An opportunity to thrive: Shelley's Story

Your Impact - Shelley's Story

When Shelley Walker joined the YMCA in 2015, it became an integral part of her powerful journey towards physical and mental wellness and finding a sense of belonging.

Shelley is a unique individual living with Dissociative Identity Disorder. As she describes, she has 131 personalities within her body, which she calls “parts.” Shelley describes some very dark times as she has struggled with her disorder and her physical and mental health. At her heaviest, she was 568lbs, and she explains the confusion of missing time and gaps in memory and consciousness. Since beginning therapy in 2011, she has developed ways to communicate with each of her parts and coordinate who will get to the forefront, to avoid confusion and potentially dangerous situations such as switching parts while driving.

When Wendy McCormick, Adult Fitness & Lifestyle Supervisor at the Jamie Platz Family YMCA, invited her to a fitness class, it was the start of many important friendships and an incredible transformation in Shelley’s life. 

“It was important to me that Shelley just felt like she could be exactly who she was,” says Wendy. “In all of her abilities, all of her personalities, all of her strengths and all of her weaknesses.”

While Shelley was shy at first, she soon became the life of each of the classes she attended. Her dedication to her health is inspiring: Shelley attends up to five classes a day, swims laps in the pool and works with a personal trainer. She has reached milestone after milestone in her journey towards healthy mental and physical well-being, having lost 200 pounds in two years and developed a positive outlook on life.

Shelley considers the YMCA the last piece of her puzzle. The opportunity to connect, belong and be healthy has given her confidence and allowed her to thrive. Staff at the Y consider her a friend and even a part of their own family. Shelley spends holidays and family birthdays with Wendy at her home. Wendy says she is another sister to her.

Shelley gives encouragement notes and handmade gifts to staff and members, organizes fundraisers for the Y and faithfully attends group fitness classes up to six days a week. Says Lisa van Vliet, Shelley’s personal trainer: “We’ve impacted her, but she has impacted us. She really makes the classes she attends feel like a family. Shelley is amazing.” 

Shelley needed financial assistance from the Y to pay for her membership. As a recipient of AISH, benefits for Albertans with permanent medical conditions that prevent them from earning a living, Shelley’s income was very low. Because of generous donations to YMCA Giving, Shelley’s whole life changed.

“I truly am very grateful, because it’s changed our life forever. You can’t put a price on this one,” Shelley says.
Shelley has now completed her personal training course and Lisa and Wendy hope that she will one day become staff at the YMCA. Shelley wants to give back — to give others the opportunity she had to thrive.

“If anybody is struggling with mental health, with being overweight, with anything you think is a struggle for yourself and you don’t know where to go, I would highly recommend you come to the Y, you find me, and I would encourage you to do the same thing and make your own journey and follow your heart, and you will get wherever you want to go, as long as you try,” Shelley says.

Shelley’s story is just one example of the transformation that can occur in a person’s life when they are given the opportunity to have a YMCA experience. And she makes the Y a very special place to be.