Local Heroes

Local Heroes

This month’s local hero is Laurie Mazzarella, who came back from being almost dead!

Laurie was my first local hero when I released this website a decade ago.

A fellow yoga teacher, I acknowledged her courage and compassion, after surviving breast cancer and using that experience to teach yoga to other cancer patients and people who struggled with chronic illness such as fibromyalgia. 

There is a new and more amazing chapter in Laurie’s life, due to a terrifying diagnosis of stage four of a rare and aggressive uterine cancer. This, on top of a diagnosis for Elher’s Danlos, a disease that causes lack of stability in the joints, something that led to many rotator cuff injuries.

Laurie was literally a “dead woman walking.” She had a surgical procedure that removed many of her internal organs. The surgical report says there were thousands of implants (metastases) and tumors on her belly, making some of her organs unrecognizable. Her life was saved because of a great surgeon who could not have operated on her had she not taken care of her health as a yoga and aerobics instructor for most of her life.

During the quarantine, I started training Laurie online. Most of her muscles had completely atrophied and she could do very little without pain. We had to be very patient and work slowly and methodically because of her condition. There were days when she was in a lot of pain and days when she felt very good. But Laurie never gave up and now she is able to walk many miles, do squats, ride the stationary bike, stand on one leg and do many things she could not do without pain when we first started. Because were training remotely, I couldn’t touch her or adjust her. It was challenging but so worth it.

I can’t tell you enough what a miracle Laurie is and how inspired I am by her resurrection back to life. We truly believe that it is her will to live and her indomitable spirit that has kept her alive and out of the hospital. She said, “3.5 years after the surgery, I am able to begin again at the end and all because of good diet, nutrition and mental health practices.”

Laurie is back, and she wants to help other cancer patients as a late stage cancer coach. Not only is she not afraid to fight cancer. She has the courage to tell her story and help others along the way. If you are struggling with late stage cancer and would like support, you can contact Laurie at:



This months local hero is Angie Peiris!

Angie was recovering from two back surgeries due to three very herniated discs.
She hired me on as her physical therapist after trying other avenues through her insurance company that she didn’t think were helping as well.
After an initial assessment, I learned that Angie had injured her back a number of times, and it was usually from improper lifting of an object. So, on top of Pilates and corrective exercises to strengthen her back and correct muscular/skeletal imbalances, I made sure that she learned functional movements so she would not injure her back during day to day activities.
Angie was living in a lot of pain in her back and hips. After one of her surgeries, that pain and numbness traveled down to her feet. She was on a daily dose of pain reliving and anti-inflammatory drugs. Without these drugs, she would be in excruciating pain and would not be able to sleep.
Starting a program, was not easy. We had to go very slow in the beginning as her back was extremely weak.
But Angie had complete faith in me and my methods. She never skipped a session unless she was out of town, even though she has an important job as a school administrator. Due to her conviction, she is stronger than ever. Her surgeon told her not to lift more than 5 pounds. Now she can lift at least 20 pounds in her regular workouts with me. She knows how to move in a way that does not aggravate her back due to the functional training. She can lift heavy weights without hurting herself due to learning proper form and correcting some postural misalignment with corrective exercise. Her back and abdominals are stronger and more stable than ever due to the Pilates. She is now pain free and off the meds.
This past week, Angie went to her one year check up with her back surgeon and he told her that she made his day, that she was stronger than most of his patients and that people like her are the reason he does what he does. He said many people think that surgery is all they have to do, but living pain free is a lifestyle of keeping up one’s physical therapy and fitness.
Angie is truly a walking miracle, but her amazing recovery is mostly due to her strong priorities and dedication.

This month’s local hero is Sukhmani Dhaliwal! Sukhmani took a couple of months off from the rigors of medical school and instead of letting herself go, she used this time to get in shape and work on her health. After training with me for two months in the summer, she lost ten pounds and achieved many fitness goals. I also learned that Sukhmani is in the military. Even though she has been going through the rigors of rotations and working in hospitals, she has managed to keep up her fitness since she trained with me in the summer. She will be in residency as a medical student while training in the military and will be back in Navy boot camp in February. I’m in awe at what this amazing woman has achieved, in health, fitness, academics, saving lives and as a soldier for our country. Sukhmani is a true hero and role model for us all.



This month’s local hero is Norma Derr!

Norma came to me with pain from past trauma such as an old rotator cuff injury, lingering nerve damage from surgery she had on her thigh muscle and past knee trauma (a torn meniscus). She also had a fear of losing her balance.

