January 19th, 2010
02:37 PM ET

I still can’t believe they picked me

By Stanley Saballett
CNN Fit Nation Challenge Participant

I am just a regular person who works every day. For some reason, I’ve always been shy of the limelight. Maybe it’s the old African proverb that says,”A camera can capture your soul,” or the fear of the sin of pride taking over, and ego. I don’t know but I’ve always shied away from the camera. A documentary was recently completed at the San Diego Youth Services transitional living program, Take Wing, where I am the program manager. The goal was to make people aware of the thousands of youth in San Diego living on our streets, homeless. I’ve overseen the program for the last 11 years and been a part OF the agency for more than twenty years but I still refused to be part of the documentary. That’s just not me.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/01/19/stanley-saballet.jpg caption="Stanley Saballett is competing in the 2010 Fit Nation Challenge."]
But as I watched it, I was reminded of the struggle these youth have gone through. They swallowed their pride and showed that they were vulnerable and needed help. It made me think, if we need help, it doesn’t matter who we are, we should seek it. That same day, I went home and turned on CNN to find Dr. Gupta’s call for America to get fit. I wrote down the Web site casually, went to sleep and forgot about it. A few days had passed when I found my chicken scratch with the address. I had some extra time (it was 1:30 a.m.), and started sifting through some of the videos that had been submitted. It was Ricky’s video that ultimately inspired me to submit my own. The sincerity in his purpose came across and made me think: Maybe I should be doing this, for the Take Wing youth and myself.

I am always encouraging the youth to live healthy and to be healthy. I want the best for them, especially after everything they’ve lived through. It takes a lot to repair a broken spirit, but physical health definitely helps.

There were only supposed to be five competitors but CNN expanded the competition to include a sixth person. To think that CNN may have made that exception for me, it’s hard for me to believe. Now it’s my turn to be helped by training for and completing my very first triathlon. I will look to my friends, family, co-workers and of course the youth for encouragement and inspiration while I experience this life-changing challenge.

Now that I am back in San Diego, the real work begins. There is no trainer (yet) and there is no camera but I am still doing something every day to work out. Friday, I took the Take Wing youth up Cowles Mountain (highest peak in San Diego) for about a 2½-mile hike. All along the trails, they sent their words of encouragement, and it fills me.

Yesterday, my brother, the “bro-trainer,” pushed me while doing an 8-mile mountain bike ride through Rancho Penasquitos Trail. When we were done with the bike ride, I still had plans to run, but I could tell my brother had other ideas. “Go ahead and start running and I’ll ride beside you,” he said, supporting me the way only a big brother will do for his little (BIG) brother.

I am racing for the youth, my mom and for people with cancer. It’s a commitment I’ve made in my heart, although not public until now.

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soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Debbie Pino-Saballett

    Hi Stanley,
    I just read your first entry and I could really feel it come from your heart. One of the first things I thought about when you said you were going to be part of this amazing experience was how much this was not like you to be in the limelight, and THIS was definitely going to take you out of your comfort zone. That's when I realized how serious and committed you were to making the changes necessary. I have no doubt that you will do this. I have a feeling there will be a lot of pain along the way, but I hope you know you have the love and support of your family. ...we are all behind you Stanley. We will be there to cheer you on when you are doing well, and hopefully lift you up and provide support when you hit the low points. Go Stanley!

    January 19, 2010 at 22:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. rickeywilliams

    Stanley, I'm so pumped to be on your team for this lifechanging adventure. Run! Bike! Swim!

    January 20, 2010 at 15:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Sezina Saballett (A.K.A Stanley's Little Sister)


    I’m so excited! This challenge is made for you! The best part of it all, is that you are going to positively affect all of those around you, including me! You have my full support through it all! I look forward to watching you cross that finish line in July!! Things don't just happen by chance, so enjoy the ride!! Do it for the youth, do it for people with cancer, do it for our mother and do it for YOU! Love you!


    January 21, 2010 at 01:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. kelly

    I am a single mother of 5 incredible children. I am 31 now and feel at times like i have lived several life times – things have been very hard, we have been homeless more then once but God is good and I see the goodness in my babies and other kids everyday. My older 3 kids are in school now and all are honor roll students! I have one year left to complete my Bachelors degree and life is getting so much better for us everyday. The one thing missing was my faith that there were good men still out there- not to marry or even date- but those that care about children like we all should. Thank you for doing this for all of the children – for what its worth you are a man i would be happy for my 3 boys to grow up like.

    January 21, 2010 at 12:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Bryan Tarr

    Life gave me the chance to repair computer at San Diego Youth Service where Stanley works. When I first meet him, to me he was an man who learned to become a man in this world, spoke from the heart and made everyday an adventure. You can see this in how he has become a leader, an example for the kids and inspires them to become more than they believe they can be.

