Why I’m…

…becoming a Zumba Fitness Instructor!! 

That’s right, you read that correctly! I’m excited to announce that I will be adding to my certifications with Zumba Basic 1 Instructor Training on October 4th.  I wanted to make this my first post back from hiatus mainly because I’m so excited about it!! But also to have a platform to express my thoughts and answer the question I know some might to have: why?

Now, I don’t blame the puzzled reactions to my next certification choice.  Trust me. I never in a million, billion, trillion years thought I would even LIKE Zumba, let alone like it enough to consider teaching it, but sometimes things just happen, right?!

I have always loved dance in any form.  I love the expression, the beauty and mostly the freedom it provides individuals in both mind and body. Given my lack of bodily freedom, dance in it’s pure and true form was never something I was able to be a part of.  There are few things that get me “down” in life, but my inability to dance and experience that feeling has always been one of them.  I have found other ways of feeding my soul and feeling free, but that just never seemed to go away.

When I started taking Zumba classes about a year ago, I loved everything about them. I loved that it was FUN, no pressure. I loved the mix of people and personalities in each class I took. I loved that it was both fitness and dance, which meant I could make up for my lack of dance in the more fitness-y ways! But I will be honest, I just looked at it as another class on my schedule, another way to squeeze an hour of work in.

I can tell you the exact moment that it became something more than that for me.  The day I looked in the mirror and saw myself dancing, not just moving, not confined by my walker, though it was still definitely there and definitely getting in the way! I kept up with the choreography. I knew what it was doing and doing it with confidence.  That was when it changed.

The thought of “Hey, maybe I can teach this.” has been in the back of my head for quite some time. As always, it is an internal (and let’s be honest, financial) struggle to figure out if a certification is “worth it” and if I’m actually going to be able to teach a certain program given my limitations.  Yes, even though I like it ignore them most of the time, they are still there. I have been going back and forth for months, knowing that I would need to start thinking about CEUs, between Spinning and Zumba. While Spinning is and always will be my first love in the fitness world, it raised some issues for me.  I still am unable to get on and off the bike without assistance and I want to feel empowered when teaching, not limited.  I also wanted to make sure to add something that would coincide nicely with my program and getting an adaptive or modified spin program started is not something I feel I can conquer right now.

I am a firm believer of signs (as you all know) and I have had many over the past few months pointing me in this direction…a few months ago while roaming YouTube for class ideas, I stumbled upon a girl who teaches Zumba from her wheelchair and has an amazing story! We’ve been in contact a lot and she has really shown me that we can od this.  My friends were able to meet her at Zumba Convention this year and I cannot wait to have the same opportunity next year! There have been many other personal signs for me lately, but the last one came this week when I saw that the ZES (Zumba Edication Specialist) for the training was Jani Roberts.  All last week while at the convention, I was getting texts from a friend talking about how amazing and bad ass she was and I knew this was the last sign I needed.  I signed up without a second thought.

As this post comes to a close, I will say that my number one reason for going Zumba is that it is not the easy road. Don’t get me wrong, in no way would Spinning be easy either, but Zumba is outside of my comfort zone.  It pushes me to go beyond the physical strength I know I possess at this point and step into a world of fun and confidence and a whole new set of learning and skills and choreography. Even just typing that world excites and terrifies me, but I am beyond ready to jump in to something new and become even more of the person I am learning I was meant to be!!

Stay strong, stay confident, and see you on the dance floor…

 

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A Letter to Kaye Products: The Quest for a Better Walker

Below is a letter that I have written to the assistive device and therapeutic equipment company, Kaye Products.  I have recently discovered some issues with their Posterior Walker that do not meet my mobility needs as a person with a disability who leads a very active lifestyle and also as a group ex instructor.  After seeing the success that 16 year old Matthew Walzer had after writing to Nike to ask them to make him a shoe that he could put on independently, I decided to post my letter to this blog in the hopes that it might catch someone’s eye.  Please read my letter below and feel free to share if you are so moved.  There are so many people out there besides myself that could benefit from these small adjustments.

