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Local woman reclaims her health with East Meadow trainer

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Exercise once left Gianna Caponera with injured knees, constant fatigue and, she said, “feeling miserable.” But now it has given her back her strength, she added at the East Meadow gym where she works out with personal trainer Anthony Bevilacqua.

Caponera, 24, of Flushing, Queens, graduated from Hofstra University in December 2017 with a degree in psychology. She is gearing up to pursue an accelerated nursing program this fall. “A lot of personal experiences led me to want to be a nurse because of what I went through,” she said, adding that her goal in the field would be to “not only heal patients’ bodies, but their minds as well.”

When she was 12, Caponera was diagnosed with anorexia. She described her years with an eating disorder as a cycle of seeking treatment, recovering, relapsing and seeking treatment again. “That’s been my life . . . up until now,” she said.

Caponera recalled hitting a low point while studying at Hofstra, when her anorexia was complicated by an accompanying diagnosis of an exercise addiction. She remembered taking spin and Zumba classes, and running four or five times a day. “I was so set on a goal that, looking back, was so unattainable,” she said.

Fatigue, injured knees and general unhappiness became the norm, she recounted. She began fainting frequently, and as a result was banned from attending certain cardio classes. “You don’t know that you’re not well until something bad happens,” she said.

Finally, when her illness forced her to take a medical leave from Hofstra, Caponera was inspired to commit herself to becoming a nurse. Now, she calls recovery a constant “work in progress,” and said, “Some days I wake up and feel fine. Other days I can’t see what others see.”

Bevilacqua, a personal trainer for 15 years, began working with clients in his East Meadow garage five years ago before opening a storefront gym on East Meadow Avenue. Caponera’s mother, Florence Wilson started working out at the AB Fitness Center in January 2017 before recommending to Gianna that she try one-on-one personal training with Bevilacqua and his team, which she began eight months ago.

“It’s just you,” she said of her new workout regimen. “You’re not comparing your work with the person next to you.”

When working with his clients, Bevilacqua creates a meal plan for them to help them hit their goals, alongside working out. “You can’t reach your goal without a good diet,” he said.

Caponera said she once ate “as little as possible,” and “whatever I did eat, I’d burn off. I was miserable.”

Now she is trying food she was once afraid to eat — meats, for example — adding more protein to her diet, and eating with other people to ease her anxieties. She added that she has an incentive to eat more so she can have successful workouts.

Caponera added that she began seeing her body, once gaunt, change for the better, and her mentality changed with it. “It’s not about being thin or losing weight,” she said. “It’s about being happy and healthy. Strong is beautiful . . . now I’m so happy when I see myself in the mirror.”

“She’s a very hard worker,” Bevilacqua said. “I’m very proud of how far she’s come.”

Asked what advice she would give someone facing a similar struggle, Caponera said, “There have been so many times I’ve just wanted to say, ‘Screw it.’” She paused and wiped a tear from her eye as Bevilacqua put a hand on her shoulder. Then she continued: “There are going to be good days and bad days. Be willing to put in the work. And accept help from people — don’t push them away.”