August 24, 2019

Hoffman honored by MDA

Aug. 25, 2011

By Adam White

Observer staff

Williston resident Sylvia Hoffman has been named the recipient of the 2011 Robert Ross Personal Achievement Award for Vermont by the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Hoffman, 30, emigrated to the U.S. from Romania three years ago, and has remained active traveling and volunteering for MDA Vermont despite being confined to a wheelchair. (Photo courtesy of Sylvia Hoffman)

After moving halfway around the world to Williston, Sylvia Hoffman is being recognized for living an inspirational life – in spite of a challenging physical condition.

Hoffman, 30, has been named the recipient of the 2011 Robert Ross Personal Achievement Award for Vermont by the Muscular Dystrophy Association. A native of Romania who has the motor neuron disease spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), Hoffman was recognized with MDA’s highest state-level award for her volunteer and advocacy work with the group, as well as her personal and professional achievements.

“She is a very well-rounded individual who has accomplished so much, despite her disability,” said Kelly Wyndronkowski, fundraising coordinator for MDA. “She never lets the things she is unable to do get in the way of what she can. This is a quality we should admire and look up to.”

Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Hoffman has traveled – sometimes alone – to places like New York City, Florida, Canada, Greece and her homeland. She said that national travel in particular has been an empowering experience, thanks to strides in handicapped accessibility that have been made across the country.

“America is very adaptable and puts no boundaries on people confined to a wheelchair,” Hoffman said. “Every place I visited has something unique, and I enjoyed them all. I like seeing new things, trying new foods, and learning about their history.”

She has also pursued a variety of professional disciplines, including pharmacy, accounting and Web design. She initially got involved in her parents’ pharmacy business, because she “wanted to help them, and have the opportunity to work like a normal person.” Since moving to the U.S., she has extended her travels deeper into cyberspace, enjoying its freedom while also recognizing an opportunity to increase awareness about her condition.

“I like computers, and spending most of my time at home, I got absorbed into what they offer, and what you can give back,” she said. “I tried to build a website about my disease and my way of living with it.”

Those efforts, in conjunction with her volunteer organizational work for MDA, are what first caught the eye of the organization’s leaders. She was selected as the Green Mountain State’s recipient of the Robert Ross Award after winning a local award from the MDA’s Eastern New York and Vermont chapter.

“[Hoffman] is a shining example of the kind of leadership that people with disabilities contribute to their communities every day,” said Gerald Weinberg, president and CEO of MDA.

Wydronkowski said that Hoffman is “always trying to figure out a way” to assist in MDA’s fundraising efforts in Vermont.Hoffman said she derives a kind of satisfaction from her community service that helps her further transcend the limitations imposed by her condition.

“It is a great feeling and opportunity to try to help others, as long as I can do it,” she said. “I am looking forward to future events organized by MDA and I would definitely want to participate again.”

Hoffman emigrated to the U.S. in 2008, and came to Williston shortly thereafter when her husband changed jobs. She said that several aspects of her new hometown – which she describes as “a resort town with friendly people and lots of fresh air” – have given her a boost in overcoming the challenges of her disease.

“I enjoy each day of sun in which I can go out and be independent, due to the accessibility of Williston’s buses and stores,” she said.

That increased accessibility has been a significant difference from her country of origin. As she worked to integrate herself into her family’s pharmacy business there, Hoffman had trouble establishing independence due to the obstacles created by SMA.

“Life in Romania was very disabling,” she said. “When I was living there, everything was very inadaptable.  I had to rely on others whenever I needed help.”

Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a genetic neuromuscular disease resulting in progressive muscular atrophy. The severity of the disease can range from mild to severe; Hoffman describes her case as “somewhere in the middle.” She can breathe on her own, but lost the ability to walk.

“SMA, for me, is a part of me, and of my life, but I have learned to cope with it,” she said. “Everything is a lot harder for me to do than a normal person, but I also know that there is always a solution.

“It is all about adapting to the situation. Challenges are everywhere, from the moment I open my eyes, and try to get out of bed, until the moment I go to bed, but being inventive and insistent helps to get me through the day.”

And by serving as a positive example of perseverence, the well-traveled Willistonian has likely helped many other people with disabilities get through their days as well.

“It is important for all others with disabilities to know and realize that accomplishments and successes are achievable and not impossible because of a wheelchair, walker or leg braces,” Wydronkowski said. “[Hoffman] is a determined, strong-willed person who is unwilling to let anything get in the way of her dreams and goals.”


