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Workouts More Fun than MS and Epilepsy: Mary Ellen Ciganovich’s Inspirational Exercise Story

Guest post by Mary Ellen Ciganovich

Mary Ellen

Mary Ellen - beautiful in and out

When you feel fit, you feel alive, energetic and R.E.A.L.: Really Enthusiastic About Life!

For me, fitness has always been fun! I was lucky enough to have been born at a time when fun meant coming home from kindergarten, doing my homework or chores then grabbing my bicycle and riding around the neighborhood with my friends. In summertime we would ditch our bikes for a game of kickball in the street. Or if we could find a mason jar we would catch fireflies! My neighborhood had a small creek running through it, so on really hot Atlanta nights we would wade through the creek like a band of pirates.

Then at the age of six, I was diagnosed with epilepsy.

I had a very simple case of petite mal temporal lobe epilepsy but my family took it very hard. They tried to explain to me what epilepsy was but nothing made sense at that age. I was told what I “couldn’t” or “shouldn’t” do but I did not feel any different so I continued to play and stay fit as much as possible. If it was fun, why should I stop? Plus playing outside got me out of the house.

My home life was not the best. We looked like the model family at the movies or restaurants, especially on High Holy days when we would go to church.  I was very well-dressed, and as my mother often told me, “at least you don’t look like you have it,” “it” being the epilepsy. I used to wonder what people with epilepsy were supposed to look like!

Our true home life was verbally and emotionally traumatic. When mom and dad fought it would just tear me to pieces. I believed they were fighting about me or I had caused the problem somehow. I am a very sensitive person and did not like to hear them yell and fight and …………… I think you get the picture. When I would get on my bike to ride around the neighborhood I could leave all of their turmoil behind me.

I continued to involve myself in activities that were athletic. My epilepsy was well-controlled though medication so to me it was not a worry. In fourth grade I tried out for cheerleading and continued to cheer through high school. I also took ballet through the Atlanta School of Ballet catching rides to get to my lessons with several worthy friends. I went on to attend The University of Georgia, graduating Magna cum Laude in Education and becoming a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority.

Even though my mother and sister told me I could never get married nor have any children–at this time it was illegal in most states for people with epilepsy to marry and/or have children–I did get married and have a beautiful daughter! (You can imagine the ignorance about epilepsy back then.)

Then in 1986 I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

I remember when my neurologist told me this diagnosis, my first question was, “Can I still work out?” Exercise always made me feel good and normal, something I never felt growing up. She hesitated for only a moment before saying, “You’re going to work out anyway, aren’t you?” I said “yes” so she told me to “go ahead. It probably won’t hurt.” In 1986 there were no medications or shots to take–nothing but prescriptions to deal with the symptoms. My first symptom was a sharp knife-like pain through my right eye. Prednisone took care of it. Then a sol-u-medrol IV treatment put me back on my feet.

I read everything I could get my hands on about multiple sclerosis. I even called the National MS Society asking them to send me their literature. In 1986 this literature was NOT optimistic. When I received and read this horrible “junk” I called the MS society and told them what they could do with their literature. Then I slammed the phone down and tore it ALL up! I was determined to learn what I needed myself.

What I read  about MS pointed at keeping three things in balance

  1. My mind through meditating and reading;
  2. My body through lots of exercise and a detoxifying, nutritionally fortifying diet;
  3. My spirit (soul) through letting go and allowing God to work his magic through me.

I now work out almost every single day.

Usually you can find me at the Sports Barn on Lee Highway in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I take lots of classes–such as power flex class, step aerobics, cardio dance, and yoga–because I enjoy them. I also work out on the Precor machines.  I played tournament racquetball for awhile but I had to give that up because when I get hot my MS flares up and I start seeing two balls or stumble around as if drunk!

Lately in the heat of the summer I’ve had to back down just to keep my MS under control. You have to know your body. Listen to it. Push yourself to get out there and work out. Meet new people. Make new friends. Find a fitness routine that works for you and DO IT! There are no excuses!! Even on my bad MS days I push myself to exercise because when I finish I feel so much better and I know my MS “monster” is back in its cave!

Being active is fun! It means getting together with some of the most wonderful women in Chattanooga who have become much more than workout buddies – they are my friends, my own little support group. (I would like to tell them Thank You!  I hope all of you know how much your kindness, love and unending support have meant to me!)

