Guest Columnist:

‘Jersey Boys’ star John Salvatore wears his physical and mental battle scars with pride


“Jersey Boys” actor and yoga instructor John Salvatore.

Thu, Jul 24, 2014 (2 p.m.)

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“Jersey Boys” actor and yoga instructor John Salvatore.

As Robin Leach arrives for his annual summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy — plus, Lake Como and Lake Maggiore this year — many of our Strip personalities have again stepped forward in his absence to pen their own words of wisdom. We continue today with three of the stars of “Jersey Boys” at Paris Las Vegas. Here is John Salvatore.

As a performer in “Jersey Boys” for six-plus years, maintaining freshness and spontaneity doing eight shows a week is always a challenge. One of the main tools I use for keeping mentally focused and present onstage is my daily yoga practice. Not only do I practice yoga once a day, I also have been a certified Bikram yoga instructor for 13 years, teaching five to six 90-minute classes per week.

At 52 years of age and after many years of being a dancer, I have a quite a few battle scars physically and mentally. The physical being an occupational hazard, the mental from overcoming injuries, rejection and many disappointments. I’ve had numerous broken bones, knee surgeries, a double hernia repair, and my hips have been replaced with titanium.

And that’s life, for which I am grateful, because all of this made me who I am, and I wear these battle scars with pride.

It always seemed, however, that even with being successful and making my living in show business for decades that it wasn’t enough, that something was missing on a visceral level. Show business, I learned, was what I did for a living, but it is just a small part of who I am. Trying to fill that void with applause can only last for so long. I felt the need to connect with the human spirit on a more personal level.

Becoming a yoga teacher has been so much more than I expected, and I am in a constant state of amazement and wonder when I observe some of my students’ experiences before, during and after their class. They all have one thing common, one common denominator: They all want to heal. We all have pain in our lives, but to have the courage to deal with that pain, whatever it may be, and face it head on says so much about one’s character.

I’ve seen some incredible examples. I’ve witnessed several yoga students battling with depression, anxiety, addictions, deaths, the list goes on. I’ve had an 82-year-old man and a 5-year-old girl in the same class. There is a man who has had brain surgery, women with breast cancer, the man with a triple-bypass heart surgery and the girl who was legally blind.

There have been several with Parkinson’s disease and some who were deaf. Each and every one of them seeking healing and comfort, yet not one of them making an issue of their disabilities, complaining about their, or being a victim of, circumstance; all trying to stay in the solution rather than the problem.

Once, a very tall, well-built, athletic-looking young woman came in; she was a visitor from out of town, and it was her first yoga class. A few minutes before we began, I went to talk to her to give her a brief introduction to the class. I noticed that she was wearing socks. Well, because of all the intense sweating, we are all bare-footed when practicing. When I told her that she didn’t need to have her socks on, she said, “One of my legs is prosthetic and I’m afraid that I’ll slip if I don’t wear them.”

On the outside, from observing her, this was something that clearly wasn’t obvious to me. Now, normally when a student has an injury, physical disability or ailment, they tell the instructor upon entering the studio. So I said to her, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that you had an injury” (probably not the best word to describe it, but it’s what came out of my mouth). Then she said, “It’s not an injury; it’s just life.”

After I got my jaw off the ground and started the class, I was absolutely bewildered at how this stunning creature performed every single posture in the standing series working with what she had as opposed to what she didn’t have. When we got to the floor series, which requires a lot of bending of the legs, she just simply removed her prosthetic leg and kept going.

Another time, a man around his late 20s entered the room in a wheelchair and set his mat up in the back of the room against the wall. He had no legs. Using his arms, he lifted himself out of the chair and onto the floor. I gathered that with his familiarity of his surroundings, he had taken this kind of yoga before. During the standing series, which is about 50 to 55 minutes long, he propped his spine up against the wall and did every posture only with his upper body.

When we got to the floor postures, same thing. He used every single ounce of what he had mentally and physically. It was beautiful. Afterward, out in the lobby of the studio, the first thing I asked him was, “How long have you been practicing yoga?” He said, “On and off for about eight years. I find that it helps me with my marathon training.” (What?!)

Then I said, “Do you mind if I ask you what happened to you?” He told me that he had been in a car accident when he was 18 and lost both his legs and how lucky he was to be alive. Amazing. He had every excuse to play the victim, but he didn’t.

I don’t want to downplay or belittle any of our own problems, and the amount of courage, determination and positivity that it takes me to get through a day, a yoga class or sometimes to even simply get out of bed is enormous. But these people inspire on so many levels.

I used to think that if I did not get the job or the relationship that I was worth nothing. If I was in a show, I was happy and I was successful. If I was unemployed, I was miserable. My happiness and self-worth was always contingent upon outside factors: jobs, physical appearance, relationships.

Of course it is important for all of us to acknowledge and accept our challenges for what they are, but we must never get caught up in them so much that we lose our soul or the whole purpose of our existence.

At the end of the day, all we need to remember is how much we loved.

Be sure to read our other “Jersey Boys” guest columns from Lauren Tartaglia and Jason Kappus. On Sunday, check out our guest columns from Boyz II Men heartthrob singer and Mirage headliner Shawn Stockman; Mirage chef Michael LaPlaca, who brings Italian home at his restaurant Portofino; and Jeffrey Bank, CEO of Alicart Restaurant Group (Carmine’s at the Forum Shops in Caesars Palace).

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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