Over six years, Cheyenne Altman has helped hundreds of people achieve a healthier lifestyle at the Lakewood Family YMCA. But when her newest client walked in the door last Friday, she didn’t bombard him with physical tests or nutritional lectures. She greeted him with a long overdue hug.
The client was her older brother, Gil Quante, and their meeting at the YMCA was the first time they’d seen each other in 30 years.
“It was surprising because here’s my sister and she’s my sister, not a stranger,” Quante said. “It’s just instant family.”
They’d been orbiting each other in the same building for several months – he working at the in-house coffee shop, she volunteering as a fitness coach – but neither made the connection until last Friday’s chance appointment.
After Altman looked at his name three times, it clicked.
They spent the next two hours in the YMCA conference room catching up on lost time. Later that night, the pair went to church to thank God for their improbable reunion.
“If anything had happened differently for either of them, they wouldn’t have found each other, and we’re proud of the role the Y had in that,” said Kim Ketcham, the Lakewood Family YMCA’s communications director.
HER JOURNEY TO FREEDOM
Altman, 55, was ecstatic to reconnect with her brother, 56. But had the reunion taken place a few years earlier, she may not have been so receptive.
She says she endured abuse during her childhood and moved out on her own at age 17, a few years after the family relocated to the Puget Sound area.
The last time she saw Quante was at his wedding. Not long after that, she changed her name in the wake of another abusive relationship.
Altman was consumed with feelings of anger, hatred and betrayal toward her abusers, her family and the world. She turned to food for comfort, but the overindulgence led only to obesity.
A visit to the doctor made her realize the harm she was doing to her body. She joined the YMCA, where she began losing weight, and she eventually became a volunteer coach.
Gail Cicelski, the mission director at Lakewood Family YMCA, learned of Altman’s troubled past and suggested she take part in Journey to Freedom, a program that tries to heal the emotional wounds of participants.
“As I went through it, there was a lot of tears and a lot of healing,” Altman said. “I found God again. He was there, but he was in the dark.”
She credits the program with allowing her to let go of her past and embrace her future – including the brother who has now walked back into her life.
“I was reluctant because I was angry and hurt and devastated,” Altman said. “It (Journey to Freedom) made it easy to love my brother again.”
HIS PLEDGE TO ANOTHER SISTER
The thought of reuniting with his sister first entered Quante’s mind in February while in New Mexico for his father’s funeral.
As happens on such occasions, family relationships were discussed. His sister Rosa – the youngest sister of the family’s five siblings – expressed her wish to reconnect with their estranged sister.
She assigned Quante the task of tracking her down.
“She (Rosa) told me, ‘before I die, I want you to promise me one thing: I want you to find our sister and get us together,’” Quante said.
He promised he would try his best, but he didn’t know where to start. He heard rumors about where she was or what she was doing, but he had no idea how to find her. He didn’t even know she’d changed her name to Altman.
Little did he know that she lived only a few miles away from his South Tacoma home and that she volunteered at the same YMCA where he had opened a Forza Coffee shop six months earlier.
It was not until he and his wife, Joanne, decided to start using their membership at the Y that Quante was able reconnect with one sister and keep his promise to the other.
“She (Rosa) was hysterically happy,” Altman said. “I love it. Now I have family.”
BETTER THAN EXPECTED
Quante said he had no knowledge of the abuse his sister reports happened during their childhood. Hearing about it made him angry. But after seeing how she’s managed to let go of her past, he decided the best course was to support her as she continues to heal.
“It’s given me the ability to receive Cheyenne and be the big brother,” Quante said. “It’s not what I expected, it’s better than I expected.”
With their first meeting in the books, a party is being planned to welcome Altman back to the family. In addition to rediscovering her siblings, she will have a chance to get to know other relatives, including six nieces and nephews.
Quante and Altman both say the best part of their reconnection will be celebrating future holidays together, as family.
“Before I met him, through the years, it was really lonely around the holidays,” Altman said. “That’s going to take a while to get used to – I have a brother to celebrate my birthday with now.”firstname.lastname@example.org