To all of you reading my story: what is your excuse if you are not working out regularly? Lack of time? Money? The old “I don’t look good enough to go to a gym” excuse?

  • Lack of Time? I taught middle school all day and still went to the gym before going home to grade papers even with MS and epilepsy;
  • Lack of Money? No, this is not a stopper. You can always find free ways to work out, or a club that can work with your budget, unless you are looking for an excuse.
  • Not looking good enough? Who is looking? We all started out somewhere!

Healing Words, by Mary Ellen Ciganovich

You can become fit – you can stay fit and you can become  R.E.A.L. – Really Enthusiastic About Life!

Sincerely with love,
Mary Ellen Ciganovich, author Healing Words, Life Lessons to Inspire

About Fun and Fit

Get practical exercise advice, your fitness questions answered, and cutting edge health edu-tainment that is accessible and doable from long time fitness experts, Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA. We have taught on land, sea, and airwaves for 3 decades on 4 continents. From writing to speaking, emceeing to hosting a radio show, reviewing products to teaching classes, we believe that little steps turn into big paths. Move a little more than the day before. FitFluential Ambassadors and award-winners both online and off.

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57 Responses to Workouts More Fun than MS and Epilepsy: Mary Ellen Ciganovich’s Inspirational Exercise Story

  1. Business and Life Coach August 5, 2011 at 6:46 am #

    What an inspiration Mary Ellen is! Thanks for sharing her story. I feel blessed that I don’t have to deal with her physical challenges and challenged to take advantage of what I so easily take for granted.
    Dr. Lynn K. Jones, Certified Personal and Executive Coach

    • Alexandra August 5, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

      We agree with you. Thank you for taking the time to recognize Mary Ellen and her determination!

    • Mary Ellen Ciganovich August 8, 2011 at 1:13 pm #

      Hi Dr. Jones,
      Thank you for taking the time to leave such a nice comment about my story. Through my book Healing Words, Life Lessons to Inspire and through my articles I am trying to inspire people all over the world to take charge of their own healing program – utilizing Doctors, prayer, natural methods, exercise – correct food choices etc…. People have to find what works with their own body,mind and spirit!
      Mary Ellen

  2. Joy August 5, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    I am a longtime friend of Mary Ellen’s and can report she is truly as beautiful inside as she is outside. I believe her dedication to exercise has made all the difference in her life. Wish we lived closer again!
    Love and hugs,
    Joy :)

  3. Quintie Petrel August 5, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    Thanks, Mary Ellen! What a great reminder for us all! You are and have always been something else! Little did we know…. Keep it coming!

    • Mary Ellen Ciganovich August 8, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

      H Quintie,
      Thanks for the comment on my article. How are you doing? keep in touch. It is always nice hearing from you!
      Mary Ellen

  4. KymberlyFunFit August 5, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    Yes, what can we say!? Quality people make their way over to Fun and Fit. And to the gym, or park, or beach, or walkways, or home DVDs!
    KymberlyFunFit recently posted..Lost a Person; Gained a Life: Shannon Hammer’s Inspirational Weight Loss StoryMy Profile

  5. Lynn August 5, 2011 at 7:18 pm #

    Great article! MaryEllen and I have been friends for almost 20 years, she is my BFF :) We have been through a lot together and I cherish her and her dedication to keeping herself healthy. She is always there to lift me up and encourage me when I am not so dedicated with my own physical challenges. She is a beautiful person inside and out, even if she can’t put lights on a Christmas tree (personal joke)…LOL…she is an inspiration to all those you know her or come to know her. Keep up the GREAT work……….Love you.

    • Alexandra August 5, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

      Thanks for commenting Lynn. We love having friends stop by. Now we are quite curious about her Christmas tree story too!