May 14, 2013

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Molly Carta. I am 24 years old, have Cerebral Palsy and have been a customer of Kaye Products since I was a toddler.  My parents and therapists have purchased many products from your company to assist me throughout daily life.  As an adult, I still use the Posterior Walker for daily mobility.  While this product has been useful and critical to my mobility for years, I am writing to you with a recent concern and request about the walker.

Despite having CP and difficulties with motor control and balance, I am a very active person. I have always understood the importance of staying in motion and taking control of my body and my health, so that I can live the life I want to live and not let my disability hold me back from anything.  This mindset shifted even more when I started working out at a gym after my insurance company stopped covering physical therapy.  In an effort to maintain the hard work and progress I had put into my life thus far, I began taking spinning classes while in college.  I had always wanted to ride a bike, but my balance issues prevented me from doing so.  A stationary bike that kept your feet on the pedals seemed like a perfect fit.  Even though this was challenging for me, I was so proud and excited to be taking part in a fitness class so mainstream that those feelings outweighed the difficulty.

Over the years, I began to take more classes and try new things.  There were few classes on our weekly gym schedule that I didn’t try at least once and my passion for health and fitness grew by the day. This past September, I decided to take this passion to an even greater level when I signed up for a Group Exercise Instructor Certification course through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. I didn’t only want to take classes, I wanted to teach them.  I knew that this was going to be a mental and physical challenge for me, but that had never stopped me before.  About a month ago, I began teaching a class geared toward people with disabilities and other limitations.  The class is taught from a chair and focuses on general strength and low impact cardio.  However, I would eventually like to expand the class to be a fully functioning group fitness class.

I am writing to you in the hopes that Kaye Products will be able to provide me with some assistance with the difficulties I have noticed with my Posterior Walker.  One of my main concerns I have been struggling with is the ineffectiveness of the rear brake system.  I currently use silent rear wheels with internal brakes.  Not only do these wheels seem to wear out very quickly (the last pair I had lasted not even a full year), but the brakes do not seem to work on many surfaces.  When I am taking and teaching classes, my walker is constantly sliding backwards both while I am holding on and if I do have to let go for any reason.  You can imagine how difficult this is, and the additional energy it takes, to always make sure I’m not going to slide.  My balance is effected greatly by my CP, and my walker is supposed to aide in me feeling more secure.  Instead, I am constantly worried I am going to fall while standing due to the brakes not working.  This seriously impedes my ability to adequately progress when taking or teaching classes.  I was hoping that Kaye Products might be able to come up with some sort of add-on or block for the brakes in order to keep the walker a safe and secure assistive device. I know that Kaye Products manufactures All-Terrain wheels, but I am concerned that these wheels are too large and would also not address my needs.

In addition to this, the Kaye Products walker frame and setup is not the most easily maneuverable and agile. I understand the need to create a walker out of durable and sturdy material, but with that also comes a very heavy product.  I find it very difficult to fold my walker and lift it in and out of my car when driving. It is also very bulky and gets in the way when I am trying to complete certain exercises or demonstrate them for my class participants.  I am well aware that my needs and concerns are not that of a “typical” person with CP or another disability, if there is such a thing.  However, it is clear that there is no other market for assistive devices or people with disabilities who might be more active or need special modifications in addition to those provided.

Having been a longtime Kaye Products customer, I have always been pleased with your company’s products, customer service, and responsiveness.  It is my hope that you might be able to help me in at least coming up with a solution to the rear wheel brakes so that I may feel more secure when standing briefly.  I also hope that you will be compelled to think of ways to improve your product for those of us who live more active lifestyles.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you to discuss these issues further.

Sincerely,

Molly Carta

BADD 2013: It Starts With Us

It’s Blogging Against Disabilism Day 2013! A day dedicated to speaking out against disability discrimination of any kind, life obstacles of those with disabilities, etc.

I have been absolutely devouring the amazing posts that are flowing through today; there are some great writers with great thoughts and ideas out there in the Blogosphere. I encourage you to check out Dairy of a Goldfish, where all the posts will be listed, or the BADD Facebook Page.

This is my third year participating in the day. Two years ago, I wrote about intelligence and interacting with people with disabilities. Last year, I missed the actual BADD day, but my post about the dance of Cerebral Palsy brought you into my world of living with a disability, if only for a moment.

