SOUTH PORTLAND — Phil Gouzie has set aside his cane and feels his strength returning to his upper body.
John Bingler attends two 90-minute workouts each week to help stay mobile as he confronts Parkinson’s disease.
Both men are U.S. Navy veterans with health conditions not associated with their tours of duty. They are part of an expanding group of veterans using the Medically Oriented Gym in South Portland for physical therapy, health evaluations and exercise.
The gym on Foden Road, also known by its MOG acronym, was once the site of a company health club operated by Fairchild Semiconductor, and then by Saco Bay Physical Therapy.
Now co-owned by Chris Pribish and Jaclyn Morrill-Chadbourne, with Bill McCormick as a principal partner, the gym programs are tailored to help members become and stay fit while confronting chronic health conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and orthopedic and musculoskeletal issues.
The gym is open to the public, too, but McCormick and former Navy SEAL Chris Tyll of North Yarmouth have made MOG a part of the Portland Veterans Network, established by the Greater Portland Regional Chamber. Tyll, who recently ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in District 11, is chairman of the Portland Veterans Network.
Tyll and McCormick said they want to attract veterans of all ages to the gym as a way for veterans like Bingler, 74, and Gouzie, 90, who are long past their days of service, to stay fit, socialize and get the best of recommended physician care.
Through this Saturday, the gym is waiving its $49 enrollment fee and discounting membership fees 15 percent for active and retired military personnel.
Morrill-Chadbourne said all new members receive thorough screenings before they exercise and therapy programs are tailored for the best results. Members are re-evaluated quarterly.
The approach is unique, she said, merging disciplines while encouraging workout and fitness in individual and group settings as a way to reduce future medical expenses.
“Physical therapists can be the center of this model,” Morrill-Chadbourne said.
Tyll said Pribish and Morrill-Chadbourne are adept at understanding veterans’ needs and providing guidance and encouragement.
“Chris never served, but he can put veterans in their comfort zone. He is going to be your enemy at about minute 40 of your workout, but the next day, you are going to thank him,” Tyll said. “It is going to help anybody re-acclimate, no matter if they were injured or not.”
Bingler served in the Navy from 1959 to 1962, much of his duty was in an underwater demolitions team preceding the establishment of the Navy SEALs. In civilian life, he was a trial lawyer, including work with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.
His wife, Marsha Bingler, said he stayed active after the service, mostly jogging and swimming. But Parkinson’s disease affects the central nervous system, causing muscular tremors and difficulty walking; John Bingler is still able to swim and his MOG workouts involve movements designed to enhance communication between his brain and muscles.
“It is a problem, but it is not insurmountable,” he said.
From his days as the champion wrestler on his submarine in World War II until his late wife, Grace, became ill, Gouzie stayed active and fit. He cared for his wife as her health declined; they were married 61 years when she died in March.
“‘I do’ means I do,” Gouzie said.
Gouzie has spinal stenosis, and lost 50 pounds as he cared for his wife. He was referred to MOG and saw quick results.
“I was starting to walk like an old man. I didn’t like that,” he said.
His workouts include 15-minute bike rides, leg stretches, and pulling exercises to rebuild his upper body. On Monday, his daughter, Connie Libby, sat and watched him work with trainer Matt Kohler.
“I’m just so happy. He is getting stronger and he has made friends,” Libby said.
Tyll said the social aspect also has benefits for veterans.
“The stories swapped in the locker room may be a part of the healing process,” he said.
Tyll and McCormick said the MOG approach works with anyone confronting chronic health issues, and McCormick hopes insurance companies and physicians will take notice of tangible results.
Charity Hirst, director of marketing at the gym, said staff is creating more detailed instruction pads for physicians to give patients who need exercise and physical therapy.
“The icebreaker is we spend so much time with people in the beginning, developing trust and camaraderie,” McCormick said.
South Portland resident Phil Gouzie, 90, works with trainer Matt Kohler Monday at the Medically Oriented Gym in South Portland. Gouzie is a naval veteran of World War II, part of an expanding membership of veterans who get therapy and exercise for conditions that may not be duty-related. “I was starting to walk like an old man, I didn’t like it,” he said.
Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease more than a decade ago, Portland resident John Bingler, right, attends workout classes at the Medically Oriented Gym in South Portland. With him is his wife, Marsha.