The expanding power of yoga

Age-old technique’s following keeps growing in Williston and beyond

Aug. 25, 2011

By Adam White

Observer staff

Instructor Scott Duszko, center, guides students through a session of ‘Sports Yoga’ at Synergy Fitness Center in Williston. Yoga classes at gyms are typically aimed at improving physical aspects like flexibility and proper breathing during exercise. Observer photo by Adam White.

It sounds like a bad joke: what might a mountaintop hermit, a pregnant woman and Shaquille O’Neal have in common? The answer: yoga.

An integration of movement, breathing and meditation that is thought to predate written history, yoga has been employed by mystics, elite-level athletes and homemakers alike. It takes place in quiet solitude beneath Tibetan sunrises, on living room floors in front of practice videos and within the mirrored walls of health clubs.

September is National Yoga Month, and its approach finds a yoga scene in Williston that is both popular and varied. Numerous facilities offering yoga classes aimed at goals ranging from improving flexibility and integrating better breathing into exercise to unifying one’s body and mind as a means of seeking enlightenment.

“Each year, we’re seeing a growing number of studios and classes offering participants the opportunity to try yoga,” said Sora No, spokesperson for the Yoga Health Foundation’s National Yoga Month campaign. “We’re encouraging people to shop around and experience different types, until they find the one that most appeals to them.”

Future basketball Hall-of-Famer O’Neal was introduced to “Hot Power Vinyasa” yoga at a studio in Cleveland, at the suggestion of then-teammate LeBron James. Synergy Fitness in Williston offers classes in Fitness Yoga, Sports Yoga and even Yogalates, which incorporates elements of Pilates in order to raise the workout level. The Edge in Williston features traditional Sivananda, Vinyasa and Flow varieties interspersed with a special class aimed at stress reduction. Area instructor Rachel Alling even teaches pre-natal yoga for expectant mothers.

“Any yoga is good yoga,” said Allison Morse, who has operated the Ayurvedic Center of Vermont in Williston for six years. The Center began offering community yoga classes two years ago, and has seen increased interest in the discipline since. “The more people are doing yoga, the more peace we’ll see in the world – and that is really the ultimate goal.”

No pain, no gain

A more immediate goal – at least for participants in Scott Duszko’s Sports Yoga class at Synergy – is to reap the workout benefits of what is commonly referred to as “power yoga.”

“We take more of a fitness approach to yoga,” said Christina Schueneman, owner of Synergy. “Most people who use our classes are interested in improving things like flexibility and strength.”

Many of the more advanced poses require sharply honed balance, core strength and flexibility, making power yoga an attractive training tool for athletes.

“Focus on your breathing,” Duszko tells one of his students in mid-pose. “Learning to link your breath with your movement is going to help you when you’re lifting weights.”

This modernization of yoga has raised some questions among traditionalists, who see ego-driven concerns about body image and the de-emphasis of the practice’s meditative or spiritual components as unfortunate.

“Ideally, yoga shouldn’t be reduced to just a series of exercises,” said Sarab Kaur, who teaches Kundalini Yoga at the Ayurvedic Center. “It is a technique we can use to bring better balance to our overall being, through both mind and body.”

Though originally trained in audio engineering, Duszko has shifted to teaching via Honest Yoga, a South Burlington company built on the 15 collective years of instruction experience accrued by him and his wife, Danielle.

While he acknowledges that classes at Synergy may initially attract some participants solely for their exercise appeal, his hope is that students move beyond the purely physical benefits of the discipline into the mental and spiritual ones.

“It is really about how to live and carry yourself toward achieving oneness,” Duszko said, referring to the mind-body symbiosis that practitioners aspire to achieve. “And the physical and mental aspects aren’t really separate; when you’re all stretched out physically, it helps you to sit and meditate.”

Be here now

That quiet contemplation formed the foundation for yoga, upward of 5,000 years ago. The eight steps of Classical yoga outlined by the scholar Patanjali in his text “Yoga Sutra” are more of a mind-body map than a list of exercises, and include pratyahara (preparation for meditation, described as withdrawal of the mind from the senses) and dhyana (the ability to focus on one thing – or nothing – indefinitely).

“Yoga was originally done as a means of achieving enlightenment,” Kaur said. “Yogis used it as a way of mastering the mind, as a path toward reaching their full potential.”

That emphasis on yoga’s mental benefits is still very much intact at the Ayurvedic Center, where a focus on the primary elements associated with each season help shape the focus of yoga instruction.

“Moving into the fall season, it is getting colder and windier; there is more movement in the air,” Morse said. “We should be slowing down, because opposites balance – when there is more movement in nature, we need to be more still.”

