Many miles begin with one step

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First Posted: 9/22/2014

“Though she be but little, she is fierce.” — William Shakespeare

Denise Cunningham embodies this quote. During a recent fundraiser, “The Ultimate Tire Challenge,” the tire was bigger than her. Looks can be deceiving though. Cunningham’s determination and passion tackles anything that dares stand in her way.

Cunningham is the general manager and a personal trainer with Leverage Fitness Studio in Forty Fort — a job she describes as “the path she is supposed to be on.”

“I can work a 14-hour day and go to bed with a smile on my face,” Denise said. This has not always been the case in her life.

She was an accountant, working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at a desk and weighing 230 pounds. Tim Hlivia,owner of Leverage, was her personal trainer and the one who helped Denise discover her passion for fitness and living a healthy lifestyle.

“I went to work one day and told them ‘this is it.’ Everyone thought I was crazy, but I have never been happier,” Denise said. “I know this is what I am supposed to be doing with my life.”

Since her life changing decision, Cunningham has lost 70 pounds in a six month period. There is no end in sight. She is just determined to live a healthy life doing what she loves.

“The Ultimate Tire Challenge,” held last weekend, was a way to raise money for Ryan’s Run. Ryan’s Run is an awareness and fundraising campaign led by WNEP TV’s Ryan Leckey and Allied Services that started in 2010. Ryan and area athletes compete in the New York City marathon to raise money for children and adults with disabilities. Cunningham is a team member and will be running in the marathon on Nov.2 . She is to raise $3,000 for Allied Services or come up with the difference.

“It seems like so much money but people are amazing,” Cunningham said. “I haven’t even asked anyone to come watch me run because I feel like they have given so much already. I don’t want to ask for too much.”

Her humbleness and pure excitement to help others is what makes Cunningham’s cause a worthy one.

She isn’t running for first place. She is crossing the finish line because someone else can’t.

A client at Leverage, Sara Michaels, came to Cunningham to tell her about the run and asked Cunningham is she thought she (Michaels) could do it. Michaels’ has multiple sclerosis. Cunningham said she could do anything she put her mind to, so Michaels took on the challenge. However, things changed for Michaels, and she made the difficult but brave decision to withdraw from the race. Still, Cunningham couldn’t get the voice in her head to quiet down: she needed to cross that finish line for Michaels.

“She is my inspiration. She is amazing,” Cunningham said. “When she first came to me I told her I would be her running partner and then when she had to withdraw, I knew I had to continue to run. She is so brave and so determined, there is no reason I shouldn’t try to be like her.”

Cunningham is running on behalf of Michaels, who wears a Bioness brace on her upper and lower leg to send electrodes to her nervous system, to help her mobilize. If the brace breaks, Michaels has to wait for a representative to come and analyze the brace and then repair it. This could be the next day or the next week, it is on the representatives’ time. Cunningham is raising money to help offset the cost of necessary repairs to braces at the Wilkes-Barre Allied Services.

Cunningham is holding fundraisers, such as last weekend’s “Ultimate Tire Challenge” to help raise the money. She is also hosting “Ryan’s Run Loves Louie,” from 6 to 9:30 p.m., Oct. 4, at Bar Louie in the Mohegan Sun Casino, 1280 Highway 315, Wilkes-Barre. Fliers will be passed out prior to the event and if you come in with the flier, 20 percent of your purchase will go to the team.

The last fundraiser before the big race is at 7 p.m., on Oct. 15, at Leverage Fitness Studio. It is called “Vino and Vinyasa” or wine and yoga. It will be an hour of yoga followed by a wine tasting. Admission is $20 and it is sponsored by Nawrocki Imports and iGourmet.

Cunningham is up to 20 miles in her training and looking forward to the race. She is just excited to be part of the event and to be running for great charity.

“It is great to be invited to be on such a wonderful team of people,” Cunningham said. “It is wonderful to know that everyone is trying so hard to raise money for others. It is easy to see how people come back year after year.”

If you are unable to attend an event but want to donate on behalf of Denise you can go to: The team wants to raise $1 million for Allied Services to help children and adults with disabilities.