Survival of the fittest: Breast cancer survivor leads Concord boot camp

  • Renee Plodzik’s offspring – beyond her three children – is a boot camp she runs each Sunday morning at Memorial Field in Concord throughout the summer. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Renee Plodzik encourages participants as they go over an obstacle course during boot camp at Memorial Field in Concord on Sunday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Renee Plodzik jumps over the obstacle wall at the boot camp she runs each Sunday through the summer at Memorial Field on August 19, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Renee Plodzik (left) encourages participants as they go over an obstacle during boot camp at Memorial Field in Concord on Sunday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Renee Plodzik encourages others as they go over the obstacle course at the boot camp at Memorial Field in Concord on Sunday, August 19, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Renee Plodzik encourages others as they go over the obstacle course at the boot camp at Memorial Field in Concord on Sunday, August 19, 2018. Plodzik helps Kate Fox lift up the truck tire. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Renee Plodzik encourages others as they go over the obstacle course at the boot camp at Memorial Field in Concord on Sunday, August 19, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Renee Plodzik encourages others as they go over the obstacle course at the boot camp at Memorial Field in Concord on Sunday, August 19, 2018. Plodzik gets a photo taken with Alexis Lucas after she finished the course. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Renee Plodzik encourages others as they go over the obstacle course at the boot camp at Memorial Field in Concord on Sunday, August 19, 2018. Plodzik hugs Ella Connor, 5, who was helping her mother hand out water to the contestants in the boot camp. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Christine Anderson with her daughter Molly, 11, at the boot camp at Memorial Field in Concord on Sunday, August 19, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 8/21/2018 3:19:00 PM

Renee Plodzikdidn’t have much time to chat Sunday morning at Memorial Field.

Not while she was the leader of 150 early risers, the commander-in-chief at this field, alive with energy and movement and sweat. Distraction came easily as her eyes wandered over wide stretches of grass.

With sunglasses and hands on hips, she carved out a Douglas MacArthur-like figure, minus the corncob pipe, examining the troops, shouting encouragement, pushing people to be the best they could be.

Once, Plodzik, a nurse practitioner in Concord, had breast cancer. Once, she wondered if she’d heard the doctor correctly, wondered about test results that seemed to take forever to come back, wondered about her future.

Now, four years later, Plodzik’s offspring – beyond her three children – is a boot camp she runs each Sunday through the summer. If you’re a cancer survivor looking to rehab your body as well as your mind, stop by. That’s the fuel that got this project moving, a fitness center run by a cancer survivor for cancer survivors.

 Plodzik is no snob, though. If your toes have disappeared beneath your waistline, come on over. If your kids need to get out of the house, away from those darn video games, bring them too.

“I just wanted to have a fitness program for any age and ability,” Plodzik explained. “I wanted to bring children outside and teach them what they can do in the playground.”

As for the intensity, Plodzik pointed to tractor-sized treads, “Those are heavy-ass tires, let me tell you.”

And this was a heavy-ass workout. This day was a special version of Plodzik’s project, a triple challenge with biking and running phases added to the usual boot camp. That meant five times the usual turnout for her camp, which needed 30 volunteers.

But a taste of the normal boot camp routine came through loud and clear, with grunts needed to pull a 50-pound sled, and flip a 200-pound tire, and scale a four-foot wall, and wave long thick ropes up and down, and do walking knee lunges while carrying a 10-pound medicine ball, and pedaling your feet in the air while on your back, your hands clasped behind your head.

Each participant moved from station to station, creating a conveyor belt of cardio and muscle toning and digging deep as AC/DC and Taylor Swift blasted through speakers.

Plodzik has five committee members this summer – Tara Belanger, Mia Callahan, Jenn Doherty, Rick Saunders, Shannon Boudreau – who help her manage what has grown to about 30 boot campers each Sunday.

They help organize and collect donations, funneling all of it to wellness and fitness programs for Concord Hospital Payson Center cancer survivors. The triple challenge raised about $7,000.

For Callahan, of Concord, this is her second summer on the committee. She had heard about Plodzik’s program through word of mouth.

She called Plodzik, “inspirational.”

“It’s great to see people coming together for a fundraiser like this,” she said.

Belanger is part of the regular Sunday routine, and this is her first summer doing it. She looked at Plodzik and said, “Amazing. A great role model for the community. After treatment, maybe you don’t have the funds to get back into shape. You can come here.”

Kerin O’Brien of Londonderry was there, working those long, thick battle ropes, alternately waving each arm up and down, trying to control what looked like two braids on a giant Oktoberfest barmaid.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 31, during a routine examination. She waited for the test results for about a week, a time frame she called “excruciating.”

She endured 16 rounds of chemotherapy, 30 rounds of radiation and two surgeries. Now, she’s been cancer free for 1 ½ years.

Amanda Moulton found Plodzik’s workout after fighting cancer, telling me, “I went for support and she was awesome. She answered all my questions. Renee makes it easier.”

Lynne Scheingold, a social worker in Manchester, is one of Plodzik’s closest friends. They met at Gold’s Gym in Manchester 15 years ago. She’s been part of Plodzik’s Sunday routines from the start, and now their workouts have taken on a different feel. These exercises are for them.

And others, too.

“She’s dedicated all her time to cancer survivors,” Scheingold said. “She was so brave and so strong. It helps to re-establish a healthy lifestyle.”

Christine Anderson of Concord, a 41-year-old stay-at-home mom, had breast cancer and, beginning in her teens, always knew it might be in the cards.

Her great-grandmother died from it. Her great aunt did, too, at age 35. Her mother had it, and in fact Anderson helped her mom pick out a wig after treatment had caused her hair to fall out.

Anderson was diagnosed three years ago, after her second mammogram, needed at a young age because of her family history. She came through it well after weeks of radiation, from a machine that her 11-year-old daughter, Molly, said looked like something out of Star Wars.

Anderson joined boot camp without knowing anything about Plodzik’s past illness. She said it added meaning to the program, telling me, “I feel I can relate to her. I don’t know where this woman gets her energy.”

At that moment, Plodzik’s husband, Jay, walked over to us and pointed toward all those people pulling tires and dragging sleds and doing weird things with ropes.

“She had the vision of what it would be like,” Jay said. “And this is it.”


Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.



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