    Now life has given him a golden door to walk through. Know having had the chance to know Stanley better, I feel that he has stepped into a new adventure that will increase the scope of his influence and allow his true heart to shine like it never has before.

    I can wait to see his changes and to see what this opportunity has become in his life.


    January 21, 2010 at 14:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Pia M.

    You have a crowd of people from Chicago cheering you on!

    January 21, 2010 at 16:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Magdalena Garcia

    Wow! This is awesome! The people of Ravenswood Presbyterian Church in Chicago are praying and pulling for you! I will share this story in worship on Sunday. They will be delighted to have news of you and your family. Give our regards to everyone.

    January 21, 2010 at 17:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Maria

    GO STANLEY! It's people like you who commit to themselves and their health that make it easier for other to consider doing the same. I am so impressed by your commitment and dedication to this movement. You are an inspiration and a role model to the youth you work with! GOOD LUCK!!!

    January 21, 2010 at 21:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Heaven Johnson (Take Wing graduate)

    When I saw your picture I couldn't help but laugh out loud, and I mean OUT loud. That is the Stanley we all know, love and adore. I am so happy for you and this journey you are beginning to better your health. You have always been so supportive of my and the other service partners at take wing's health and fitness. From day one, I remember when I brought over that Natural Health book and we talked for hours. Or the time when you finally convinced me to get a bike, even when you took us service partners to Cowels Mt and suffered on the way up, but somehow beat us on the way down (not fair!). And the most fun of them all was that Military boot camp challenge for civilians, where we enjoyed a 3 mile run jumping over hay stacks, crawling through tunnels, all while being yelled at by the seargents! lol. Good stuff.
    Touching upon your first entry, FINALLY! You've always been avoiding the spot light, and this is truely making up for ALL the times you never wanted to be in a picture or film.. lmao!! Stanely this opportnity was made for you! take care and enjoy!!
    Ps: im finally in NY I chose Syracuse!! Thanks for all your support Stanley. WORK- IT- OUT!!!

    January 22, 2010 at 14:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Jake Tison

    Hello Stanley,

    It took my documentary for you to change the way you feel about yourself and to accomplish your ultimate goals in life? Then I must say that the documentary was a success way beyond what I could have possibly imagined. For you to do a complete 180 after denying me to be interviewed for the film and after asking for months and months and to be where you are today, I should be the first to stand and applaud. You have a future of being a great leader. That is something you are designed to be. Good luck and keep up the good work!

    Jake Tison

    January 23, 2010 at 00:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. jonell Take Wing Residential Advisor

    Well, here u go.... i am so happy for u and proud of u...u are always the one talking to not only the youth of Take Wing but also the staff,,lol u know that i have been on the receiving end. I just want to say that i am proud of u and so happy for u.. u have my support and maybe, just maybe i will start some sort of real program...u are always so supportive of others and its time that u get some support. Best wishes to u and if i am able to be at that finish line believe u me i will be there...but know that i will be there in spirit....

    January 24, 2010 at 11:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Joanna LaLicata

    Im so proud of you! Wish I can be there for you each step of the way to cheer you on!! I know you have all the strength you need to do this. You are strong inside and out. You my rock! You support all that is positive and I love you for that! This story is the best. Great things come to you because you deserve it. You are always projecting help and support and love to others. It’s no wonder you get it back. Your family is beautiful and Im so glad to hear you have so much support. And I am so glad you are taking this opportunity to take care of yourself. Be selfish, its your turn. Go LarryLair!

    January 24, 2010 at 14:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Elisângela Machado

    Hi my cousin Stanley!!!

    I miss you, you Know that I love you so much and I am so happy for you!!!

    Vou continuar em português... não pode mais comer coxinha de galinha... hahaha... did you remember??!! In 2004 you told me this when you came in Brasil... "I am going to eat healthy"... and then this time is now... is now in 2010... this is your moment and a good moment!!!! Run, Bike and Swim!!! You are strong. You are a winner!!

    We love you... muito muito muito......... your aunt Cida is so happy for you too and send you blessing!

    I will be there when you cross the finish line.

    A Kiss and a cheese!!

    Te amoooo!!! Se cuida tá e você vai vencer, creia nisso, Deus te ama e te protege!!
    sua prima Elisângela

    January 24, 2010 at 21:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Gabriella Larkins

    Stanley, I can't believe it! That is so AWESOME! I just read all your blog and I am very emotional right now. This is huge! I am so glad that you are so motivated now with this big opportunity to change your life. You know, last year I made myself a challenge and decided to run the half marathon here in SB. For me, it was a big deal, since I have never ran any five miles before. I did and was proud of myself. Now my friend, this is your chance to succeed in a very strong way. I know you will do GREAT! I will be thinking about you here with Sezina. Congratulations in this new adventure! Love, Gabi

    January 25, 2010 at 12:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Steven

    I am so stoked for you! I can't wait to see you scream by me in the water, bike, and the path!