While the nature of the movement may change with the seasons, Morse said it is important to remember the words made famous by Ram Dass in his book of the same title: Be Here Now.

“The most important thing is to be present, to focus on breathing and being in the moment,” Morse said. “Enlightenment is happening now.”


PHOTOS: Junior golf classic

Observer photos by Marisa Machanic

The 23rd annual Stephen J. Brown Junior Golf Classic took place at the Williston Country Club on Aug. 13.

PHOTOS: CVU football’s opening practice

Observer photos by Shane Bufano (

Champlain Valley Union had its first football practice of the season on Aug. 15.


This week’s Popcorn: ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’

Gorilla warfare

2 & ½ popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer

Listen to the folks at the monkey cage: “They’re so much like us…just a chromosome or two different, you know.” Fact is, it might as well be a million chromosomes. But while simple old bacteria stands a better chance of usurping the Earth, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” taps into the pseudo biology that perpetuates our fascination with this franchise.

But before climbing back into the trees, know that this prequel is what director Rupert Wyatt has termed a reboot of the series, based on the original book, “Monkey Planet,” by spy-turned-author, Pierre Boulle. In that respect, while constructed and marketed to please cult followers and new fans alike, license is taken with the continuity.

Yet perhaps more importantly, and unfortunately, a cautionary, doomsday statement about genetic engineering has now replaced the philosophical emphasis. Set in the present, it starts with researcher Will Rodman’s attempt to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Played enthusiastically by James Franco, his crusade is not entirely altruistic.

At home, his dad, portrayed by John Lithgow, continues to deteriorate from the scourge. But there may be hope. Trials on chimpanzees of a new gene therapy, ALZ 112, at Gen-Sys, where Will is your typical scientific genius/maverick, are hopeful. And interestingly enough, the test chimps have been getting real smart. Hmm, seems a little foreboding.

It is. Following events that lead to trouble back at the billion dollar research company, Will adopts a baby chimpanzee who his now improving father names Caesar. Taking up residence in a nicely decorated attic, Caesar sees his mental faculties increase daily. But his status is uncertain, his only solace being Will’s assurance that he is not a pet.

All of which begs the question, “Well then, what is he?” While never answered with satisfactory conclusion, it certainly doesn’t deter the quandary from serving as the focus of the movie. Caesar searches for identity. And, though maintaining a relationship with his surrogate dad, his increasing smarts prompt a zeal to realize some sort of destiny.

Naturally, lots of action attends the odyssey, exquisitely created by a digital process that also makes possible a virtual army of apes soon flooding the screen. Without giving away too much of the predictable tale, suffice it to note that much “Sturm und Drang” ensues as push comes to shove between humans and apes. Too bad the story isn’t as exciting.

It’s a function of artistic fashion. While the 1968 film was praised by many as superb for its allegorical take on race relations, genetics now trumps that as the flavor of choice. But whether or not this newest bit of dramatic muckraking can check a bio industry laying claim to all sorts of curious proprietorships, the techno-paranoia tale is a tad old.

Also a bit passé is the self-deprecating notion that, just because human behavior is exasperating, indefinable and ultimately unpredictable, other members of the animal kingdom would be far better stewards of the Earth. Surely a much simpler, non-human primate could govern more fairly. I bet they’d even enact a single payer health plan.

But the idyll, beyond its dramatically accommodating use as a literary metaphor, so brilliantly exampled in George Orwell’s iconic “Animal Farm” and poignantly executed in Rod Serling’s screenplay for the first “Planet of the Apes,” is nonsense. And yet again, buying in is much more fun than pondering the real exigencies of our supposed primacy.

Director Wyatt also takes the occasion to impress some thoughts about animal cruelty. The evil treatment of Caesar and his fellow chimpanzees at the hand of a horribly sadistic warden while incarcerated in a bedlam-like holding area is, sadly, not as over the top as we would like to imagine, and is used to justify the retribution that follows.

Making it all the more graphic are the special effects that can now render credible the most far-fetched concepts. Seeing is believing; and a landscape fashioned by computer-generated imagery and sensational art direction creates a package that effectively promotes the fanciful premise. But what really sells the idea is Andy Serkis’s performance — if, indeed, that’s what it is.

There is already buzz about whether or not Mr. Serkis’s motions and expressions, translated by computer to embody Caesar, and known as performance-capture, should be eligible for an Academy Award nomination. Acknowledging that new Oscar categories are rarer to come by than constitutional amendments, that nonetheless gets my vote.

