Part 2/3: Lisa Cartolano “I Didn’t Come This Far to Only Come This Far”
Not all fitness transformations are visible from the outside. THE MAX Challenge members can attest that some of the most important changes happen on the inside. Whether that be an improvement in mental health, the wellbeing of one’s day to day life, or biological changes that result in the reduction of medication; it all matters. Lisa Cartolano, owner of THE MAX Challenge of Arthur Kill in Staten Island, NY has lived through an incredibly impressive journey. Her results radiate from the inside out.
When I began to speak with Lisa about her experience over the past year, I immediately admired her passionate energy and tenacity. Lisa started as a member at THE MAX Challenge 6 years ago and not only did she lose 100 pounds, she became a MAX instructor after only 1 year of joining the program! Lisa inspired and taught members as an instructor for 4 years and on January 23rd, 2020 she became the owner of the place that changed her life. While this was a dream come true for Lisa, “The Black Hole” of 2020 loomed on the horizon.
Before the madness began to unfold, Lisa had already started taking precautions for her members due to the severity of the flu season. “We updated our cleaning procedures in January with the rise in flu cases, using hospital grade cleaning stuff. We knew something was not right. Little did we know we were going to be sitting here on Zoom a year later,” she says. When March of 2020 arrived and COVID became a real threat in our lives, Lisa acted fast. For the safety of her members, she announced on Facebook that they would be closing the center to the public and conducting classes via Zoom. Shortly after, THE MAX Challenge Corporate Office made the decision to switch all of their center’s classes to a virtual format. For Lisa, the first thing on her mind is always the safety of her members, “These people are my people, they’re my friends. A lot of my members started together on the mat with me. If something happened to one of them and I didn’t do the right thing, it would have knocked me for a loop.”
Lisa is the embodiment of “Living life TO THE MAX!” She made the decision right away to quarantine with her lead instructor, Nancy, in order to provide her members with a sense of “home”. Thus began an adventure. “In the beginning with our virtual classes, there was a lot of joking around and laughter. It became something that people looked forward to because it was the only familiar thing left,” says Lisa smiling. She always lights up when she speaks about her members. As the quarantine continued and the weather improved, Lisa organized socially distanced outdoor workouts in the parking lot of her center. “I would take all the equipment out to the parking lot. I would put ropes underneath truck tires. Everything came out. I would say ‘class trip’ and that meant that everybody had to run laps around the building.” She grins as she remembers some of the antics of her members. “One member would come with water and spritz everyone in the hot weather. Even though we were going through hell, we made great memories. I couldn’t have done it without them. It’s us together, that’s how we’ve gotten through.”
Lisa’s passion for each and every one of her members is undeniable. I ask her if there were any particular stories that impacted her during this time. Lisa shakes her head and tells me that each member has a story, and their story is important. “It’s so hard to choose!” She says. She tells me about one member who hasn’t missed a single day throughout the Challenge. “She’s teasing me about what kind of perfect attendance award she’s gonna get!” Lisa jokes. Then she becomes serious. “There is someone who stands out. I had one woman come with her husband and her best friend in the middle of the summer while we were in the parking lot. She has health issues, and she was a little unsteady on her feet. She was doing a squat and she tumbled over. She wasn’t injured, and two of my trainers were right there to help her. You may think when you walk into a center that people are wondering what you’re doing here. It’s not like that at THE MAX. Everybody is supporting you. Everyone was already supporting her.” Later the woman calls Lisa on the phone. “We’re joining!” she tells Lisa. “I was shocked,” Lisa remembers. “I told her you stuck that out to the end, and you should be so proud of yourself. Anybody else would have said this isn’t for me and went home.” Then, the woman tells Lisa something that I will never forget. “Regardless of how far I can go physically, no matter what happens I’ll always be in better shape than when I came in the first time. THE MAX is only going to help me. I didn’t realize how much I needed it until today.” That was in June of 2020; she is still a member.
Lisa is an incredible asset to THE MAX Community because she has been a part of it at every level; she can empathize with members’ struggles. “When I started at THE MAX I couldn’t even do a jumping jack!” she says. Lisa is a fighter and a force to be reckoned with in both fitness and business. She continues to persevere, holding on to a strong base of members and working hard to make sure that everything is clean and safe for her members. “I didn’t come this far to only come this far.” Lisa smirks.
UPDATE: As of March 22nd, 2021, THE MAX Challenge locations in NYC have been approved to open. I asked Lisa what she was feeling after this announcement and she said the following: “It seems almost surreal after all this time. So many emotions! I am so happy for all of us here in NYC especially Roseann, Debra and I … this has been such a long hard year as owners with many sleepless nights. At the same time, I am so excited to get back to doing what I love to do; helping people become healthier and watching them change their lives. We still have a long road ahead of us to get back to 100% capacity and we really need to continue to fight alongside the United States Fitness Coalition to become essential services. Now more than ever, people need to make their health a top priority and we need to be able to be there for them every step of the way. It is a long overdue step forward and I pray the worst is behind us.”