After training for me for a few months, she is free from knee pain while squatting and walking, free from shoulder pain and she can get up from the floor pretty quickly when it used to be a big production. She can now do push ups on the floor and has overcome her fear of going down stairs, but the truly amazing thing is that she has quit smoking and has picked up martial arts training!

Teaching Norma martial arts has been an amazing experience as I’ve seen her go from only being able to kick shin height to being able to kick waist height. She first came to me with a fear of balance and now she can kick, shuffle, punch, block and maneuver herself like an athlete.

I almost forgot to mention that Norma is turning 75 years old this year. What a great way to head off a knew milestone in her life, smoke free and taking on a new sport!
Norma says that learning martial arts is the greatest workout she ever got. She didn’t realize how much goes into it but it has given her a new excitement for fitness because she was getting bored with the same old routine. Thank you, Norma, for your spunk and dedication to fitness!


This month’s local hero is Robert Broderson!

I met Robert on the internet where he was wearing his heart on his sleeve. He openly told me of his past addiction to drugs and how heroin has brought him into the darkest and lowest aspects of humanity. After telling his story, he asked me, “do you think there’s hope for someone like me?”
I told him that of course there was. Since then, Robert has turned his life around, working on the set of a theater and other various jobs; re-connecting with his children and taking the time to appreciate the little things in life, when once his only goal was to get drugs by any means possible and suicide was an every day option.
He has found love with a new girlfriend and has made many new supportive friends who continue to encourage him .
I was moved when Robert thanked me for being someone who believed in him.
Thank you, Robert, for reminding me how the words we choose can change a person’s life whether we know it or not, and how seeing the good in a person could prop them up to reach for their potential.
To learn more about seemingly ordinary people who have overcome great odds to change themselves or their community, scroll down and read about other past local heroes.

This month’s local hero is Raj Kumar!

Having his roots in a middle class family in India, his early years were spent in a refugee camp. Through sincere hard work and by winning a scholarship, Raj completed his bachelors in mechanical engineering and post graduation in Industrial Management by securing first rank. Raj has worked as a professional engineer, a research scholar and an entrepeneur.

His life was shifted in 1986 when problems in his business caused his health to deteriorate. Raj says, “through a ‘Holistic Healer’ I got quantum relief. I got associated with him, learned an started helping others through free sessions, camps, lectures etc. I found yoga having a great potential in healing and self transformation. I started conducting free yoga and meditation classes at my Atamabodh Cantar.”

Raj’s success in teaching yoga and meditation led many doctors to recommend yoga to their patients. Raj has recently published a book with colleague, Professor N. Krishnaswamy which uses classic yoga and modern mind programing principles in order to teach the reader how to take charge of his/her future. He has termed this method “Body Mind programming” or BMP.

Recently, a leading group of hospitals have shown interest in BMP based on holistic health for the patients especially in cancer and cardiology. He has helped to develop the “Heal Your Heart” program — a cellular level system based on BMP which they are teaching to the hospital staff. Raj says, “The main objective is to provide deep relaxation of body and mind, to reduce anxiety levels, to improve quality of sleep and quality of life with a view to enhance the inbuilt defense immune system.”

Raj is also working on BMP for executives, managerial staff and IT industry for increasing their work, performance and improving their quality of life.

To read more about Raj’s work, read my interview with him by clicking the following link:

My Interview with Raj Kumar, Author of “Create your Own Future Through Body Mind Programming”


This month’s local hero is David Robb! 

2015-05-25 21.36.53

David Robb lost 95 pounds and dropped 12 inches from his waist within three years. He claims that this is the greatest change of his life. He now cooks outdoors as a hobby and a way to keep up his healthy lifestyle for himself and his family. He also started a youtube cooking channel to help encourage others to cook for themselves and eat naturally. Thank you, David, for using your accomplishments in health to inspire others!

You can watch David Robb’s barbecue cooking channel here:



This month’s local hero is Pat King!


Often, my local heroes are just everyday people who have succeeded in losing weight, battling disease or being a positive influence on their community. Today, however, I am choosing someone who I look up to as a truly super hero, someone who could kick my butt and the butt of almost everyone I know. This person is Pat King, Brazilian Jujitsu Black Belt.

What interested me most in Pat King is the fact that he learned directly from legends, his proven martial arts prowess and his ability to teach clearly and concisely to all people and body types. Pat emphasizes the jujitsu philosophy that all people can practice it. He also teaches anti bullying children’s classes, and fight club class for women that teaches self defense techniques for real life situations.

