Craig Swenson’s personal goal is to make one person smile every day.
“He’s very genuine,” said Virginia Kaczmarek, CEO of the Northfield Area Family YMCA and Swenson’s supervisor. “Once you meet Craig, you don’t forget him.”
Evidently not—in a recent poll to determine Northfield Patch’s Person of the Year, Swenson received 1,365 votes out of a total of 2,974 votes, a close second to Northfield Healthy Community Initiative executive director Zach Pruitt.
Gale Marchand, fitness manager of the senior center, wasn’t nearly as surprised when she heard that her colleague’s hard work and strong character had been recognized by the community.
“He’s really a person that you just want to be around,” said Marchand.
Marchand described Swenson as cheerful, caring and brimming with team spirit. She also noted that he is excellent at adapting fitness classes for a wide range of skill levels, including participants with injuries and limitations, a critical skill for a senior fitness instructor.
This knack for adapting workouts is no surprise, given Swenson’s own medical history.
Now 27, Swenson was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that caused his feet to point backwards and his leg muscles to function improperly. After more than 100 surgeries, Swenson now walks with the assistance of leg braces.
At age 12, Swenson began attending the Courage Center, a youth rehab sports center for children with physical and mental disabilities. His time there inspired him to pursue a career in fitness.
In 2000, Swenson encountered another medical challenge when he was struck in the head with a football and sustained a traumatic brain injury. The injury caused memory loss. Swenson was temporarily unable to speak and suffered from focal seizures.
Undaunted, Swenson learned sign language to help himself reclaim his speech and has now fully regained the ability to speak.
“The word ‘can’t’ has the word ‘can’ in it,” said Swenson, when explaining his willingness to take life’s challenges head on.
Swenson, who holds degrees in exercise sports science and business, is currently studying for certification as a personal trainer.
“He’s really quite an incredible individual,” said Marchand. “It’s a privilege to know him.”