Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. Roy Cohen has quietly slipped into town and become an asset to the Nederland Community Center Fitness Place. Bringing with him three decades of fitness training, he says he wants to create a niche for himself in the community as well as increase the membership of the facility.
He bends over on one of the machines, hips in the air, his head touching the ground, his hands crossed on his chest, as he uses his lower back and abdominal muscles to bring his upper body back up. It looks like a difficult move, but it also seems as if the stretching of the hamstrings and the pull of the abs feels good.
“This is one of the most important exercises for lower back and core strength, ” says Cohen, who is an advocate of strength training as the basis of a healthy body. Cohen has recently moved to Nederland but has known of and visited the town for many years. There is nowhere else he would rather be right now.
Born in Massachusetts, Roy and his brother Mark, a Nederland attorney, came to Colorado when they were young. His dad was a businessman who wanted his boys to grow up skiing, hiking, and camping. The Cohens lived in Denver but visited the Nederland area often.
When Cohen was 15, his parents divorced and went their separate ways and Cohen did not want to go with either of them. His Dad went East and his Mom went to work with the Indian Health Service.
Cohen chose to stay in the area, emancipating himself, living on his own. He earned a GED, found small jobs. When he was 12 years old he first wrapped his fingers around a barbell, which became the gateway to his ultimate drug of choice, exercise: weight lifting, running, cycling.
At the age of 18, Boulder, athlete’s mecca, called to him. His brother Mark was in college and Roy felt like he didn’t know what to do next, so he did what he knew. It was 1980 and a workout renaissance was taking place in Boulder. “If you were strong and willing to work for $2.65 an hour, and a people person, you had a job.”
He became gym manager with Nautilus, and in doing so became aware of alternate ways of life. Cohen believed in a minimalist lifestyle and was doing well. He decided to go to college and enrolled at Mesa State in Grand Junction, but soon dropped out, married, had a child, and joined the Coast Guard. The family lived in the Gulf Coast until he was told he was being sent to Alaska. It was a good time to leave the Coast Guard.
Cohen ended up back in Colorado, settling in Golden, and then bouncing around. But he did one bounce too many. In 1993, he and his brother Mark decided to go sky diving for his 31st birthday. They planned to jump over Weeping Water, Nebraska. Mark went first and all was well. Roy hurled himself into the sky. His parachute malfunctioned and he was in an out-of-control spin.
“I rode it out, landed in a field of mud and ended up with a spinal injury. It took a few years to get my body physicality back.”
While he worked on recovery, he was employed as a salesman in the computer industry. His L-1 vertebrae had been shattered and there were bone fragments to the spinal cord. Doctors recommend fusion surgery. Cohen decided the pieces would fuse themselves and began his own rehabilitation process.
“Now, at 53 years old, I am in the best shape of my life,” he says. “The weight room is how I go back to health.”
In 1999, at 4 a.m. one winter morning, Cohen was shoveling his driveway getting ready to go to work, when he suddenly decided he was through with the cold. He headed south to Fallbrook, California, near San Diego and was soon running a gym and fitness training center. Life was good. He was doing what he loved.
Last May, Roy came to Colorado, to Westminster to visit his mother, and realized that he needed to be with her, to care for her. He worked for the Cherry Creek Recreation Club, a huge facility, and soon was being interviewed to become director of sales.
He looked around at the congested traffic, the suits and ties and the BMWs and decided he couldn’t do it. He got on the Internet looking for something he could live with. One of the places he contacted was the Fitness Center in Nederland, saying he could help build up the clientele, run a training center. That was in July.
“Dawn emailed me back and said to come up.”
When Mark and Roy Cohen were young, their dad would take them to Eldora to ski. It was a time of no lift lines, no crowds. Roy had often visited Mark and knew Nederland was the sort of place he wanted to be. He rented a room and was back in the fitness training business.
Dawn Baumhover, the Nederland Community Center Coordinator, says, “He is a fantastic asset to the Fitness Place. We are fortunate to have him as a resource at the facility.”
Cohen has already found some clients among the senior population in Nederland. He says many balance issues can be remedied with functional fitness: weight training to do things better.
He says weight training is the most prescribed training regimen for seniors, that the value is in joint support, bone density, and blood pressure. This is good medicine, he says.
Cohen is passionate about what he does and says “This life in Nederland fits me like a glove. I know the universe was at work in bringing me here. At the age of 16 I watched Jack LaLanne and knew he was to be the Beatles of exercise. I have become a good garage band at exercise. I can make a living not controlled by labels.”
Cohen describes exercise as a life skill. Everyday movements, such as getting in and out of a car, is strength training, depending on distributing weight properly and avoiding tweaking muscles and joints. It is a way of paying attention to your body, of concentrating on using it correctly.
On Tuesday, November 4, at 11 a.m. Cohen will give a presentation on Debunking Common Exercise and Strength Myths at the Nederland Community Center.