Blazing New Trails

What’s your passion? More than just a hobby to fill odd moments, a passion is a deeply fulfilling pastime that creates a sustaining thread through your life. Whether it’s playing guitar, creating lovely things out of clay, training for progressively challenging athletic events or pursuing a favorite sport, it’s something that you can always turn to for mental and physical refreshment. The more stressful your life, the greater the benefits can be.

Jacob Shani, MD, an interventional cardiologist and Chairman of the Heart Institute at Maimonides Medical Center, New York, didn’t have a passion, other than his demanding profession, until the mid-1990s. Vacations were relaxing – lying on the beach or exploring exciting destinations like Paris or Rome – but they were isolated breaks from the pressures of the real world, rather than an integral part of his life.

His wife, Gilda, liked to vacation with friends at Canyon Ranch in Lenox. She persuaded him to give it a try, but he was deeply skeptical. “What will I do there? Lie down, get massages – it’s not for me.

“What I discovered was the active vacation. There isn’t much of an outdoors in New York, but Canyon Ranch has a wonderful, magnificent outdoors.” At home, he works out, goes to a gym and works with a personal trainer once or twice a week. “But you get lazy. Going to Canyon Ranch remotivates me. It’s a perfect kind of vacation. I work out hard, go hiking, exercise and I also get to relax. It rejuvenates and recharges you.”

A path to discovery

When they first arrived at the Ranch, he followed Gilda on her favorite activities – including a scenic hike. That initial taste of the outdoors lit a spark that grew into a consuming passion. “I fell in love with hiking.”

He’s hiked on the Appalachian Trail in the Berkshires, and in Tucson his favorite is the level 6 Linda Vista hike. “In Lenox, I like the Five Summits hike that starts and ends on Mount Greylock. Now we go on hiking trips every summer, to Europe or Latin America. This year we’re going to Iceland. We did the Dolomites in Italy – that’s pretty steep mountain hiking.”

Hiking has become an inseparable part of Jacob’s life, but he enjoys mixing it up a little. He and his wife have Canyon Ranch memberships, and in the course of around 50 visits to the Lenox resort and five or six to Tucson, he’s tried a wide variety of classes and sports – with emphasis on outdoor activities, like canoeing, paddle boarding, biking and snowshoeing. “I’ve done the High Ropes Course, but I look on it as a fun thing, like going to Disney World.”

An enduring Aha!

Mostly, he goes for the hiking. “That’s pretty much all I do.” One visit coincided with hiking week: Since then, he’s attended the event seven times, including once in Tucson. “The hikes are more advanced; they’re not only great hikes, but the people who come for that week are hikers – that’s what they do.”

And, he says, “the staff are wonderful. I’d give them an A-plus. A good guide makes or breaks a hike. He or she sets the right pace for the group, and isn’t selfish, but realizes the hike is for everybody. A good guide engages the guest and points out interesting things along the way.”

Camaraderie, mountain and desert scenery and seeing nature are intertwined in the intense pleasure he finds in hiking. “I’ve seen bears, coyotes, a roadrunner, deer… and in Tucson I even saw a bobcat.” Most of all, summiting a mountain is an inspiring experience that’s made hiking into his enduring passion.

“It feels great when you get all the way to the top. It’s not a moment that changes your life, but it’s one that enriches your life. One time builds on the next. It’s a continuum – not one Aha! moment; but doing it again and again, it kind of changes your life slowly – because you realize how important it is, and how great it is."

Learn more about hiking in Tucson and Lenox.