Controversy aside, the missing link in this otherwise exquisitely produced film has been literature’s root DNA ever since we first thought to tell a tale: the plot. Of course, thanks to a box office phenomenon known as monkey-see, monkey do, even without a first-rate story, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” proves there’s no business like monkey business.


“Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” rated PG-13, is a Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation release directed by Rupert Wyatt and stars James Franco, Andy Serkis and John Lithgow. Running time: 105 minutes


Sports Notes

Aug. 18, 2011



Williston’s Brian Hoar celebrates on Aug. 13 after winning the American-Canadian Tour’s All-Star Challenge at New Hampshire International Speedway. (Courtesy photo by Eric LaFleche)

Just call him the Williston Whippet.

Veteran race car pilot Brian Hoar of Williston roared from 35th place in the American-Canadian Tour’s All-Star Challenge at New Hampshire International Speedway Saturday (Aug. 13) to victory in the two-segment, 70-lap event.

It was the fourth win of the tour season for Hoar, a multi late model tour champion.

Hoar placed second in the opening 25-lap segment.

He praised the wide, mile-long Loudon, N.H. super speedway, home to two NASCAR Sprint Cup events each year.

“I had a lot of anxiety starting 35th,” Hoar said in an ACT news release. “It’s a lot of fun to run three – and four-wide here and I have to hand it to the entire field; they were respectful and gave a lane.”

Hoar was third on a 36th lap restart. Leader and first segment winner Eddie MacDonald of Rowley, Mass. dropped out with ignition trouble and Hoar took the lead for good.



Champlain Valley Union head football coach Jim Provost had his red and white charges in full pads on a rainy early Monday afternoon as they went through exercises in the first of a double practice session held at the school.

In their seventh varsity campaign and fourth under Provost, the Redhawks open their initial season in Division I under the lights at Burlington on Sept.2.

CVU is coming off two years in Division II, where it went to the championship game two autumns ago and to the semifinals last year. In their first four seasons in Division III, the Redhawks made the postseason twice.

The other CVU fall sports — boys and girls soccer, field hockey and cross country — open with tryouts this Monday.


—Mal Boright



Aug. 18, 2011



On August 15, 2011, Gary Charles Mathon, 69, of Burlington, died at home surrounded by his loving family following a brief illness.

He was born on Nov. 24, 1941 in Burlington. He attended Nazareth School, graduated from Burlington High School in 1959 and Champlain College in 1962. He served his country in the Vermont Air National Guard from 1959 — 1965. Gary married Eleanor Purinton, a Rutland native, on October 5, 1963 at St. Peter’s Church in Rutland. He owned and operated Colonial Vending Service for over 35 years until his retirement in 1999.

In addition to his loving wife, he is survived by his three sons: Christopher and his wife Mary of Southborough, Mass., Michael and his wife Laureen of Shelburne, and Jake and his wife Meghan of Williston. He was the proud grandfather of nine grandchildren: Charles, Patrick, Cecelia and Marlene of Southborough, Mass.; Claire and Daniel of Shelburne; and Katherine, Margaret and Thomas of Williston. He was pre-deceased by his mother, Ramona (Yandow) Brown and his stepfather, Myles Brown.

He was a lifelong parishioner of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Burlington. Additionally, he was a member of the Knights of Columbus, Elks Club, St. John’s Club, and Kwiniaska Golf Club. During his retirement he enjoyed spending time with his family, winters in Florida, playing golf and his daily “coffee club” with his friends. A devoted family man, he will also be remembered for his kindness, generosity and gentleness.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Hospice Program of the Visiting Nurses Association, 1110 Prim Road, Colchester, Vt. 05446, or a charity of one’s choice.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Friday, Aug. 19, 2011 at 10 a.m. in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Church with burial to follow in Resurrection Park Cemetery. Visiting hours will be held on Thursday, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., at the Ready Funeral & Cremation Service South Chapel, 261 Shelburne Rd., Burlington. To send online condolences to the family please visit


Letters to the Editor

Aug. 18, 2011


Support the F-35 program

Vermonters across the state, but especially in Chittenden County, should be proud that our Vermont Air National Guard was chosen to host the F-35 program. This is a real testament to the first-class personnel and facilities of the Vermont Air National Guard.

The Vermont Air National Guard deserves our support in bringing the F-35 program to Vermont.


Albert Liguori



Guest column

Rethinking pizza as a healthy food choice

Aug. 18, 2011

By Dianne Lamb

Who doesn’t love pizza? What’s commonly considered fast food for college kids, and an integral part of their diet, can be a healthful meal for children and adults of all ages. How good it is for you depends on the choices you make.

