Alicia Beckman, 37, of Hood River was energized by a medical scare in 2009 to change her lifestyle and, in the process, found her purpose.
“I was made for this — I love people, I love making them laugh,” said the Zumba instructor who has lost 100 pounds and is enthusiastic about the future.
“It’s the choices we’re making right now when we are stronger that stay with us,” she said.
Five years ago, Beckman, the mother of two, went in for a routine eye exam and was told by a doctor that there was “significant” pressure on her optic nerve, which transmits visual information from the retina to the brain.
Fearing that a tumor could lie behind the problem, Beckman arranged for an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and went to see a neurologist.
She was deeply relieved to learn there was no tumor but dismayed that no one could give her an explanation of exactly what was going on in her body. Or reassurance that her vision wouldn’t be adversely affected.
She had been adopted as a child and her birth records sealed so she did not know if her genetic makeup was tied to the problem.
“I was told that I could have exploratory brain surgery or a spinal tap, both of which were going to be very painful and expensive, or that I might try to eat better and get more exercise because that could make a difference,” said Beckman.
She approached the medical crisis with determination and immediately began walking three miles a day.
“It put the fear of God in me,” said Beckman. “I dropped my pre-school son off that day and took off on a walk.”
She dropped 12 pounds in the first two weeks of walking and the pounds continued to come off with exercise, even though she wasn’t sticking to a regimented diet plan.
“I ate lots of vegetables and fruit and I didn’t skip a day of walking — even when I wasn’t feeling good,” she said. “I had to make progress because I knew it was important.
Along the way, Beckman began to see her heart as a “beloved pet” that needed to be exercised and nurtured.
“I started to become friends with my heart and take it for a walk every day,” she said.
Six months later, her optic nerve was back to normal and Beckman was hooked on movement.
She found her way into a Zumba fitness class in Hood River that she described as “love at first sight.”
“I couldn’t wait for the next class — I love dancing,” she said. “I am a totally different person in my body than I was. I always loved who I was but now I celebrate what I can do.”
Eventually, Beckman decided to train as an instructor and today she is dancing for a living.
“There are no wrong steps in Zumba, it’s truly designed for everybody,” she said. “It’s just emotionally and mentally freeing to do something and not care what anybody thinks,” she said.
Beckman has also begun working out to build her strength and was recently able to join husband Levi on a seven-mile run with no advance training.
“People should take any class, or get involved in any activity, that makes them smile — that’s good for their health, too,” she said. “Don’t get hung upon weight loss as a goal, just move and love yourself, love your heart.”
Beckman applauds programs such as “Go Red for Women’s Heart Health,” put on each year by Mid-Columbia Medical Center, North Central Public Health District and Water’s Edge. “Women like to plan good things, we love to celebrate,” she said. “Taking care of your body is something to celebrate, it’s something you can feel good about. When your heart gets strong, you can do anything — really, truly.”