Survivor Fitness partners with remarkable individuals who share our commitment to empowering cancer survivors on their post-treatment journey. Many of our partners have watched a family member or close friend navigate treatment and recovery. One such inspiring individual is Sarah Denger, whose personal journey with cancer has informed her role as a passionate fitness instructor and a valued partner at Survivor Fitness.
From Patient to Fitness Instructor: Sarah’s Personal Journey with Cancer
Before her cancer diagnosis, fitness was merely a leisure pursuit for Sarah. In her mid-twenties, seemingly at the peak of her physical prime, cancer upended her life. Three years of grueling chemotherapy, including a stem cell transplant, stripped her of her strength and vitality. It was during this arduous battle that Sarah grappled with her body’s limitations.
“I felt so helpless when I couldn’t keep up with my parents on a neighborhood walk,” she said. “I was 25, they were in their late 50s, and yet I was the one lagging behind.”
Through this experience, Sarah discovered her passion for fitness and found her calling as a fitness instructor. Reconnecting with her body after the disassociation caused by cancer treatment, she now dedicates herself to helping others achieve the same transformative results.
“It didn’t take me long to realize that if I really wanted my energy, stamina, strength, body, and even life back…I had to work and earn it,” she shared. ”Fitness gave me that channel, and I wanted to work with those who had walked a similar path.”
Driven by this newfound purpose, Sarah actively sought avenues to support young cancer survivors. At Vanderbilt, she joined the board for their Young Adult Cancer Clinic. There, her paths crossed with Aaron and Meg Grunke, the co-founders of Survivor Fitness. Captivated by Sarah’s story and unwavering spirit, they knew she belonged on their dedicated team.
Since December 2023, Sarah has been integral to Survivor Fitness, guiding individual training sessions and leading virtual group exercises for participants and alums. Witnessing their progress brings her immense joy and a renewed sense of purpose.
“I am already inspired by my clients,” Sarah said. “One participant is doing more impact work than when we first started. Another is getting way more range of motion in her right arm, which had been her more limited side. There is so much to say, and I could go on and on about their accomplishments.”
Her favorite aspect of the program is the profound connection she feels with participants as they share the challenges of their fitness journey. It reminds her of her own journey as she helps instill confidence that they can reach their fitness goals.
Offering Empathy Through Experience: Navigating Life After Cancer
Sarah’s personal insights and empathy, rooted in her own experience with cancer and recovery, create a mutually beneficial relationship with the participants. Knowing firsthand the mental and emotional hurdles, she empowers participants to focus on progress, not limitations.
“Attitude is everything,” she said. “Cancer takes a toll on the body, and discouragement can be crippling. But cancer survivors are warriors, and I remind them to celebrate what they can do instead of dwelling on what they can’t.”
Working closely with each participant, Sarah encourages them to take the next step on their recovery journey. By reminding them to be patient and adapt their routines to their current needs, she strives to make the workout experience enjoyable.
“I want to make it fun and encouraging because I know how strong these individuals already are. I see myself in clients that feel shy about the experience because that’s how I was when I first started going to the gym.”
Living the Dream: Empowering Others Through Survivor Fitness
As a cancer survivor and fitness trainer, Sarah’s passion, encouragement, and expertise enrich every session at Survivor Fitness. In her own words, Survivor Fitness is a “dream come true organization” that seamlessly blends her two life passions: cancer patient advocacy and fitness.
We’re incredibly grateful for Sarah and the life-changing experience she offers Survivor Fitness participants. If you’re a personal trainer or fitness center interested in supporting individuals after treatment, connect with our team to learn how you can join the Survivor Fitness network. If you’re looking for physical support after cancer treatment, we’d love for you to check out our program or submit an application!