This year? Well, buckle up. I don’t really know how the idea for this post came to me or how it’s going to work into the theme of this day, but here we go. Knowing that BADD was coming up, I’d been jogging my brain trying to figure out what I wanted to put out in the world as a person with a disability.  My one small voice.

It’s taken me the better part of 24 years to be “okay” with having a disability.   I think some of this is because I tended to live life with blinders on and not even pay attention to it.  I had great friends and family who helped make it a non-factor in my life and, while this was a blessing, it also was a little bit of a curse.  Full disclosure: I hate that cliche, but I couldn’t think of anything else to write.

But then…life hits you. People are often rude or ignorant, situations aren’t ideal, you’re forced to be independent at times when you’d been used to relying on someone by your side. You can no longer wear those blinders, because this is real life. It’s not going to stop while you adjust.

There comes a point in your life when you have to recognize your situation and your limitations.  Being an adult now (arguably anyway-my sisters will tell you I’m still the baby), that point has come hard and fast over the past few years.  Now, trust me. I’m not, in any way, at all, ever, ever, ever (got it?!) saying that you should be defined by your limitations or let them control your life.  Quite the opposite actually. Recognize and understand them so that you can live your life for you and move beyond them, if that is the path you choose.

How does this fit into BADD?! Hold your breath, because some of you might not like what you’re about to read…

If you don’t want to be discriminated against, start by not discriminating against yourself.   

Simple as that, right? No. I’m not naive. I know it’s not that simple, but it’s the initial step on a long journey. Think logically for a second, and this goes for anyone whether you have a physical disability or other obstacle in your life, if you don’t want someone else to judge you, limit you, or assume something about you, why would you do those things to yourself? You tell your best friend that they can do anything they want, but then you tell yourself that you can’t? That doesn’t sound right to me.

I’ve learned something very valuable on my journey, and even more so now being a fitness instructor of a class for people with various limitations, and that is that we as people with disabilities are the role models of how other people with disabilities should be perceived and treated.  Whether we want to be or not.

Want people to believe in you, to give you a chance?

Believe in yourself.

Want people to treat you with respect and dignity?

Respect yourself.

Want people to understand just how strong you are, that you are not to be pitied?

Show your strength, do not pity yourself. 

Want to be heard, to leave something in this world?

Speak up and don’t be afraid to be a little vulnerable. Let people in.

IT STARTS WITH US!

The Movement has begun!

Alright readers, I need to stop making a habit of this two month long hiatus I keep doing with my blog. It’s unfair to both of us; I feel like I’m not getting to share enough with all of you because I’m trying to fit everything into one post and then you are all stuck reading about “that one really awesome thing” that happened months ago. Sorry, I’m really going to try to be better (how many times have you read those words, huh?). I can promise that you’ll get at least two posts from me this week, since tomorrow is Blogging Against Disabilism Day 2013 and I’m signed up to contribute again!

So much has gone on in the past two months. I finished interning and grad school, went to California for Rehabilitation Counseling Conference and…oh yeah, started teaching my group fitness class! You know, that little thing I could not stop talking about. We had a free workshop at the gym for my first class and there were about 40 people there. My energy was all over the place, but I couldn’t have asked for a better welcome into this world surrounded by everyone that has helped me get to this place in my life, and some new faces too! And from what I was told, I did pretty darn good for my first class. It’s only gone up from there. Now that the regular classes have started, I have 9 people coming and they all seem to like what they’re seeing/doing! As with any other class, there are varying levels of fitness, limitations, and goals, so finding the balance has been a challenge, but it’s a challenge that I’ve waited so long to face. I’m still getting a lot of my kinks out with cueing and all that (instructor right and left anyone?! I honestly have to write a little L and R on my hands every week), but it’s getting there. For once in my life I don’t expect something to happen overnight. 🙂 I’ve included some workshop pictures at the end of this post, courtesy of Marisa Pellerin Photography once again. She’s amazing.

I wish I could share more about it all, but it’s so personal and perfect to me that I can’t even access so much of what went on that day, because I felt like I was living in a dream. I don’t praise myself, I don’t let others praise me, but this time I will. This is something that I have worked so hard for. Even at times when I didn’t know it. And now it’s here, and I’m living it. Sure there are pieces of the puzzle still left unturned, but it’s all room for the dream to grow a little bigger!