You can purchase ready-made pizza from the local pizza shop or buy frozen pizza at the supermarket to pop in the oven for a quick meal. Or, you can look for pizza shells in the frozen food, bakery or bread section and just add pizza sauce and toppings.

Read the nutrition facts label on the pizza, however, before you purchase. Pay attention to the amount and type of fat. Remember that cheese and meat toppings can add a lot of fat.

Also, check serving size. It’s probably one slice. How many slices of that particular pizza do you usually eat? If your favorite pizza has 15 grams of fat per serving, a serving is one slice and you eat three slices, you have just consumed 45 grams of fat.

Ask pizzerias and fast food restaurants for nutrition information, so you can check the calories and fat (and other nutrients). Many chain restaurants list the nutritional value of their foods on their web sites.

A healthier alternative is to make your own pizza from scratch. It’s easy to do and a great way to get children and teenagers involved in food preparation. When it comes to flavor combinations for toppings, sauces and crusts, you are only limited by your imagination.

A crust made from refined, enriched flour provides vitamin B, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and iron. Choose a whole-wheat crust, and you add a chewy taste to your pizza and increased dietary fiber.

It’s what goes on the crust that can tip the scales. When you add sauce and toppings, you increase both calories and nutrients. Making sauces with a limited amount of oil is a good start. Although cheese is a good source of protein, vitamin A, riboflavin and calcium, it’s high in calories and fat. As a result, keep high-fat cheese to a minimum or sprinkle the crust lightly with part-skim mozzarella or low-fat soy cheese instead.

Standard meat toppings — including pepperoni, sausage, ground beef and ham — add calories and fat along with protein and nutrients. Consider alternatives, such as lean poultry, shellfish or beans. Adding fresh vegetables to your pizza provides color and texture as well as fiber. Try cauliflower, broccoli, eggplant, roasted bell pepper strips, onions or mushrooms.

Give pizza a Tuscan taste by topping it with diced, cooked white-meat chicken, finely chopped green onions and roasted red peppers. Sprinkle on a small amount of grated Parmesan or part-skim mozzarella cheeses. For a Mexican pizza, spread the crust with a spicy tomato sauce or chunky salsa and top with kidney, black or pinto beans, grated low-fat Monterrey Jack cheese and chopped oregano or cilantro.

Remember, pizza can be healthy and low fat. It’s the type and the amount of high fat toppings that you add that makes the difference.


Dianne Lamb is a retired nutrition and food specialist for University of Vermont Exension.


The Everyday Gourmet

Hot fun in the summertime

Aug. 18, 2011

By Kim Dannies

Tired of slaving over a hot grill while the gang chats and sucks on gin and tonics? I am. For the rest of the summer, I’m prepping ahead and staying cool. That means simple salads, pre-grilled proteins, and fun pasta swimming in a pool of fresh tomato and basil. This is the perfect time of year to break out those exotic jars of sauces lurking in your pantry. Pair them with shrimp and chicken kabobs, both excellent candidates for the grill/chill prep plan. Put out wraps or pitas, tomatoes and fresh greens, and you’ve got a cool meal and some hot fun.



Tortellini caprese

Cook 2 to 9-ounce packages of fresh tortellini; drain to a prep bowl. Roughly dice 3 tomatoes, removing seeds; add to bowl. Ribbon-cut lots of fresh basil; add to bowl. Cube 3 ounces of fresh mozzarella and add. In a small processor mince the zest of one orange. Add 3 garlic cloves, mince. Add the juice from the orange plus 2 tablespoons of bottled orange juice, and 1/3 cup olive oil. Blend well. Fold dressing over the pasta. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Prep up to 24 hours ahead; serves 4 to 8.


Prosciutto di parma greens

Eight-hour do ahead: cube-cut 2 ripe/firm avocados, place in a small bowl along with one avocado nut and douse lightly with lemon juice. Remove the seeds and roughly dice 4 tomatoes. Place in a small bowl and sprinkle with kosher salt. Cover both bowls and rest at room temperature. Clean fresh field greens, measuring out a generous handful per portion. Chill greens in a plastic bag. Add a garlic clove to a small jar. Add 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1/2 cup olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper. Seal.

Assemble salad: shake dressing well and add desired amount to the greens. Toss gently until lightly coated. Pile greens on a large rectangular platter. Using best quality Prosciutto, place small mounds of meat along border of the platter, forming casual “rosettes.” Scatter tomato and avocado down the salad’s spine. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France. She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three twenty-something daughters who come and go. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to