Below is a brief biography, taken from his website patkingjiujitsu.com

On March 2, 2008, and after having been training for over 13 years, Pat King was awarded his Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu by none other than the legendary Royce Gracie himself and has the distinction and honor of being one of only a handful of Royce Gracie Black Belts.

After having been influenced by Royce Gracie’s first dominating performance in the very first UFC, Pat King started training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in 1995 at the what was then, the newly opened Gracie Academy in Torrance, Ca.

Under the direct teachings and influence of Rorion Gracie, Caique, Royce Gracie and particularly, the immortal and legendary Helio Gracie, Pat King had the honor and fortune of learning the most dominant martial art directly from the family that created the art to which he was now so eternally committed.

On March 2, 2008, and after having been training for over 13 years, Pat King was awarded his Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu by none other than the legendary Royce Gracie himself and has the distinction and honor of being one of only a handful of Royce Gracie Black Belts that have started training under Royce Gracie from day 1.

If you know someone who you want to nominate as a local hero in your community, email me at rhea.morales@gmail.com and let me know why you think this person should be recognized.  Don’t be surprised if I approach you and ask if you’d like to be the hero of the month!


This month’s local hero is Sue Press!


Sue and I work together to teach a Parkinson’s chair class at the Porter Ranch YMCA. It is a chair aerobics and mobility class that also incorporates balancing and sometimes walking. We also incorporate resistance, bands, weights and balls. It helps give people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease a support group and recreational movement on top of their physical therapy. Sue also teaches chair yoga for people who have a hard time getting on and off the floor and aqua aerobics classes for healthy people, disabled people or people with arthritis.

About a year ago, Sue was diagnosed with third degree lung cancer. She had to have one lung removed and she went through ten months of chemotherapy in order to kill the cancer and keep it from spreading. The staff of the YMCA and my boss, Corrine Pridgen, all pitched in to cover her classes. Kudos to all of those local heroes! Meanwhile, Sue battled cancer, kept us up to date and even came to visit her students between treatments, when she felt strong enough to do so. As hard as it was for her to battle cancer, she kept telling us that she would beat it and she’ll be fine.

Today, Sue is cancer free and back at work. She only has one lung but it’s enough to keep her going. She’s an inspiration to her students, many of whom are suffering from their own diseases and disabilities. I want to give Sue credit and let her know what an inspiration she has been to me as I have watched her go through this struggle.

If you know someone who you want to nominate as a local hero in your community, email me at rhea.morales@gmail.com and let me know why you think this person should be recognized.  Don’t be surprised if I approach you and ask if you’d like to be the hero of the month!


This month’s local hero is Sona Donayan MS, RD. I interviewed this registered dietitian and single mom on a recent post about finding the right diet. On top of being an expert on dietary science, Sona has won her own battles with obesity and cancer. She became a seasoned marathon runner during her struggle with obesity after two pregnancies. This is when she started studying dietary science and picked up running as her favorite sport. She didn’t know it would save her life years later when she had to battle cancer.

So far, Sona has done 23 marathons across the country. She has hiked across the Alps, crossing Germany Austria and Italy on foot. She has also hiked the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu in Peru.

While training for the Lake Tahoe Marathon in September of 2009, Sona felt a sharp chest pain and noticed a bump below her neck.   She was soon diagnosed with stage 2 non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. “When my physician first assessed me, I told them I was a runner. They determined that I was fit enough to withstand aggressive chemotherapy which is what saved my life. I owe it to exercise and good nutrition. You may not be immune to all disease but if you are strong, it will pay off. You can benefit from this strength when unexpected tragedy strikes”

Sona underwent 96-hour chemotherapy infusions at City of Hope every three weeks while keeping her job as a nutrition instructor at Glendale Community College. Her body was in such good shape from her years of running that she withstood increasing doses of chemotherapy without yielding.

Sona continued to run shorter distances during her chemotherapy, and in May 2011, she returned to the full marathon scene at the Pasadena Marathon. She finished the full race — her 19th marathon — in just over six hours, ahead of 12 other women in her age group.

“Marathons are about enduring hardships, and life is a marathon,” she said. “I’m not ready to be done with mine.”

Since her battle with cancer, Sona has added five additional finisher medals to her collection: the 2011 Pasadena, Lake Tahoe and Seattle marathons, and the 2012 Orange County and Pasadena marathons. She will run her 24th marathon on July 29th in San Francisco.

