For two hours she lay on the floor where she collapsed, paralyzed on one side of her body, her eyesight blurred.
She couldn’t call 911 — she didn’t have the coordination to use a phone, even if she could get to it.
And then, slowly, the feeling and strength in her left side returned. No longer were her surroundings out of focus.
It is late afternoon as 49-year-old Cece Ceccarini, a certified personal trainer at the Sun City Summerlin retirement community, recalls that frightening episode 22 years ago in Maui, one that doctors on the Hawaiian island diagnosed as the effects of a transient ischemic attack, or mini-stroke.
Today Ceccarini sees that day as a blessing, one that made her devote her life to helping people deal with the effects of medical conditions or to become strong enough to fend them off.
The native of Switzerland laughs as she remembers how she left Europe at age 22 to travel the world. Though she had a degree in business management, she wasn’t sure what she’d do with it.
“I didn’t know what my purpose was until that stroke in Maui,” she says.
It’s a story that never gets old — the resilience of the human spirit fueling a desire to help others through adversity.
“This is what I was chosen for,” Ceccarini says as she looks at baby boomers working out on exercise equipment inside Sun City’s Mountain Shadows fitness center. “To help as many people as I can to feel better. I realized it was mainly the older people, baby boomers, I could help with their quality of life. They’re the ones who are largely dealing with strokes or needing to stay in shape so they don’t have them. ”
By the time she moved to Las Vegas from Maui in 2000 — though fitness coordinator at the Maui Family YMCA, she wanted the opportunity to see more entertainers in her off time — she was schooled not only in yoga, Pilates and massage but also in pool aqua therapy and how to develop exercise programs for the able as well as the disabled.
In Las Vegas, she first worked on fitness programs for Air Force veterans and their spouses at Nellis Air Force Base. She began teaching fitness classes at Sun City Summerlin in 2008.
Today, residents, including stroke survivor Dick Bruce and his wife, Carolyn, hire her as a personal trainer. Ceccarini is one of only two trainers sanctioned by the community to work with clients in Sun City’s fitness centers.
“She’s very sensitive to people who are older,” says Bruce, who often must use a wheelchair because of balance problems. “She’s working with me on my balance and I’m getting stronger all the time.”
Al Lunceford says Ceccarini’s attention to detail has made him a better golfer.
It’s the reason he says he’s kept her as his trainer for four years.
“She makes sure all the muscle groups get the right attention,” he says after she puts him through stretching exercises.
She often gets close to her clients.
Client Mina Garman remembers that when she was hospitalized a few years ago, her husband called Cece to go to the hospital with him.
“I was in the hospital for months and she helped him get through it, ” she says. Her husband, Neil, died in 2015.
Carolyn Bruce recalls how the trainer helped her and husband when they left their passports in Las Vegas.
“I phoned her and asked if she’d FedEx them overnight to Houston, where we were before going on a cruise. But they couldn’t guarantee they’d be there on Saturday morning. So I asked Cece if she’d bring them to Houston if I flew her down and put her up for the night. She agreed right away. She’s not just a great trainer. She’s a great person.”
Paul Harasim’s column runs Sunday and Tuesday in the Nevada section and Monday in the Health section. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5273. Follow @paulharasim on Twitter.