Mind, Body & Spirit

Hoorah: Beat Cancer Boot Camp inspires book

Anita “Sarge” Kellman isn’t in the military, although her recent book is entitled “It’s a Beautiful Day for Boot Camp”; it’s the subtitle, “Empowering Cancer Survivors with Physical and Mental Toughness” that reveals Kellman’s true calling.

A Tucson wife and mother, Kellman has worked in the medical field for nearly 30 years, currently as a patient liaison for a local surgeon.

In 2004, after meeting many women stunned by a cancer diagnosis and terrified of their prognosis, she started Beat Cancer Boot Camp, a local nonprofit exercise and support group. A fitness buff, Kellman had learned Navy SEAL exercises that she adapted for her own program. Her motto is “For Strength. For Health. For Life.”

Now with more than 700 “troops” — cancer survivors and their allies — Kellman says “it’s very rewarding for me, just seeing the impact the program has had on these women, getting thank yous from spouses and cancer survivors, showing the program has really worked for people.”

Three years ago, Kellman created the fundraising Beat Cancer Boot Camp Challenge, a 5K obstacle course along the Rillito River trail. She wrote to Stewart Smith, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, whose book “The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness, Maximum Fitness, and SWAT Fitness,” was the basis for her program, and invited him to Tucson to help with the event.

Smith came from Baltimore to lead the Challenge warm-up. “He was so touched that his book, which had trained Navy SEALS, was reaching out to a whole different group of people,” says Kellman. “He heard so many testimonials about the [local] program that we started talking about a [new] book.”

She and Smith co-authored “It’s a Beautiful Day for Boot Camp,” with Kellman’s 15-year-old daughter Marlee, one of her four children, contributing the introduction to Chapter Two, “Your Mother Wears Combat Boots.” Kellman’s mission has taken off nationally beyond the publication of the book.

The PBS station in Washington, D.C. has produced a Beat Cancer Boot Camp segment for its “My Generation” television program, which will be available in April to air on local stations around the country. “Sarge” also appears in “Commit to be Fit” twice monthly on KVOA-4 news with Martha Vasquez.

Kellman has licensed Beat Cancer Boot Camp, which now has chapters in Massachusetts and Ohio. She has traveled to Washington, D.C. to lead a warm-up for a cervical-cancer survivors’ walk and in May will lead another warm-up in Los Angeles at the Revlon Run/Walk for Women, she says, “for a mere 60,000 people.”

Here in Tucson, Kellman will serve as honorary chair for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure that will take place on Sunday, April 10 at Reid Park.

Kellman teaches boot camp classes three times a week at three different locations in Tucson. “I like empowering people with cancer to take control of something in their lives,” she told the AJP. “Being in the health care profession I’ve read studies [stating] that exercise not only can prevent cancer but it can prevent reoccurrence. It’s the closest thing we have to a magic pill.”

Her new book shows photos of boot camp members in all shapes and sizes, notes Kellman. “People in the program look and feel better and better every year. I wish we had before and after pictures. Their attitudes toward life changes too,” she explains. “They listen to their bodies more and take better care of themselves.”

The 2011 Beat Cancer Boot Camp Challenge will start at the Brandi Fenton Memorial Park on March 19 at 7:30 a.m. Entry fees: individuals, $35; squad of five, $150. All proceeds will go to Beat Cancer Boot Camp. For more information, call 546-1601, e-mail info@beatcancerbootcamp.com, or visit www.beatcancerbootcamp.com.