“Finally, I’m back on the full marathon course and my active lifestyle, slowly but surely,” she says.

Check out my interview with Sona about the benifits and dangers of the most popular diets here:


If you know someone who you want to nominate as a local hero in your community, email me at rhea.morales@gmail.com and let me know why you think this person should be recognized.  Don’t be surprised if I approach you and ask if you’d like to be the hero of the month!


This month’s hero is Lee Ann Kennedy!

At the age of 66, she is in the best shape of her life. In her youth, she suffered from scoliosis and had to attend a special P.E. class for it. She came to me with a bad shoulder and a bone spur in her hip.

Since I have been working with her, she has overcome hip pain and balance issues due to her bone spur by stabilizing her hip muscles. She has also achieved amazing core strength to protect her spine and shoulders. She tells me that twenty years ago, she never thought she would be doing pushups and other exercises so well. She has also taken up the hobby of hiking.

Lee Ann is a force of nature. She loves to work in the garden and grows healthy organic foods. She also volunteers at voting polls and at other public functions.  Lee Ann is vibrant, fit and strong. She has not let anything get in the way of that.  She is a great role model for anyone who wishes to get in shape late in their life.

If you know someone who you want to nominate as a local hero in your community, email me at rhea.morales@gmail.com and let me know why you think this person should be recognized.  Don’t be surprised if I approach you and ask if you’d like to be the hero of the month.

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This month’s local hero is the dynamic running coach, Sergio Gonzalez!  I met Sergio while trying the striders group at the Porter Ranch YMCA.  Sergio started out as a volunteer there with only 7 runners in his first year.  Now he has 30 to 35 runners in his groups. He trains all kinds of people; from house wives, students, and people who work 8 hours a day. Last year, one of his students lost 30 pounds after 4months. Her friend, who was going to get married, lost 20 pounds in the same amount of time.

When I participated in the group, I was amazed at this 49 year old’s physical prowess as he ran side by side by each member, coaching them on their form.  Once he had helped me, he ran ahead of me to coach the runners in front of me.  He could catch up to anyone on the course and could talk to them with ease as they huffed and puffed through their work out.  Sergio has helped so many people improve their running abilities with his detailed coaching on running form and fitness tips.  He has helped people lose weight and completely change their bodies by introducing them to the world of running and walking.

“You have to want to do it. I love to see them (the members of the striders group) stay active.  A lot of these runners have made friends from people from the group and they all help each other all the time.”  –Sergio Gonzalez

Thank you, Sergio, for using your passion for running to help others stay healthy and make friends within our community.

If you know someone who you want to nominate as a local hero in your community, email me at rhea.morales@gmail.com and let me know why you think this person should be recognized.  Don’t be surprised if I approach you and ask if you’d like to be the hero of the month.

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Our new local hero of the month is Asia Ghazi who has successfully lost 35 pounds in one year!

Asia before

A happy Asia Ghazi after losing 35 lbs in one year!

Asia is an inspiration to people who have been overweight their entire life.  I am inspired by her ability to completely change her lifestyle in order to completely change her body.  Becoming healthy has changed her so much that she is now going to school to study nutrition so she can expand her knowledge of diet and so she can help others along their way to weight loss and health.  Losing this much weight was not easy for her.  She had to try many things before she started seeing massive results.  Instead of spending her money on fad diets, Asia has taken the weight off in a healthy way, by balancing out her life.  I interviewed Asia on how she lost the weight and this is what she told me:

I have lost about 30 to 35 pounds.  It took me a year to reach this goal and a lot of patience and perseverance.  Not a day goes by where I don’t curse the scale lol.  I can see from the way my clothes fit, and also the fact that everyone who sees me comments on how much weight i have lost.  I believe I have also lost plenty more weight from before, so it may be very well more than 35 pounds.  But I don’t know as I have fluctuated over many years until now.  How I have lost weight is simple…I exercise more, try to control my portions (that can be hard when the food is so yummy) and make sure I incorporate lots of healthy foods to my diet, such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits.  I am also developing a blog that discusses all of my recipes made in a healthy way.  I would love to hear loyal friends give me ideas of recipes they have that are healthy, and read and make the recipes I have made up to be wholesome and delicious.

I still have more weight to lose…my current goal is to lose another 90 pounds.  That is a long term goal. My short term goal is to be at 190 lbs.  I’m about 25 pounds shy of that right now.  I am hoping to reach that goal by the end of July.  It’s going to take more dedication and more pushing myself, but I know I can do it.  I want to fit into Large size clothes rather than fitting into XXL or 2X clothes now.