    • Mary Ellen Ciganovich August 8, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

      I will never forget the day you brought over the Christmas Tree! For everyone else —- My daughter and I were going through a time when we did not have very much money. It was Christmas time. I told Lynn that Stephanie(my daughter) and I had discussed it and we decided that we needed to eat more than we needed to buy a Christmas tree. Lynn – being the friend she is and has always been to me – surprised us by driving over with the most beautiful Christmas tree (live one) in the trunk of her car!! The only decoration it had on it that Christmas were the lights my daughter and I put on – tons and tons of lights. The problem was – at the end of Christmas when we were trying to take the tree down the lights kept getting all tangled up as we were trying to take them off of the tree. At this point in my life I was not in touch with my spiritual side – so to solve this problem I simply gave everyone a pair of scissors and told them to cut away! We would worry about more lights next year!!!!! We all laughed so hard that we were crying by the time we finished.
      That is the Christmas tree story!!!!
      Love ya Lynn,
      Mary Ellen

  6. Mikki Blaes August 6, 2011 at 8:57 am #

    Mary Ellen! Another inspiring story. I read your book and was much inspired. And you did it again today. I have NO reason not to be working out each week! Thank you very much.

    • Mary Ellen Ciganovich August 8, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

      Hi Mikki,
      Everyone has so much fun in workout class when you are there because you are always so interesting and funny! It is such a joy to know you and be your friend.
      Also if anyone needs a terrific web designer go to – Mikki did my web site and I couldn’t be more pleased!
      Thanks Mikki,
      Mary Ellen
      PS you can also like mikki designs on facebook!

  7. Melissa August 6, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    Mary Ellen, Thank you so much for your inspiring article! I have MS also. Mary Ellen has never met me, but I read an article she wrote in the paper one day and decided to call her. She took the time to talk to me and was such a blessing to me!
    Thank you for all you do. We need more people in the world willing to take the time to help and encourage others, just like you!

    • AlexandraFunFit August 8, 2011 at 7:37 am #

      Good point Mikki. We all should follow Mary Ellen’s example and make NO Excuses!
      AlexandraFunFit recently posted..“Fat and Ugly” to Fitness Model: Toneka Pires’ Inspirational Exercise StoryMy Profile

    • AlexandraFunFit August 8, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

      Wow, Melissa, good for you for picking up that phone. And from all the comments about Mary Ellen, we’d have to say that sounds just like what she’d do! It really is a small world after all, and with so many good people in it.
      AlexandraFunFit recently posted..Can’t Kickback with Kickbox Back PainMy Profile

    • Mary Ellen Ciganovich August 8, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

      Thank you so much for writing. I am glad you are doing well. Just remember YOU can deal with the MS monster – you do not have to like it – just take one day at a time – sometimes if you are like me – one moment at a time and visualize that MS monster staying in his cave with this HUGE boulder in front of the cave that is immovable!
      You have my number – call me if you need support! If you lost it go to
      God Bless,
      Mary Ellen

  8. T Castagnaro August 6, 2011 at 3:59 pm #

    Good article. I will pass it along to friends.

  9. jane Killian August 6, 2011 at 5:40 pm #

    Great Article. Everyday when I get up I think I don’t feel like going to the gym today and then I think Mary Ellen will be there so I get up and go. Mary Ellen you are such an inspiration to me and everyone who knows you. I am so blessed to call you my friend.

    • AlexandraFunFit August 8, 2011 at 7:39 am #

      Wow, Jane, what a compliment to her. Somehow I think Mary Ellen feels the same about you! Goodness surrounds itself with goodness!
      AlexandraFunFit recently posted..Back from the Brink of Death: Suzanne Andrews’ Inspirational Weight Loss StoryMy Profile

    • Mary Ellen Ciganovich August 8, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

      Thank you for your comment. I am so glad you are feeling better. You look great! Everyone is always inspired by your terrific cooking classes. Everytime I make the risotto primavera (sp?) I think of you! Keep us informed as to when your next class will be.
      See you at the club!
      Mary Ellen

  10. Stan August 6, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

    Some people make me proud to be part of the human race…Mary Ellen’s one of those people! :-)

    • AlexandraFunFit August 8, 2011 at 7:41 am #

      You are probably making Mary Ellen blush with your kindness, Stan!
      AlexandraFunFit recently posted..Train Your BrainMy Profile

    • Mary Ellen Ciganovich August 8, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

      Thank you for taking the time to write such a kind comment! I appreciate your kind words.
      Mary Ellen

  11. Melisa Smith August 6, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

    Everyone out there should follow Mary Ellen’s story, and everyone should own her book