Check back tomorrow for my BADD post, a good one for sure! And check out the Fitness Rehab Movement on Better CT this past week!!

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My Body

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“Why do you out your body through so much?”
“Be careful. You’re going to hurt yourself.”
“You must be really pissed off at your body.”
“Working out so much does not mean that you’re going to not have to deal with the Cerebral Palsy.”

Yes, all of those statements have been said to me at least once-sone hundreds of times. Yes, each of them has been true at some point in my life. However, they are not my top reasons for being so passionate and invested in my personal fitness journey. In fact, they are not even in my top 100.

Why do I work out and work so hard every day? Because I love my body.

I’ll admit that this wasn’t always the case. In the beginning, I was guilty of taking out my physical frustrations on my body. I was trying to perfect something that didn’t necessarily need perfecting. I was trying to fix something that wasn’t broken, at least not it the way I was thinking.

As time evolved though, so to did my mindset. Fitness became less about perfection and more about growth. Growth on both physical and emotional levels. I wanted to see how far I could get, where I could take my body and my mind, the goals I could accomplish and the boundaries I could healthily push. Even within the past week, that growth has expanded even more.

Fitness, for me, has become about loving myself, loving my body, and being confident in both. Because it is then that my physical strength has the opportunity to shine through and truly push the limits. I know this is my heart and I will not let anyone try to tell me otherwise. I have learned that when my motives are pure, and strong, and for the love of my body and myself, that’s when I feel most physically strong and able. And there is nothing that can beat that feeling.

You Are Stronger Than You Think

It seems that many of my posts have focused on the gym and fitness as of late.  I would apologize for this, except I really can’t because it would not be remotely close to sincere. The truth is, this is me. I live fitness. I live health. I live trials and triumphs, moments of weakness and feats of strength, and everything in between. This is my new found love and life force, and I would not trade it for anything.

That said, please come with me on another journey.

Late last night, I finished reading an amazing memoir Waking by Matthew Sanford.  Matthew is a man who, at age 13, was in a car accident that left him with a T4 spinal cord injury.  Matthew writes of learning to navigate life in his now “silent” body, and how his discovery of mind-body relationship led him to physical and emotional healing and his eventual practice as an adaptive yoga instructor in Minnesota.  Fitness friends, family, and all other readers: do yourself a favor, whatever your beliefs and practices, and pick up a copy of this book.

I went to bed feeling deeply touched and satisfied, but more than anything else I felt hopeful.

My alarm went off at 7:15 this morning for Saturday morning gym session. I could have rolled over and gotten a few more hours of sleep. I could have said I’d be going Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday next week because I’m off work. I could have said it was the holidays. I had 1, 000 excuses to choose from. I chose hope.

Today’s class was a challenge from go since I have been dragging it after being sick and making a slow comeback. Interval training followed by TRX training.  For those unfamiliar with TRX, it is a Suspension Training, full body workout system that uses gravity and your bodyweight to perform a variety of exercises.  You are in complete control of the difficulty of your workout simply by changing your body position. This is a confusing explanation, so check out this quick video. 

The class was instructed to do one specific move, that started out holding on to the ropes to do a low row (think pulling your chest up to an imaginary bar from a slightly slanted standing position…or don’t imagine it, I’m doing a horrible job explaining things in this post….just take my word for it!), then drop down into a squat, and pull themselves back up.  I did not have the balance to be able to drop myself into a squat without falling and potentially cracking my head open, so it was time to modify! Yay!

I started the exercise by sitting on the floor slightly leaned back and performed my row. From there I was to lift my body off the ground as dead weight with only my heels as the anchor point. Failed attempt after failed attempt began to leave me more than a little bit frustrated.  At this point, Janice came over and foot blocked me so I wouldn’t completely go sliding and I tried again.

