Exercise to stabilize: Gary Butler finds routine workout enhances life

Charlie Denison

Gary Butler takes a moment after doing an hour-long exercise on the NuStep machine at the Central Montana Medical Center fitness center Thursday morning.

Photo by Charlie Denison

On Thursday morning, Gary Butler’s wife, Peggy, drops him off at Central Montana Medical Center fitness center. Riding in on his wheelchair, he takes a seat on a NuStep exercise machine, programs his preferred resistance and begins his workout.

“The higher you go, the harder it gets,” he said.

This is a typical Thursday for Gary. It may not sound like anything special, but it’s a big part of his week and big part of his life. For Gary, it’s these workouts that sustain him and keep him going.

For the past 20 years, Gary’s exercised at the CMMC fitness room three times a week (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays) as consistently as possible. This routine, he says, has helped him feel a little like himself again both physically and mentally. It relaxes him, centers him, improving his attitude and his overall wellness.

“I stay strong, keep my blood pressure in check and it helps keep my body still afterward,” Gary said. “I feel somewhat normal after I do it.”

This means a great deal to Gary, as the last 23 years have not been easy.

“I was a regular person one week, and the next week I could only move my lips,” he said. “I couldn’t move at all.”

It’s hard to recall the exact moment it happened, Gary said.

“I was feeding cows and jumped off the truck,” he said. “I had no depth perception, and it kept getting worse. I was walking along and my body started making all these jerky movements. I didn’t know what was happening.”

Gary was diagnosed with encephalomyelitis, a rare inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.

“You actually have more of a chance to win the lottery than you do catching this,” Gary said. “A lot of people don’t survive it. There was a man who was diagnosed with it in West Germany the same time I got it, and he didn’t make it. Twenty-five percent die within the first two days of diagnosis.”

Needless to say, the diagnosis was devastating.

“I went to Salt Lake City and then to Billings,” he said. “We didn’t know what happened.

Once he got home from the hospital, everything changed for the Hilger native.

“I’d grown up on a ranch and was living on a ranch, but I couldn’t anymore,” he said. “Peggy, the kids and I moved into town. We knew it was the common sense thing to do.”

That didn’t make it easy.

“I didn’t adapt very well to not working on a ranch,” Gary said. “I’d been physical all my life. To say I’m not bitter is an outright lie.”

But life goes on, and – through this debilitating diagnosis – Gary has certainly realized how loved and supported he is by his wife and children. Even though his son and daughter are now living elsewhere, they remain close to him. And Peggy is his rock.

“Without Peggy, I couldn’t do hardly anything at all,” he said. “She gives me rides to the fitness center or wherever I need to go. She also does all the cooking. I can’t cook. I don’t have smooth movements. I’ll grab something and my hand will start jerking.”

Gary tries not to let the disadvantages and discouragement get to him, often passing the time by following sports and reading books about sports. He’s especially into baseball.

“I’ve been a Dodgers fan since 1963,” he said.

Gary rolls with the punches, understanding what he can and cannot do, and he is thankful for what he’s still able to manage. Fortunately, that includes workouts, as he can’t say enough how much they’ve improved his health, his wellness and his spirits.

“I’m glad I’ve had the CMMC fitness center to be physical three times a week,” he said. “I still miss being more active, but this helps. It wasn’t hard to get started again, and it became part of my life very quickly. I never gripe about it and I always look forward to it. It felt good from the get-go.”






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