MAHOPAC, N.Y.-One thing you’ll never hear cross Nancy Sorbella’s lips is the cry “Uncle!”
A deep reserve of determination has seen the mother of three through many a challenge, among the most painful of which has been osteoarthritis.
To look at her, with her strawberry blond bangs and updo, rectangular black glasses and high-energy aura, you wouldn’t guess she suffers from the condition--and that’s exactly how she both wants and likes it.
“Living with any chronic condition and not telling anyone is one option, but leading by example, and in my case in particular, sharing what I do to face my arthritis head-on and not limit me is another,” she said.
This is what Sorbella plans to say to those who gather at SUNY Purchase College on Saturday, Dec. 9, for the Westchester County Arthritis Foundation’s annual Jingle Bell Run as its designated adult honoree.
Arthritis, it seems, has been a kind of black sheep in Sorbella’s family. Her grandmother, who died at age 95, suffered from it. Her mother, now “a robust 89,” continues to suffer from it. And even before Sorbella could pronounce the condition, she saw her mother knocking on doors to solicit donations to further its research efforts and had learned, because it can be hereditary, that she, too, could one day be affected by it.
Fortunately, that happened later rather than sooner. Perhaps it was because the Dobbs Ferry native was so active—doing laps in the pool, swinging a racquet on the tennis courts, shaking pompoms and performing dance routines at games as a cheerleader, and running.
“Later on, there wasn’t a high heel I didn’t like,” she admitted.
Sorbella’s reckoning came in her 30s. She tore her meniscus and underwent arthroscopic surgery. Not so successfully, it turned out, as pain and swelling became her constant companions.
“I realized I was at a crossroads,” Sorbella said. “Give up so many of the activities I love or do some homework and find all the ways to challenge myself to live my best life, and not be limited.”
Her determination to do the latter led the way—back into the pool.
“That was huge,” said Sorbella, who had maintained her lifeguard certification since she was 15. “As long as I didn’t miss a day, I felt great.”
So, in addition to raising Julianna, 5, an adoptee from China; JT and Scott, 20 and 24 respectively, with her husband, Jim; writing a column and maintaining a book of advertising clients for Halston Media, parent company of Mahopac News; and serving as general manager of five monthly health care publications and three bi-monthly trade newspapers for Belsito Communications, she teaches aquatherapy.
Having always been a swimmer and experiencing the benefits of aquatic exercise—“the range of motion, flexibility, energy, all the things you need to keep in shape”—she pursued certifications through the Arthritis Foundation. She now teaches classes throughout Westchester at such facilities as Club Fit and New York Sports Club.
It is a pursuit she calls “amazing” and “inspiring,” noting that her clients have included a 90-year-old woman who only recently passed and another who was on oxygen.
“A lot of people don’t think they can do things and then they come into the pool and they have a whole different degree of strength and ability,” she said. “They can do everything.”
As for the Jingle Bell Run, Sorbella, a regular participant, said it’s not about the competition for her, adding, “My son walks faster than I run.” And she said, although she feels honored to be recognized by the foundation at the event, other emotions are at work, too.
She said she felt “unworthy.”
Then, she said, “I thought if I could inspire even one person, encourage them to see themselves and their arthritis through a new lens, then this honor is the right fit.”