Fitness class caters to cancer survivors

Cathy Skinner has a passion for helping people regain strength, balance after major illnesses

In a training session, students used the Pilates Springboard in Studio U to strengthen their arms and backs, while working to improve balance. Photo by Margie O'Loughlin

Cathy Skinner is used to keeping a lot of balls in the air.

A former collegiate volleyball coach for 10 years, she now specializes in helping cancer survivors regain their health through fitness. She offers coaching for well-being, certified personal training, corporate wellness, exercise and recovery for cancer survivors through her business the Art of Well in Uptown.

Cathy Skinner, founder and CEO of the Art of Well and Thrivors. Photo by Margie O'Loughlin
Cathy Skinner, founder and CEO of the Art of Well and Thrivors. Photo by Margie O’Loughlin

Her Wednesday morning class is offered at Studio U, located on the northeast corner of West Lake and Irving Streets in the Citadel Building (suite 201). Students use a wall-mounted system of bars and pulleys called the Pilates Springboard. This research-based exercise program helps build strength, balance, flexibility, range of motion and regain functional movement that may have been lost during cancer treatment.

Skinner currently works with 20-plus students per week, between her classes in three locations and her in-home clients.

“My vision is to bridge the industries of fitness, health care, and health insurance by providing innovative services that improve the lives of people living with chronic illness,” she said.

She brings an impressive set of credentials to her work. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in organizational leadership, Skinner is also a certified Pilates instructor, a certified professional trainer, a licensed cancer exercise trainer and certified in the physical activity for lymph-edema protocol.

Student and breast cancer survivor Nadia Janson said she’s gotten a lot out of Skinner’s class.

“I learned a lot of things through the course of my illness. First and foremost, I learned that I have to take care of myself,” she said. “I met Cathy through a connection with the Minnesota Oncology Support Group I belonged to. Her exercise regimen helped me get through my treatment. One of the best discoveries was that I slept so much better on the days that I exercised. The support I get from Cathy and the other students has helped me stay positive too.”

Bob Olson is a retired gastroenterologist. He started feeling severe pain in one of his shoulders 18 months ago.

“Like any good physician, I took Advil and tried to muscle through,” he said.

He soon learned he suffered from multiple myeloma, a cancer of the immune system. After four months of aggressive treatment, which included a complete harvesting of his own stem cells, he was left feeling extremely fatigued but unable to sleep.

Skinner began coaching Olson in his home a year ago. He had peripheral neuropathy in both feet from the radiation treatments, and needed help to regain his sense of balance. Now he walks more than 3 miles several times a week.

“She’s the reason we’re here,” he said of Skinner.

In addition to her teaching skills, Skinner has a strong entrepreneurial streak. Recognizing that cancer patients face many barriers to participating in group activities (such as pain, fatigue, cost, transportation and immune-compromise), she started a new venture called Thrivors.

Thrivors is an online exercise and nutrition protocol tailored to individual needs.

“I’ve leveraged the connections I’ve made through the Art of Well classes, and am excited to use the on-line platform to reach people in a different way,” Skinner said.

The program has advanced to the semi-final round of two statewide competitions for aspiring entrepreneurs: the Mayo Clinic Think Big Challenge and the Minnesota Cup.

“I’ve been working exclusively with cancer survivors since 2008,” she said. “Whether we meet in person or through the online program, my goals are the same: to help students improve their health, to assist them in identifying areas of conflict or tension that they may not see, and to develop effective, daily strategies for better work-life balance.”


For more information, visit or call Cathy Skinner at 651.587.5440.