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Using our hearts in more ways than one

Joining a charity challenge at AB Fitness Center

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Bass-heavy pump-up music greeted six women who lined up against the wall of AB Fitness Center in East Meadow, preparing for a fitness challenge on a recent Saturday morning. Heart balloons decorated the gym, and a remix of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” set the tone for the workout.

But first, the gym’s owner, Anthony Bevilacqua, introduced the crowd to his 6-year-old daughter, Gabriella, who thanked the room full of athletes for joining the cause. For a minimum donation of $20 each, participants rotated among six different exercise stations for a cumulative half-hour of intense, cardio-driven activity to support the American Heart Association.

February is National Heart Month, and Bevilacqua hosted the gym’s first fundraiser for the AHA last year. It was dubbed the Great American Heart Charity Workout, and the fitness center raised a total of $4,000.

Gabriella’s first-grade class at McVey Elementary School is hosting its own fundraiser for the same cause this year. As of press time on Tuesday, the school had raised just over $15,000 of its $20,000 goal on its fundraising page, https://bit.ly/2P5iyiS. The school will collect donations through March 9.

Bevilacqua said that he knew he had to host the charity workout again to support his daughter’s fundraising efforts. AB Fitness Center held two half-hour sessions on Feb. 22, the second of which I took part in.

“First he’s gonna take photos of you guys,” Bevilacqua said, referring to this reporter, “and then we’re gonna whup his butt later.”

For the first half-hour session, I watched as guests squatted, curled and lifted. Then it was my turn. Pete Khatcherian, one of the center’s trainers, set me up with a dumbbell that was slightly larger than what I’m used to lifting. The first station was “sumo squats,” so I spread my feet, bent my knees and picked up the weight — raising it just above the floor before lowering it back down, and repeating. Halfway through my set, I could already feel my heart pumping faster.

The rotation only lasted about a minute, but there was no time to rest before we moved to the next station. One after another, we powered through kettle bell swings, box climbs, bicep curls, squat presses and battle ropes. Each exercise involved a quick, emphatic burst of energy to get the heart pumping.

Next, we lined up against the wall, and Gabriella rolled a die, each side of which was labeled with a different floor workout. We started with 30 crunches.

The last exercise of the day was planking. Bevilacqua promised to donate another $100 if someone could hold a plank for a full five minutes, which he did at the end of the workout.

Me? I took what must have been a dozen breaks, collapsing onto my stomach before reassuming the plank position. Sweat dripped down my face, which felt like it was pulsing as hard as my heart.

“There are some people who can’t even do one plank,” Anthony said. “Think of how lucky you are that you’re healthy enough to do this. We’re doing this for those who can’t right now.”

At the end of the day, Gabriella had raised $4,807 for the AHA. The funds will help research more effective treatments, train emergency-service officials in cardiovascular care and teach 22 million people cardiopulmonary resuscitation each year. According to its website, the organization has helped reduce the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease by 15 percent, and stroke by roughly 14 percent, over the past two years.