Note: Everything from this point on might sound utterly ridiculous to some, but this is what I believe can happen and this was my experience. I closed my eyes and tried to connect my mind and my body in a way that I had read about only hours before. I needed to feel the energy of my heart, of my will, and somehow transfer that energy into my legs, into my core–to come together and achieve this small goal for the day. I inhaled deeply and I could feel the connection. With what seemed like unimaginable strength, I felt my arms start to strengthen and slowly lift by body. I felt my core muscles engage and noticed that the only physical point of connection I had was at my heels.  This was it. I trusted my mind and it got me through step one. Now it was time to trust my body. A 10 second hold of this position was what was being asked of all of me. Closing my eyes again, I hoped. I pleaded with my body to outlast the time. I know I beg a lot of my body on a daily basis, but I needed this one, because I knew I could.  Janice, standing above me, said “trust your body, you are stronger than you think”. And I believed before those 10 seconds disappeared.

Then I collapsed on the ground and started hysterically laughing because all I wanted to do was cry.  The tears came later on in the day, when my soul processed what occurred in the gym. Today, for the first time, even if for maybe only a total of 30 seconds, I fully trusted my mind and my body. The results were awesome.

Until next time…inhale hope, exhale strength…

What Helps You Face Fears? Getting Back on the Bike…

I’ve been a stranger (again), but my semester is unofficially over at 7pm tonight and I’ll be on the downhill swing of graduate school. Dear God I never thought I’d be able to say those words.

Today I come to all of you loyal readers–family, friends, fitness enthusiasts–looking for a bit of advice.

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About a month and a half or so ago, I went to the gym for a Tuesday night spin class. I set up my bike (the same bike I ride pretty much every class unless it’s already taken), had someone clip in my shoes, and was on my way. Twenty minutes or so into the ride, I noticed my calf was tensing up pretty bad, and eventually my whole leg was so tense I could barely complete a revolution of the pedal. This obviously scared the you-know-what out of me and, not being as comfortable explaining the situation to this particular instructor, I decided to get off the bike. Some of the tension eased once I was off the bike, but it stayed abnormal feeling until the next day. Two weeks later, same thing happened again.  This time I forced myself to fight through and stay on the bike.

Since I couldn’t figure this one out on my own, I went to my PT and asked if he had any ideas.  A few things came to mind: I have generally tight/immobile ankles so if my feet are too pointed it might cause cramping (Solution: try to stretch them more); I might need new shoes because mine are 7 years old and pretty well worn (Solution: bought these); or maybe it’s a bike adjustment issue (Fitness Friends: could this be, when I always ride the same settings? Does my bike fit change over time?).

As you can see, I’ve been making some necessary adjustments; okay maybe I haven’t been stretching quite as much as I should, but I will. Yet I can’t get myself to get back on the bike for the life of me! Spinning was my first fitness love. It will always be my go-to for a heart-pumping, ass-kicking, stress-relieving workout. But this situation has me fearing that it’s going to happen again. I need to get back on the bike for my physical strength and, most importantly, mental sanity, but I’m struggling.

What helps you face your fears and get back on the bike? Any advice from my fellow Spinning fiends or instructors? I appreciate it!!

Photo Credit: FitnessRevolution

Random Acts of Kindness

It’s a pretty well known assumption (I won’t say fact because I know someone will pick up on that) that we live in a society that is generally pretty self-centered on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, we are all too often in a rush to get where we need to be, to get things done, and look out for ourselves as number one.  I say generally because there are times when we, as a whole, transcend that tendency and reach our hand out to someone in need.

The past few days have been rocky here on the East Coast with the aftermath of hurricane Sandy in CT, NY, NJ, and RI.  We were fortunate enough where I am to have never lost power, but just less than an hour south of me is devastation along the shoreline.  Times like this stir up the humanitarian in all of us, the strong hearts that we all have, and the desire to help others.  I for one know I wish I could be in NY doing something to help with the cleanup efforts.  My prayers are with everyone so greatly effected.

Those times can also occur on a much smaller, more personal scale.  There doesn’t have to be a natural disaster or a devastating heartbreak of some kind.  Sometimes that helping hand comes in the form of a simple random act of kindness–and just that occurred for me this morning.

