Don Lavigne had an epiphany one day, when in a rage, he broke every dish in the kitchen while his first wife and three kids slept. He realized then that he had a drinking problem and had to replace alcohol with something else. The idea of picking up taekwondo, a contact sport, appealed to him, even though he was in his 40s. He shared his story with his Korean master, who told him: "We can really shape you up."
For a few years he sparred with younger men. Taekwondo shaped him up but also helped him quit what he was seeking to do in the first place. Three weeks into taekwondo, he almost passed out one day during practice. He had been drinking lightly. His instructor gave him an ultimatum: It had to be the rum or the sport. Lavigne gave up the bottle, and the 79-year-old said he has been sober ever since. Realizing he needed something slower and less physically demanding on his body, the Canadian native started doing tai chi and hasn't looked back. For 29 years, Lavigne, who winters in Highlands County, has been practicing Taoist tai chi and has been teaching since 1993. He learned under the tutelage of Taoist monk Moy Lin-shin in Toronto, who communicated with translators but controlled his energy or "chi" and gave it to his students. For seven years Lavigne taught three classes a day while he was living in Buttonwood Bay. In one of his classes he taught people with disabilities - one was blind and the other used a walker. His own common-law-wife, Cecilia Pieters, had been in a wheelchair because she had rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis for over 40 years. "I went to so many therapists," she said. "Nothing seemed to help." Consistent tai chi for 10 months helped her get back on her feet. In Buttonwood Bay, she helped Lavigne teach the classes. Lavigne says he shows people what to do when teaching tai chi, but "it's up to them what they do with it." Lavigne plans to start a class at Reflections on Silver Lake, where he now lives in the winter. His classes are always free. "Tai chi is too good to put a price," he said. "That's why I never charge."