    January 25, 2010 at 16:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Larietta

    You are an animal, and I know you can do it. I hope we can go on more jogs around the neighborhood. It felt great and I want to be able to help you in many ways!! I got your back and lets keep it going! I think im going to do that half marathon now, partially to raise money for cancer research and because you inspired me! YOU CAN DO IT......

    January 27, 2010 at 15:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Miss K

    Wow, how inspiring!! You are a GREAT candidate for this challenge and you definently deserve this opportunity. There are many youth looking up to you as a leader and your role in this race shows your leadership capabilities. You have a BIG HEART and great spirit, I'm sure your determination will send you across that finish line with a HUGE smile on your face knowing you made a difference in many lives. You are an inspiration to me as well, as I get myself ready to join the AF your words of encouragement are greatly appreciated. You have my support!!

    January 27, 2010 at 22:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. jan

    YOU GO STANLEY! Did a great job at the going away party last week said no to the whip cream cake, and all the other sinful foods that were being offered. Wish I had done the same.. Will be cheering for you all the way! YOU CAN DO IT>>DATS RIGHT>>

    February 2, 2010 at 16:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. FeiLi

    Hey Stanley, you inspired me! I'm currently in the lead with the admin biggest loosers, which got started when your group was trying to disqualify you. So, how is it going with the training? Are you on a running, swimming, and biking regimen?

    March 2, 2010 at 20:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Liz Samuels

    Congratulations!!! It's crazy how I just came across this link on FB. I was like wait a minute I know this dude!

    March 4, 2010 at 15:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Sophia Sanchez

    Hi Stanley,
    I heard about your new challenge from B and I am so excited for you! As a former Take Wing Case Manager I know first hand how dedicated you are to the youth of San Diego and how much hard work and dedication this new role will be for you. I want to let you know that I support you in what you are doing and know that the young people you touch everday through your work will be inspired by watching you get fit and provide them with the inspiration to do the same in their lives. Continue to do greatness and greatness will come to you.
    Saludos- hermano- te deseo lo mejor en tu nueva adventura...shaaa- que viva nuestra gente latina!

    March 5, 2010 at 15:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Brian Eliel

    Yeah Stanley! Go for it I know you still have that basketball player in you. You can make this happen and be an inspiration to the kids that you work for! Say hello to Maxo for me!

    Brian Eliel

    March 5, 2010 at 19:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Michele Christensen

    Congratulations Stanley!

    I don't know if you remember me but I worked with your sister at Papagallo's in Santa Barbara when she was in college. Michele Lipka back then. Tall, brunette. I was searching for your little sis and ran across this article.

    If you could please let Sezina know I would love to reconnect, that would be great! Not sure exactly how to get her my contact info but I can check back here. Thanks! And good luck to you with the fit challenge!

    March 22, 2010 at 18:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Jackie

    Go Stanley!! We are rooting for you!!

    May 18, 2010 at 13:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Mark Blackshear

    Stanley! You are truly an inspiration to us youth and to everyone you come into contact with. Recently I was on a panel and they asked me "who motivated you to become something greater".... and "who were your leaders"? Thinking about my life and my time in youth programs, immediately you came to mind! And after viewing that photo of you up there on this CNN page I thought... YUP!!! That's him!
    I want to say thank you for entering this wonderful race and thank you reaching out to be a part of something greater than yourself!!!!
    Keep training hard Stanley, a keep giving your all to these youth!!!!

    May 19, 2010 at 16:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Nicole Take Wing Case Manager

    Keep up the hard work.

    May 25, 2010 at 13:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Jessica (aka JJJ)

    Stanley- It has been so great running and doing yoga with you these past few months as you prepare for this amazing opportunity and adventure! You are an awesome workout buddy and I hope you know this triathalon is just the start of many more workouts, races and trainings!! Good luck–you will do great!!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 13:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Gabrielle Janik


    I am so proud of you! Your fam at I.A.M.S. is behind you 100% Keep up the great work! We love you!

    June 21, 2010 at 12:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Jonell Residential Advisor-Take Wing

    Well Stanley i was just on the web page and saw the count down. Fifteen more days....I know that it is hard not having me there to get u running, eating right and overall exercising lol. But know that im there in spirit...im so proud of you. Keep up the good work... see u when u return..

    July 2, 2010 at 15:59 | Report abuse | Reply
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