    • AlexandraFunFit August 8, 2011 at 7:43 am #

      Hey Melisa, good point. And her book should be in everyone’s gym bag – for motivation!
      AlexandraFunFit recently posted..Exercise Doubles Your HappinessMy Profile

    • Mary Ellen Ciganovich August 8, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

      Thanks you for writing and I am so glad you like Healing Words, Life Lessons to Inspire. I appreciate you taking the time to post your comment.
      Mary Ellen Ciganovich

  12. Ellyn Gold August 6, 2011 at 7:20 pm #

    Mary Ellen…. thanks for the very inspirational and reality based story and comments. I just finished volunteering at a retreat here in Tucson for families with a child who has special needs. The physical aspects of the retreat were critical and positive for the emotions of the children and families as well as their education about they must carry out their lives all the time. Included were swimming, equine therapy, hoola hoops and games as well as small motor activities. The doctors and therapists who attended would find your story a piece that should be read by all. You are right on. keep up the good work and continue to spread the word.
    Thanks.Ellyn Gold, Ph.D.

    • Mary Ellen Ciganovich August 8, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

      Thank you for your lovely comment. I would welcome the opportunity to speak and work with the groups you mentioned. If you ever need me just go through my web site at . I apppreciate you taking your time to write such a lovely comment.
      Mary Ellen Ciganovich

  13. Nancy Huston August 6, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

    Mary Ellen inspires all who meet her and know her. She is my friend and I treasure her. She is a woman of faith, integrity,compassion, courage and perseverance. Healing Words is a powerful book and I would recommend it highly.
    You are dearly loved,

    • Mary Ellen Ciganovich August 8, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

      This is such an honor coming from a lady I respect and admire very much! You are the best!
      Thanks Nancy.
      Sincerely with Love,
      Mary Ellen

  14. Bill Korda August 7, 2011 at 8:55 am #

    I found Mary Ellen’s article informative and inspirational. Her approach to life as well as her physical challenges are very logical. The article inspired me to become more serious about my own exercise routine. Thanks for sharing your experiences Mary Ellen.

    • Mary Ellen Ciganovich August 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

      The next time I see you and Mary Lou we are all going to go on a long walk or bike ride together. I am so glad you are beginning to workout again. It is so important to have fun while we exercise. I am proud of you!
      Mary Ellen

  15. jan lively August 7, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    As always, Mary Ellen’s article is informative and very uplifting. Everyone should aspire to live life as she does and know they are truly blessed.

    • Mary Ellen Ciganovich August 8, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

      Thank you for taking the time to comment on my article. I know how busy you are with your exercise routine and your dance school.
      See you at the club!
      Love ya,
      Mary Ellen

  16. Judy August 7, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

    What an inspirational woman! I’m glad to see that Mary Ellen took matters into her own hand and determined her own course of action!
    Judy recently posted..How To Prepare Your Garden For FallMy Profile

    • Mary Ellen Ciganovich August 8, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

      Hi Judy,
      Thanks for your comment and I am going to look at “how to prepare your garden for fall”. That looks interesting. Thanks so much for sharing!
      Mary Ellen

  17. kay August 8, 2011 at 7:17 am #

    Thank you, Mary Ellen,

    We absolutely believe in your determination. We pray that God will give you complete healing.

    • Mary Ellen Ciganovich August 8, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

      Thank you for your prayers. I KNOW how important the power of prayer is because God has always been with me. The Lord has been such a powerful force for good in my life.
      Sincerely with love,
      Mary Ellen Ciganovich

  18. Laurie Goodrich August 8, 2011 at 8:45 am #

    thank you Mary Ellen, you are always an inspiration. Craig just started an excercise program about 6 weeks ago and is noticing how much better he feels stretching and moving. He has always been active with work and projects, but specifically stretching muscles and focusing on breathing and adding a little cardio (and watching diet/ nutrition) has made a big difference just in a short period. I hope he will see a big difference in his fibromyalgia/ myofacial pain symptoms over time. I would add to your title…excercise is more fun than fibromyalgia too!

