Cast of Characters: Making the Long Run

Cindy Perret is heartened by her work

FRANK METHE PHOTOGRAPH

We have all heard the “from outhouse to the penthouse” stories: the kid who tripped over his own two feet only to grow up to become a Heisman Trophy running back; the youngster who couldn’t add two plus two to come up with four, who later became a mathematical genius.

It is as though destiny is determined to make some of us examples of the wisdom of perseverance, guiding us (sometimes in spite of ourselves) to find our niche.

Somewhere in that tome is writ a chapter about Lucinda Perret, more commonly known to the owners of well-tuned hearts all over the New Orleans area simply as “Cindy.”

Perret is a clinical exercise physiologist who has probably fine-tuned as many reworked and rebuilt hearts as anybody in the business.

“It’s got to be the greatest job in the world,” says Perret. “To actually be able to help people with heart conditions and after surgery get stronger and to watch them move forward and enjoy life by staying active. What could be better than that?”

Most days Perret is hard at work in the cardiac rehabilitation unit at East Jefferson General Hospital by 6:30 a.m. She pushes people who’re on the mend and convinces them that sitting in easy chairs and smoking cigarettes are things of the past.

Following those sessions she leads water exercises several days a week at the Wellness Center behind East Jefferson General Hospital.

And then, she turns her attention toward her own heart.

Perret runs six miles three times a week, swims up to 2,400 yards once a week, plays women’s and co-ed soccer in two different leagues several times a week, referees soccer games and puts in a lot of time riding her bicycle.

“I try to do weight training twice a week, but lately it’s been only once a week,” she says almost apologetically.

“I’m going to try to get in more work with the weights in the future.”

In addition, Perret is seemingly always in specialized training for the next triathlon. How about a 1.2-mile swim, followed up in the same event by a 56-mile bicycle ride and a 13.1-mile run?

Factor in Perret’s age – 58 – and you get some idea of the magnitude of her whirlwind of physical activities, all of which she takes in stride.

If staying in peak physical fitness and pushing others to pursue that same goal seems to be the center of her life, it may just come naturally for the North Carolina native. Her mother was a physical education teacher and her dad was on the swim team in college.

“When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I saw how passionate my parents were about physical exercise and I figured this was the road I was going to take. I got an undergraduate degree in physical education at Wake Forest and my masters in exercise physiology at the University of Florida. I came to New Orleans to teach physical education at Newcomb College: lifeguarding class, water safety, synchronized swimming, strength and conditioning. But I wanted to use my master’s degree, and cardiac rehab was one of those areas that opened up to me at Baptist Hospital. That’s where I worked for 11 years before transferring to East Jefferson [General Hospital].”

Today, her parents are in their 80s, live in Florida and still pursue rigorous exercise regimens.

“Their example guided me early on,” Perret says, “but it wasn’t like I just knew I was on my way to Olympic headlines. It may have come naturally, but it didn’t come easily. In middle school I was terrible at kickball and dodgeball. I was the kickee more than the kicker. Volleyball and softball? Terrible. I was usually the last one picked. I guess maybe that’s why I worked harder and pursued those non-team sports – things where I was competing against myself.” She continues, “When you get down to it, that’s what we all do. We compete against our natural instincts and against those things we perceive to be our own weaknesses. That’s how we become stronger.”

Perret will tell you that, in the end, the strength that we build by pushing ourselves and by competing against ourselves pays big dividends.

“I’ve always wanted to live to be 100,” she says. “But, you know, sometimes life throws curve balls at you no matter how healthy you try to be. In January 2000, I discovered I had colon cancer. Thanks to my doctors it was discovered early. I had colon surgery in February and two months later I was able to run in the Crescent City Classic. I ran it in 46 minutes and 30 seconds. Being healthy and fit may not have prevented my cancer, but it sure did help me recover faster and made it possible to return to my activities.”

And tomorrow, Cindy Perret will be back at it again – helping others help themselves and pushing herself just a little closer to that century mark.

She will be the first to tell you it all depends on destiny. But helping destiny out a little along the way doesn’t hurt.
 

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