November 21, 2018
CKO Humanitarian 2018 - Lauren Mortenson

What are you giving thanks for this Thanksgiving? Your family? Your job? Your gym? A kidney from a total stranger that saved your life? Stay with us…

It’s time once again. That festive time of year in which we hang decorations, prepare a big meal, clink glasses with loved ones and practice gratitude.

We halt our inhaling of turkey and stuffing so that we can share what we are thankful for with all of those around us. We simply stop and take a moment to look around our holiday table and take it all in.

But, as it turns out, we don’t need a holiday or a feast or even a table for that matter, to be grateful. We can practice gratitude everyday.

Take Lauren Mortenson, for example.

Two weeks ago, CKO member Lauren Mortenson received some news. Some very good news. Her kidney, the only one she has, is functioning normally. In fact, that one kidney is supporting her body almost as well as when it had the second kidney next to it.

One year ago Mortenson donated one of her kidneys to a complete stranger. She originally volunteered to donate to her uncle, Ted Grabowski, whose life depended on it. However, when they weren’t a match Mortenson decided to donate her kidney to someone else out there, a stranger who would be a perfect match. Grabowski found a perfect match as well.

To date 58 people, donors and recipients, including Mortenson and her uncle, are part of this kidney donation chain through St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, NJ; it is the longest kidney donation chain in any hospital in the country.

Strangers helping strangers. Donors forever changed. Recipients forever grateful.

And Mortenson, a donor, just as grateful in her own right.

After years of struggling to find a workout that actually worked, in 2013 Mortenson joined CKO Kickboxing in Edison, NJ. It changed her life. More than once.

She lost weight. She lost excuses. She gained confidence, physical strength, mental strength, and new friendships. Plus, in her own words she gained “CKO… it kinda brought me to life and out of my shell… it’s my second home, my extended family.”

Yes, she is one of the thousands of CKO success stories. But there’s more to it than that. She credits CKO as the main source of support through a challenge that tested her limits, strength and perseverance. And it goes beyond a perfect roundhouse or a number on a scale.

Mortenson approached the owners of CKO Edison when considering her decision to donate her kidney, for she knew it would require altering her lifestyle in preparation for surgery.

“Prior to CKO I was overweight and suffered from iron-deficiency anemia. I got myself healthy through my CKO workouts and the instructors who kept me accountable… In order to donate a kidney, you have to be in pristine health.”

Her four years of dedication to her fitness and health made her a prime candidate.

As Mortenson went through rounds of testing, nerve-wracking back and forth discussions between her and the hospital, and months and months of waiting, CKO got her through.

Her decision to undergo surgery, putting her life and fitness journey on hold left her stressed and emotional. It was a time of uncertainty, yet her CKO workouts and all the people there who breathe life into that gym were her constant.

When she found out there was a donor match she turned to Charles Osinowo, Mike Napolitano and Roy LaBue, the three owners of CKO Edison for help. They immediately jumped right in to make a plan for her both pre and post surgery.

“Charles trained me before surgery, prepping me with how to eat and revising my workouts.  Mike was my go-to mentor for any time I was struggling… He was my encouragement that everything was going to work out like it was supposed to… Roy kept me focused and motivated in class… and reassured me that CKO would be waiting for me when I was ready to come back.”

From the owners to the trainers to the members Mortenson was able to go into that hospital on the day of her surgery with a mountain of support at her back.

She had only one question for the surgeon, “When will I be able to workout? I just need to know that I can kickbox again.”

And that she did.

Though she was instructed to wait 4-6 weeks to work out again, Mortenson returned for her first post-surgery CKO class at 3 weeks and 6 days. (Seems like quite the badass, doesn’t she?)

This class was very different from her last one four weeks prior. She had to start from a new place, building back the strength and endurance she had mastered through her four years and 800 classes at CKO.

This was where it got tough for her and where her CKO family stepped in. She so badly wanted to pick up where she left off, but members and her instructors kept her in check.

“I thought what if I can’t get back to where I was. What if I push too hard and then have to wait even longer to get back into the routine? That’s where members kept telling me to practice patience and have hope. If I had setbacks they were there to help and encourage me.”

It was the encouragement of members as well as the instructors like Meg Ferrara and Jackie Bienvenue, now one of Mortenson’s closest friends, that made all the difference.

“They were two people that I could vent to, that worked out with me, kept me focused and would yell at me to hold back a bit.”

Though Mortenson is not one to hold back naturally, she listened to her body as it healed, strengthened and changed. She heeded the advice of members and instructors, practicing patience as she progressed little by little.

It has been a little over a year since her surgery and Mortenson is back in full swing and even stronger than she was pre-surgery.

In June 2018 CKO Kickboxing honored her with the first ever CKO Humanitarian of the Year Award for her selfless act of donating her kidney.

Mortenson credits CKO to taking on this journey and getting through it. From the workout itself to the community within those yellow and black walls, Mortenson was fully stocked with sources of strength and encouragement.

“I’m so grateful for having CKO as part of my life. None of this… who I am now… I just wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t joined.”

Sometimes by just doing what we do, like unlocking the doors of our gym each morning, or leading members through a grueling but gratifying workout, we are helping others more than we realize.

No matter what part you play in this story, whether it be donor, recipient, member, franchise owner or instructor, every single person is giving someone else a reason to be grateful.

The members who work out side by side with you with inspirational stories of their own. The instructors who propel you forward, motivating you as they yell out their mantras. The franchise owners who hold your hand and work with you to make a plan. The donors who save lives. The recipients who are given a chance to live again, instilling hope in others.

Everywhere we look there is a reason to be grateful and a way to give back. You never know what a huge impact you may have in helping someone down a bumpy treacherous path in their life’s journey.

The holidays are known as the season of giving and giving thanks but it doesn’t have to start and stop here. It didn’t for Mortenson.

Practicing gratitude beyond the festive season is just a good way to live. A healthy way to live. A CKO way to live.

Whether you’re grateful for sculpted biceps, lifelong friends or a new sense of confidence you never knew was possible, CKO has given thousands of members something to be grateful for.

So that begs the question…What are you #CKOGRATEFUL for?

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CKO is currently running a #CKOGRATEFUL CONTEST! To participate, please visit – contest ends November 29th, 2018 at 11:59pm (EST)!

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Article written by Kimberly Oley, CKO Contributing Author and CKO Member since 2015.