The light bulb went off for Peter Menges when his son Bobby suffered a serious fracture while skiing. The seasoned father of four was shocked at how badly his son was injured.
“Kids fall and they typically bounce right back,” shared Menges. “This was a brutal fracture.”
Menges began to piece together why the injury was so significant and his discovery laid the groundwork for “Back In The Game,” an innovative strength and fitness program designed to help former pediatric cancer patients regain strength, balance, flexibility and confidence.
When Bobby was 5 years old he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, the most common extracranial cancer in infancy and childhood. The fracture occurred nearly three years later proving how taxing cancer treatments can be on a child’s body.
Menges consulted with orthopedic doctors and physical therapists who confirmed that treatments can leave children physically exhausted, making it difficult for them to go back to doing what they do best - participating in sports, running around and just being a kid.
“I just felt that there was a huge need for some type of program, especially when I discovered that physical therapy for recovering cancer patients was not typically covered by insurance,” said Menges. “The pediatric oncologists, therapists and doctors that I spoke to all embraced the idea. Garden City’s Professional Athletic Performance Center took the concept and ran with it. It really is a collaborative initiative.”
Menges developed a team including assistance from Dr. Mark Weinblatt, MD, chief, Division of Pediatric Oncology, and medical director at Winthrop’s Cancer Center for Kids, where Bobby was being treated, to develop the program.
In its sixth year, the program has helped over 100 children. The regimen consists of twice weekly sessions that focus on agility, dexterity and speed training. Sessions are held at The Professional Athletic Performance Center. All participants are cleared by their oncologist prior to training. Each child is seen by a licensed physical therapist for a fitness evaluation prior to participation.
Paul Fick, a certified athletic trainer/strength conditioning specialist, has found running the program to be quite rewarding.
“I had never worked with a special population before,” said Fick. “I really hit the books. Our focus is to help the kids rebuild muscle. We’ve developed drills that hone in on running, hand eye coordination, balance and agility. We do tailor many aspects of the program based on the children’s individual needs.”
Fick has found that despite the gravity of facing their illness, the kids just want to have fun. “The added benefit of the program is that the kids end up creating their own support group,” shared Fick. “They will ask each other questions about their treatments and open up with each other.”
The program is free and open to any pediatric cancer patient, regardless of where they are being treated. Children ages 4-18 have participated in the program and have come from all areas of Long Island and New York City.
Patty Quinn, whose son Matthew participated in the program, found it to be quite helpful.
“It’s a great program,” noted Quinn. “When a child is sick, they’re not using their muscles so this is a fun way for them to get back out there. The kids are kept busy with all kinds of agility training with activities ranging from football, sprints, jumping jacks, sit-ups and more. The kids really enjoy it.”
The program is funded by the The Miracle Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Garden City resident Patti Tenaglia and her late husband, Michael.
Menges resides in Garden City with his wife, Liz, and their four children. Liz is also an ardent volunteer and was Winthrop-University Hospital's 2004 Auxilian of the Year.
When Menges is asked how he could conjure such an innovative and successful program during a very difficult time in his life he said that was the easy part.
“I knew there was an opportunity to do something to turn a negative into a positive,” replied Menges. “A more formalized approach was needed to help these kids regain the coordination, strength and confidence needed to go back to their every day job of being a kid.”
For more information on “Back In The Game" visit www.professionalperformance.net or call Paul Fick at 516-794-3278. Peter Menges can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.