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Encouragement matters: Shay Cohen has arrived as The Forum’s unofficial greeter

SALISBURY — Shay Cohen is never afraid to try something different.

“I’ve certainly lived an interesting life,” she said.

Based on the places she’s been and the jobs along the way, few could argue the point. But for sure, Cohen has become the unofficial greeter for the morning group at The Forum fitness center.

Always bright and happy, she finds the right words of encouragement.

“I’m not a negative thinker and want to help everyone,” Cohen said. “I help them get rid of their own negatives.”

Head trainer Glenn Heilig has trained Cohen for the past several years.

“She always comes in with a positive vibe ready to work,” Heilig said. “She gives hugs to everyone around her and brings a lot of joy, encouragement and motivation to many members here at the gym.”

Always interested in her own health, Cohen has found a home in Salisbury and at The Forum. But the road has been long, varied and interesting.

After just two years of serious workouts, she has become exceptional at both cardio and weight training at the age of 63.

Born in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, Cohen grew up there and went on to a degree in food science from Cook College at Rutgers University. Right away, she wanted to try something different than the inner workings of food service and headed off to be a park ranger in Bly, Oregon, a town of about 500.

She worked for the U.S. Forest Service on a survey crew.

“I got to draw maps and ended up knowing everybody in the town,” she said. “My favorite thing was to invite everybody over to make sundaes on Sunday afternoon.”

The next move was with the Forest Service too, this time to North Bend, Washington.

“More of the same, I was able to direct people to where they could camp and hike, and I issued woodcutting permits,” she said.

After 10 years of that, Cohen returned home to New Jersey to attend the New York Restaurant School in New York City. The love of food and cooking had caught up with her again, and she embraced the time with family, something she needed.

After graduation, Cohen headed for work as a chef with Club Med in Cooper Mountain, Colorado.

“It wasn’t what I expected,” she said. “We worked seven days a week for $100 a week and room and board and little free time, but what I had was used for skiing.”

On to Eleuthera in the Bahamas and another Club Med location.

“There were chefs from all over the world, and we did a lot of great buffets. We had a circus at our location and I got to work the shows. The club was like being on a cruise ship but with very few women workers.”

After a year, she returned to New Jersey to be head chef at Park and Orchard Restaurant, serving no red meat but tons of vegetables. The next move was to West Palm Beach and a restaurant called Carmine’s, where Cohen was a baker. She bought a house before finding her true calling in pest control.

“I knew nothing about it, but I treated it like my own,” Cohen said. “I went under houses and in attics. It was always hot in Florida attics, but I loved it. I got more tips than the men and eventually they sent me to any customer who was ready to quit. I was the ‘Fixer.’ The only bad thing was that I got pneumonia, I think from the chemicals. They wouldn’t let us wear masks.”

Throughout all this, Cohen collected antiques and eventually struck a deal to come to Salisbury in 2006, where she invested in a store called Forget Me Not Antiques.

“I had never heard of Salisbury and didn’t know anything about it,” she said. “But being an avid collector, it was what I wanted to do.”

A flawed colonoscopy in 2008 left her with a damaged spleen.

“I didn’t want to get the colonoscopy and afterward, while it healed, I didn’t leave the house for six months and fell into a sort of depression. A year afterward, I was finally healthy again.”

Cohen came to The Forum two years ago with a friend who needed a push and accountability. The friend didn’t continue, but Cohen was hooked.

“I loved it. I had been a walker for years, and I started doing cardio for 90 minutes a day, then a half hour class following that. Glenn got me started weight training and all of it is really working for me.”

Cohen’s on her elliptical and treadmill, then weights and a class for five days a week. Then she goes home to walk for one and half hours, a habit she sticks to every day including weekends.

Forum general manager Rayna Gardner said he loves having Cohen there.

“She is the epitome of positive energy,” Gardner said. “You can just about see it radiating around her. She’s very supportive to all her Forum friends, whatever their goal may be. And she’s done some pretty big things herself venturing into lifting weights at a later age. Her musculature has really changed over the last couple years. She looks great.”

With her dogs, some psychic abilities and interest in becoming a medium, Cohen is happy to be in Salisbury, at The Forum and in such great shape.

“I loved it and found my gym,” she said. “Everyone can do this.”

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