I was at the gym for my normal Saturday morning double and was doing some free weight work in the boot camp class.  Normally I sit down if we’re going to be lifting for a long period of time to preserve some energy, but I knew this wasn’t going to last long and I wanted to make the quick transition.  One small problem: the studio floor is super slippery because of the type of wood it is (I think), so the breaks on my walker wheels sometimes don’t work as well. Usually I can get by readjusting myself, but today it was not working and the walker started sliding backwards every time I’d let go to do a bicep curl…so annoying…and unsafe too I guess. 😉 All of the sudden I noticed I wasn’t sliding anymore, and looked behind me to see that one of my fellow bootcampers had positioned herself behind my wheels so that her feet could block them from sliding!!

I was so taken aback by her actions that all I could say was thanks.  Not only did they allow me to continue on with the workout, but also gave me a little extra push. I was tired, class was almost over, but knowing that someone was standing behind me, extending me a helping hand, helped me to find the energy to keep going.  We were a team, connected through her kindness, and I wasn’t going to let her down.

I don’t even know this woman’s name, and she probably doesn’t even know how big that random act of kindness was for me, but sharing this with all of you is my way of saying such huge thank you to her!

Don’t ever underestimate the power of a random act of kindness offered or a helping hand extended.

The Worst Form of Pity

Just a quick post…a rant if you will…

We’ve all seen it done to others, perhaps we’ve even done it ourselves sometimes. Pitied someone because of the situation they are in.  This is something I see a lot of as a person with a disability. It’s been done to me, I’ve seen it done to the kids I work with at camp, I’ve done it at times.  I’m not claiming to be perfect, but it’s wrong and, hopefully, perceptions will start to change soon. There are so many forms of pity: stares, statements, you name it. Yet, I think I have officially encountered the worst form to date: excuses.

Let me tell you a little story real quick. Monday night I went to the gym. (I’ve since joined a smaller, more personal group exercise focused gym since my last few posts about joining the Y. I gave it a few months, but it wasn’t for me for various reasons. I’m SO much happier and much more active where I am now.) I started taking this class on a whim last Monday because I wanted to start to branch out to other classes and other challenges besides spin.  I guess challenge is a good word because I wasn’t too sure what the class was, but it sounded interesting.  It ended up being all about agility and sports conditioning type stuff, which definitely isn’t what I’m good at, but I’m loving the variation and that there are so many modifications that I can do so I’m still getting the same kick ass workout as everyone else!

So anyway, this past Monday, the class was outdoors since it was so nice outside.  The gym has two parking lots-upper and lower-and to finish the class, we had to run up the hill to the upper parking lot, do a series of exercises and things set out in the upper parking lot, then run back down to the bottom.  Now, this hill was no Columbia 5k hill from hell, but I haven’t tried to run a hill since…oh, October, so it hurt.  Naturally, I was bringing up the rear, but I’ve gotten used to this over the years of doing races and I’m honestly okay with it–I swear!! I like that I have to be the one to push myself to finish something because no one else is around to push me.

As I was finishing everything in the top part of the lot, I noticed that one of the women in the class seemed to be holding herself up waiting for me.  Immediately, and being the positive person I generally am, I thought that was really nice of her to wait as she probably didn’t want me to be alone in case of a problem.  When I got closer to her, she yelled out to me, “This is good, I don’t mind waiting for you. You can be my excuse as to why I’m not pushing so hard.” (You may now pick your jaw up off the floor).

I honestly don’t think this woman said this to be offensive or that she even realized what she had said, so let’s not get angry. I have no hard feelings for her at all and just brushed the comment off, but I was dumbfounded for a moment. It really got me thinking about one thing I want to say to the world.

Please don’t pity me. And above all else, please don’t ever use me as an excuse.  It may take me longer to do something, you may need to wait for me, but I’m out there busting my ass just as hard as everyone else and I’ve got not excuses running through my head.  So if you’re going to look to me at all, look to me as a motivator (which I’m also not entirely comfortable with), but don’t look to me as your reason to slow down a bit.  Put the work in for yourself, just as I do, because in the end when you’re facing that hill from hell, the only person you have to answer to when you’re asking if you’ve done enough is yourself.

Again, I have no hard feelings and this woman is very nice. It’s simply that the interaction sparked a general idea and pet peeve in me that I had to put out there for all of you.

Also, I know I’ve been a bad blogger, but consider this my welcome back! Thanks for sticking with me. 🙂

I’d love to join your gym…if I could get in your building!

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!