I’ve been exercising ever since I’ve started a gym…first I started my exercise journey when I was in Total Woman then over at the YMCA.  It’s been about 8 years now.  I enjoy it when I exercise daily.  I lift weights and do strength training, I do cardio, such as walking or using the elliptical…I also like to have brisk walks outdoors and try to challenge myself to do more miles a day, and more hills so I can gain strength.  Eventually, I hope to be able to start running – I do a little, but only for a few minutes and then I have to catch my breath and start walking again.  This is something I am working on.  I also take cardio classes such as kickboxing, belly dancing, zumba, and anything that can keep me on my toes and work me out.  Even if I feel I can’t handle a class if it is very high impact, I still stick it through.  You have to so you can keep getting stronger and are able to handle high impact classes.  These days I have had a very hectic schedule…I’m in school full time at Glendale College, and I have two part time jobs.  I am always on the go, but somehow, I find the time to do a little cardio here and there.  My college is a very hilly college so I am starting to use my free time walking up and down these large hills and stairs.  I know all this will pay off for me in the end.

My family definitely supports me in my weight loss goals and motivate me to reach my goals.  I have all the support I need and more!  I have also helped become healthier by teaching them about cooking healthy food using grains and other healthier alternatives.  Things have changed a lot in my household and I am glad to have that support.  It sucks when your family does not support you and bring in junk food in the house.  My family is definitely not like that.  I love it!

I have two blogs out – but the one that has the most posts is: http://cooking4urhealth.blogspot.com.  I am planning on making that blog out on my own website that I already have reserved, but need to have some work done on before I actually let everyone else know.  :)

My advice to people who are looking to lose weight, and/or maintain their weight: Remember that losing weight is really about calories and fat.  The whole concept of losing weight is calories in and calories out.  If you’re eating more calories than you are expending them out, you will gain weight. No doubt about it.  If you’re eating less calories and expending them, you will lose weight because you’re burning all of your calories.  Remember to calculate your BMR – Basal Metabolic Rate to see how much your body can consume.  There are many different ways to calculate BMR.  Here is an easy way to do it:

Your Weight x 9.8 for women = BMR (without the Activity factor)

Your Weight x 10.9 for men = BMR (without Activity factor)

So 150lbs x 9.8 = 1470 calories a day.

Or 200 x 10.9 = 2180 calories a day.

If you cut out about 3-500 calories, you can lose weight.  If you add in exercise activity factors, you can have more calories but remember that to lose weight, you need to burn all of your calories by being as active as possible.  Even a 30 minute brisk walk in your neighborhood will be great for you to lose weight.

Adding in more whole grains, more fiber, more fruits and vegetables and milk, and avoiding excess consumption of sugar (or use sugar substitutes such as Splenda, and Truvia) will help you with weight loss and give you all the health benefits our bodies need such as vitamins and minerals. :)

Thank you so much, Asia, for bringing your knowledge and experience to others.  Keep up the good work!

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This month’s hero is Laurie Mazzarella.

A real estate agent and breast cancer survivor, this yoga instructor has found her calling teaching therapeutic and restorative yoga to people with chronic pain.  I first met Laurie while taking a restorative yoga class.  She had taken over the class for the regular teacher who was pregnant.  She volunteered her time for free at the North Hollywood YMCA.  Laurie also started a healing support group for cancer survivors and I was invited to some tea outside in the patio right after class.  Each student had some kind of ailment but still attended classes at the YMCA to improve their health and to be around the motivating social environment.  By the way, I think everyone who attended that class and tea that day is a hero.  Since then, Laurie has been my colleague and friend.  She has given much of herself to support people who may be in too much pain to get up in the morning but they come in anyway.  I think that it is sometimes harder to teach to people with chronic ailments.  You have to be more empathic and open to their special needs.  Laurie encourages everyone to participate in the benefits of yoga no matter what physical condition they are in.  I often hear her say that her teacher’s teacher was in a wheel chair.   Thank you Laurie, for helping people in chronic pain.  You are an inspiration to me and to your students.

Laurie and I will be hosting a Chakra Workshop together on January 30th 2011.  More information on that later.

Check out Laruie’s blog at:


If you know someone who you want to nominate as a local hero in your community, email me at rhea.morales@gmail.com and let me know why you think this person should be recognized.

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