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Mike’s Fitness Journey May Have Saved His Life

Posted April 25, 2021 by Bellin Health

Recently, Bellin Psychologist Tiffany Born had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Mike Pribek and his mom, Jane. “Mike is an incredible person with an inspiring fitness journey. He also has Autism Spectrum Disorder. I enjoyed hearing about Mike’s health journey, his passion and skills with numbers and dates (he could tell me the day of the week I was born on based solely on my birthdate!), and his fitness routines. I asked Mike to share his fitness and health journey”:

My name is Mike Pribek.  I am 28 years old and was diagnosed with autism when I was 3 years old.  I have a very fulfilling life, working part-time and participating in many sports for the Manitowoc County Miracles Special Olympics agency year-round, including basketball, track and field, bocce and bowling.  Another part of my life that I am very proud of is the healthy lifestyle I lead.  I am committed to eating healthy and exercising regularly, but it wasn’t always that way.

Up until I was 16, I ate a very limited diet, which consisted of dry, crunchy foods, such as potato chips, McDonald’s French fries, crackers, dry cereal, etc.  My sensory system had a hard time allowing other textured foods to enter my mouth. Then I was able to add foods like onion rings and fish sticks, with lots of salt.  On April 13, 2007, I had my annual check-up and I weighed 168 pounds.  My doctor told me that if I wanted to remain healthy, I needed to start making healthier food choices, and I needed to start exercising.  I guess I was ready to hear that then, because that day was the first day of my lifestyle change.  On the way home from that appointment, we stopped at the grocery store and bought some fruits and vegetables.  I slowly added healthy foods to my diet until everything I ate was good for me.  I went on to lose about 45 pounds.  The last time I drank a soda was 7 years ago.  I drink a lot of water and I eat 3 full meals and 2 snacks every day, all healthy choices.  Soon after I introduced healthy foods into my diet, I also began exercising.  I am so proud to say that after 12 years, I am still living that healthy lifestyle.  I eat very healthy and exercise 3-4 times a week, doing cardio (mostly running), weight strengthening exercises, and swimming laps.

When so many people I know are on medications for different issues, I take pride in the fact that I do not take any medications.  I consider my medications to be exercise and massages, which I also get every 3 weeks.  They help to keep my sensory system calm and regulated.

Last October, I took a training sponsored by Special Olympics Wisconsin to become a Health Leader within our local agency.  Being a Health Leader means that I help to encourage other people, especially other Special Olympics athletes, to make healthier food and drink choices, and tell them how exercising regularly will benefit them.  This training was very interesting to me because one of the things they went over were nutritional facts on different foods, which is a huge interest for me.  I really enjoy sharing with others what they need to do to live a clean and healthy lifestyle.

In Special Olympics, I participate in basketball, which is my favorite sport.  I also am in track and field, running the 1500 meter and doing the standing long jump.  I also participate in bocce and bowling.  I really enjoy running and have been running for 8 years.  In 2014, I went through a running assessment with Nate at Bellin Fitness Center.  It was very interesting and showed me that I had good running form, and Nate taught me different exercises to do to help with tightness of my IT bands.

Being as healthy as I am played a big part in a health crisis I had beginning in October of 2012.  My appendix had ruptured, and due to my autism, I did not recognize the pain, so I kept going on with my life and exercise routine, until infection and fever set in.  My parents then noticed, and took me to the emergency room, but by then, infection had spread within my body.  I was in a local hospital for 2 months, had 2 major surgeries, then was transferred to a specialty hospital in Milwaukee for another month, also having a surgery there.  I had lost 20 pounds during this time, which I really could not afford to lose.  Once they stabilized me, I was sent home to recuperate for another 5 months, while being on TPN (total parenteral nutrition given through a PICC line).  It was a very touchy and rough time for me.  There have been no long-term side-affects for me from this, but I am convinced that if I were not as healthy going into this crisis, the results from my ruptured appendix could have turned out completely different for me.

Other things that I enjoy are video-gaming and NASCAR.  I also have savant skills in math and the calendar, which come in very handy, especially for family and friends.