Forward momentumNamesake of Sandusky’s Tim Dorsey Fitness reflects back on cancer battle, talks about dipping his toes into acting

Perhaps the only thing that could have slowed down Tim Dorsey was cancer.

A man constantly in motion, Dorsey is a reminder the devastating disease can hit anyone. He was in his early 30s – and running a Sandusky fitness center that bears his name – when he was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer.

“I was in the absolute best physical shape of my entire life,” says Dorsey, on the move from the gym on a path that eventually will land him in his Perkins Township home. “I mean, I’m doing OK now, but at that age and that (time), I was eating healthy. I was doing everything that you were told to do.”

The disease could have led to an early death, but his body, with help from the area’s medical community and almost surely some good future, had other ideas. 

A few years earlier, around 2010, Dorsey was starting over, returning to the area where he’d grown up – he’d spent time in Sandusky, Perkins, Bellevue, etc., he says – after living for years in Chicago and Charleston, South Carolina. 

Unable to find the same kind of work he did at those two stops, he tended bar and worked construction to make ends meet.

“And I really didn’t enjoy it,” Dorsey says. “I wasn’t having fun. I wasn’t happy.”

That unhappiness was, well, hammered home one day at a construction site when multiple pieces of vibrating equipment caused a wall to collapse on him, knocking him out briefly, he says. He recalls the foreman pulling him up and asking him if he were OK.

“I looked at him and I said, ‘I appreciate the opportunity. I don’t think I’m going to come back here anymore,’ and I left,” Dorsey says. “That day I decided that I was going to start doing things that I wanted to do.”

One of those things was to become a physical trainer, with Dorsey first working out of house and landing a job with an area gym. He tried to make everything he could from the latter.

“I just showed up early, and I cleaned and I took care of customers and I stayed there all day,” he says. “I met people and learned their names and started creating one-on-one opportunities to pick up clients that way.”

Members work out at Tim Dorsey Fitness. (Photo/Kevin Lee)After the owner of a hotel on U.S. 250 lent him some rent-free space to train people, he opened the first location of Tim Dorsey Fitness in the mid-2010s. About three years later, the business relocated to its current location on East Market Street in downtown Sandusky.

It was early on in his transitional phase – and after he’d married his wife, Kayla – when he noticed a collection of strange symptoms, including trouble with his eyesight, teeth and more – “a bunch of little things that added up,” as he says.

Eventually, he visited a doctor he’d befriended during his bartending days, who’d already removed a benign tumor from his neck.

“And he was just doing what doctors do, going, ‘uh huh, uh huh, uh huh,’ and he was writing down … what I said,” says Dorsey, who sensed an opinion forming in the physician’s mind. “I just knew that I’d said something that wasn’t great.”

As he waited for the results of tests, he fell back on skills he’d developed as a trainer.

“I’m in the business of wellness, and I’m always trying to create environments of wellness for other people – I had a lot of reps in handling hard situations and hard dialogue,” he says. “It was obviously not anything I wanted to talk about or be involved with, but I think that my reps in that area kind of helped me out.”

The diagnosis came in a few days before Christmas 2014, not long before the Dorseys learned he and Kayla would be having their first child together. 

“From Day One, the conversation between me and my wife was that we're just gonna be a team, we’re gonna work together,” he says. “We’re going to do our best job to stay positive and, no matter what, just keep moving. And that’s what we did.”

He adds, “I’m not going gonna lie and say there weren’t really, really hard days and there weren’t days where we just completely broke down and (felt like) we had lost everything.”

Chemotherapy and radiation treatments made it nearly impossible for him to eat, he says, and he dropped 60 pounds.Dorsey continued to Be Brave during his chemotherapy treatements. (Photo/Courtesy of Tim Dorsey)

“I looked like a burnt piece of bacon. I was just a skeleton.”

But some of the darker possibilities did not become realities: He wouldn’t need a feeding tube for the rest of his life, and he one day would be able to resume demanding physical activities. 

The greatest fear? He wouldn’t even be around for the birth of their child, daughter Addison.

He says he first said goodbye to cancer when he pulled the chemotherapy tube from his body for what he hoped would be the last time. But it was being cancer-free for three months that really did it.

“I just really put it in the rearview,” he says, adding that he talks about mainly if he’s asked to address a group of students or speak to a leadership group.

In fact, he has developed an appreciation for the experience, as it helped him grow, he says. 

“I don’t want to go through cancer again – I hope that I never have to dance with it ever again,” he says. “But I am thankful for it. Like, I really am; it changed so many things for me.”

Back in pretty good shape himself, he says Tim Dorsey Fitness also is doing well, as evidenced by its nearly 5,000 followers on Facebook and a steady membership level.

“There are no plans to expand, but we are kind of bursting at the seams right now,” he says. 

That’s not all that’s keeping him busy, thanks to a recent foray into acting.

“That was something that I had always been interested in my whole life,” he says. “I was super afraid to try it out. I never did any type of acting.”

One thing led to another, with Dorsey going from someone being embarrassed to tell anyone he wanted to act to getting first a Columbus-based agent and then one in New York.

He came close to landing a role on an episode of NBC’s “Chicago Fire” but ended up appearing in the sister show “Chicago P.D.”

At the time of this conversation, Dorsey was up for the lead in a science-fiction movie set to be filmed in Ohio, he says. 

“I didn’t know where (the acting) was gonna go,” he says. “I knew that I was having fun with it, and I’m just gonna keep rolling until it’s not fun.”

Kayla’s even gotten in on the “fun,” although she may not call it that.

“Even though she’s just a beautiful young lady inside and out,” he says, “she hates being in front of the camera.” 

Still, she agreed to be part of submissions, along with Addison, for certain family-oriented acting and marketing opportunities, and she caught the eye of someone with the Big Lots chain.

“Apparently … they were like, ‘Husband? Not so much – we’ll get rid of him. Child – not sure the child fits,” he jokes. “They were like, ‘We do like the wife, though.’”

She appeared in Big Lots print ads as well as in the company’s social media, he says. 

They also have appeared in this and that as a couple and as a family, he says, but the rule he has for himself he encourages for them.

“If you don’t want to do (something), always say no,” he says. “If it works out, we’re having fun and we do it. And if it’s not fun, we just keep moving.”