January is traditionally the “Fitness Frenzy” month of the calendar. People are either rushing to the gym to work off the holiday few pounds, or rushing to the gym to jump start their new year’s resolutions. Whether you’re a seasoned gym goer or a newbie, you count on being able to just walk in, sign a membership form, and get your fitness on, right? Most people do. But what if it’s not that easy? What if you find that the gym down the street doesn’t have the welcoming, arms wide open feel it boasts about on every single tv, newspaper, and online ad? Let me tell you a bit of my story.
I’ve been an avid gym goer, spinner, and overall group exercise (mainly of the Les Mills variety) for the past six years. I also have CP. Yes, I know most of you know this, but just in case someone is stopping by for the first time, which I hope happens. I’m telling you this not because I’m looking for praise or kind words, but because there is a distinct purpose to this post. During my four years of college I was fortunate enough to be a member of an amazing local fitness facility. It housed amazing instructors, motivating classes, and exceptionally kind members. It might have helped that the facility’s owner was a pediatric physical therapist, but it was truly one of a kind. This facility was my refuge–from the stress of a rigorous college load, the drama of living with five other girls, and the general daily grind. At my highest point I was going to the gym 4 times a week.
Two years later, I am back to living home while saving money and going to graduate school full time. This gym has now merged with another gym in the area. It is not far away from where I live, but far enough that I am no longer a member because I wouldn’t be able to go as often. Two years have gone by and I know I am not as physically active as I was then if you don’t include PT appointments. Not only can I tell from the fit of my clothes (or lack there of!), but also from how I feel. I am not as happy. I am not eating or sleeping as well. The list could go on and on.
About two weeks ago (wow, there are a lot of twos in this post!) a friend and I decided to join together and change this! We set out to check two gyms in our area, both no more 10 minutes from our houses. We had some really high hopes for our first visit as we’d heard rave reviews. We pulled into the parking lot of gym #1 around 5pm and that’s when we encountered our first problem. No parking! We didn’t think anything of it and circled the building again. On the second go around I noticed a few things: they only had about 10-15 spots in the whole parking lot and there was NO accessible parking space, marked or unmarked. This probably should have been a giveaway, but no. We went in, talked to staff, and were pretty pleased with what they had to offer and went for a tour. Only I couldn’t tour the facility because it was completely inaccessible. Machines were bolted down, placed too close together, and throw rugs were covering areas making it very difficult for my walker to navigate. We politely left. I won’t go into detail about the second facility, as it was much of the same. However, gym #2 had something gym #1 did not, that wonderful staff member that gives your assistive device a once over while asking “what kind of class are you looking to take?”. Translation: What can of classes can you take?
My whole being was drained by these two experiences. Quite frankly I was angry, but more than anything I was saddened. Saddened by the fact that the fitness and wellness world as a whole is so closed off to those with special needs. Yes, I know that there are some exceptions, like the facility I belonged to in college, but by and large society only plans for “typical” people to come and work on their physical fitness. Which is silly when you really think about it. Everyone needs to be fit. Everyone needs to keep their body functioning at an optimal level. Most importantly, everyone needs to feel good about themselves. We all have more in common than many people choose to believe, and it’s time the world starts adapting to that.
Note: My story has a bit of a happy ending, as I just took my first spin class at my local YMCA tonight and found it not only accessible, but also accepting!