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Susan Tartakoff: "Wherever You Are, That's Your Starting Point."

Susan Tartakoff

Susan Tartakoff: Post Spinal Cord Injury Fitness at the Center of Achievement

Susan Tartakoff promotes wellness and a healthy lifestyle by example and with a simple credo: “Wherever you are, that’s your starting point.”  Susan has been part of the CSUN community for over fifteen years as a client and volunteer at the Center of Achievement in the Department of Kinesiology. 

On a January evening in the mid-1980’s, Susan was driving through a San Fernando Valley intersection after picking up a video for a quiet evening at home with her husband.  Not far away, another driver was racing away from police in a high speed chase.  He was driving a hundred miles per hour when he hit Susan’s car broadside.  Her spinal cord was severed and she became paralyzed from the chest down. The speeder walked away from the crash.

After six months in the hospital, Susan was released and her recovery plan was up to her. Diligent about practicing her physical therapy exercises, she also explored alternative approaches to healing including meditation and acupuncture.  She was aware that medical marvels didn’t extend far enough to repair her spinal cord, but she was set on beating the odds. She knew fitness would be the key to recovery should a cure for SCI be found.

Over the next several years, Susan commuted from Northridge to Beverly Hills to work with a specialist. “Using special equipment called Reciprocating Gait Orthotics (RGO’s) I could exercise in a walking position which was crucial to strengthening my skeletal musculature,” she said.  “But the commute was becoming exhausting.  I needed to find something closer to home or risk quitting.”

Cal State Northridge came to mind one day when she remembered that years before, when her husband had been having back problems, a casual acquaintance mentioned, “a program at CSUN.”  Susan called the university and found out about the Center of Achievement.  “There was a long waiting list though,” she said, “but I asked them to add my name."

“I tried working out at the local health club, but the machines were impossible to use, and the employees didn't know about working with someone like me,” she said.  It took about a year for Susan's name to reach the top of the Center's list, but the call came. “I was so happily surprised to see all the equipment designed for people in wheelchairs,” she said.  “If there were no Center of Achievement, I would have to try to buy expensive equipment, and I'd need to hire a personal trainer, and at $50-100 an hour, I couldn’t afford it, and I can’t do it alone.”

When Susan started using the Center, only the land-based programs existed.  She helped raise funds for the Brown Center for Adaptive Aquatic Therapeutic Exercise through the volunteer group, “FOCAS” (Friends of the Center of Achievement and Sponsors).  She has also continued her involvement in fundraising projects for the Center. “I rely on the Center to stay healthy and strong,” she said.  

About two years ago, Susan had surgery that kept her away from her fitness program for about a year. “As soon as I could, I came back,” she said, “It was a new starting point, but having kept my fitness up since the accident, I was ready for a strong comeback.”

- Jean O'Sullivan