anyone who would like more information is invited to call 516-794-3278 or visit www.professionalpt.com.
In addition to “Back in the Game”, the Professional Athletic Performance Center offers programs to help trainees evolve into athletes and gain a competitive edge. Spanning over 20,000 feet, athletes train on the surface on which their sport is played.
Professional Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy also offers physical therapy at the Garden City site and at eight other locations. The staff is comprised of NYS licensed physical therapists, many of whom are NATA Certified Athletic Trainers and NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists. At their conveniently located, modern facilities, they blend hands-on experience with state-of-the-art equipment and techniques to treat all orthopedic-related conditions. Offices are in Queens, Great Neck, Roslyn, Manhattan and Mamaroneck. For more information, call 718-767-0610 or visit www.professionalpt.com.

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