    • Mary Ellen Ciganovich August 8, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

      Thank you for taking the time to comment on my article.
      Tell Craig to keep working out – even on the days when he feels bad, I find that if I push myself to workout – I feel SO much better when I finish because your mind is telling your body ,”YOU ARE HEALTHY YOU ARE GETTING BETTER!”
      You have my number and e mail so call me if you have any questions.
      Thanks again,
      Mary Ellen

  19. Cheryl August 8, 2011 at 7:01 pm #

    Mary Ellen, thank you for sharing yourself and you life lessons! Loved the article and have learned from your example how important exercise is for good physical and mental health! I am one of many who have been blessed to have you as a friend! Keep on writing! Your articles and especially your book have inspired me to press on to be my personal best on good days and challenging days!!
    Love you girlfriend!!

    • Mary Ellen Ciganovich August 9, 2011 at 11:00 am #

      Cheryl, you are making the world a better place by gently caring for the babies in T.J. Thompson’s Neo-natal Intensive care unit! I am so proud to have you as one of my dearest friends! The babies/infants you care for get a real boost of love from you as they come into this world.
      May all of this love pass down to you and your family!
      See you soon!
      Love to you always,
      Mary Ellen

  20. Roxane August 9, 2011 at 7:20 am #

    Hi Mary Ellen, thank you for sharing your inspirational article. it gives us all strength and determiniation to work through our challenges. You are a blessing to all of your friends and family and a beautiful person inside and out.

    lots of love to you!

    • Mary Ellen Ciganovich August 9, 2011 at 11:03 am #

      Thank you for taking the time to leave such a caring comment about my article. I cherish this comment because it comes from such a truly good and beautiful person.
      Love to you!
      Mary Ellen

  21. Angie Van Sickle August 10, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    Mary Ellen is the most positve and motivational person that I have ever met. I read her book and LOVED IT! She is a wonderful friend and great workout buddy. I have learned alot from her. Thanks Mary Ellen!


    • Mary Ellen Ciganovich August 17, 2011 at 6:04 am #

      Thank you for always being the truly kind and caring lady that you are – You are the definition of being a lady while still working out and enjoying life.
      See you at the club!
      Mary Ellen

  22. Randy Sherow August 12, 2011 at 8:18 pm #

    While we all have burdens to carry through life, you’ve proven yourself to be a glutten for punishment. In addition to the challenges of your MS and epilepsy, you chose to marry Pete. Even though that added insult to injury, you’ve obviously found the strength, grace and courage to take on, and conquer, all of those difficulties. I truly admire and appreciate your accomplishments.You go, girl and give my best to your old broken down ballplayer.

  23. Isabelle Idler August 12, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

    Mary Ellen is such an inspiration! The challenges that she has been through make me appreciate the things that I am capable of doing. More power to you.
    Isabelle Idler recently posted..Xactimate Estimates and Estimating ServicesMy Profile

  24. Deborah Turton August 16, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

    What a wonderful and inspiring post!! Thank you ‘Fun & Fit’ ~ my first introduction to you Mary Ellen, WOW!! Looking forward to more of your positivity splashing over me :)
    Deborah Turton recently posted..Putting It All On The Table!My Profile

  25. Miriam August 18, 2011 at 12:28 am #

    Wow-I really admire your determination. It is truly inspiring.

    I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was 16, but I can recall symptoms from as far back as before I started kindergarten. Now I’m 33, and my epilepsy is well controlled with medication. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful husband and four children, who ARE my workout! The thing that drew me to this site though, was your story-because it struck me as shockingly similar to mine. I have lived for years hardly needing to give a thought to my epilepsy, but lately I have become concerned about other neurological symptoms that don’t seem to be completely explained by epilepsy alone, which has me terribly worried that I might also have ms. Reading your story has really helped me feel motivated to fond the guts to finally go to the doctor and get checked out.

    Thanks for listening :)

  26. Nita Burris December 4, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    I feel blessed that I don’t have to deal with her physical challenges and challenged to take advantage of what I so easily take for granted. I am so proud to have you as one of my dearest friends!
    Nita Burris recently posted..Arthritis TipsMy Profile

  27. Aimee David December 8, 2011 at 7:17 am #

    I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was 16, but I can recall symptoms from as far back as before I started kindergarten. Thanks Nancy. We need more people in the world willing to take the time to help and encourage others, just like you!
    Aimee David recently posted..Cancer Tattoos TumblrMy Profile


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