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

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An Open Letter to New Year’s Resolutioners

It’s January 2nd, which pretty much only means one thing in the fitness world: time to start making sure to use the sign-up system that is pretty non-existent for the rest of the year to sign up for classes because things are about to get crazy. And crowded. I knew what I was walking into tonight when I decided to head to the gym after work. Kickboxing was going to have a few more not-yet-familiar faces, be a bit more crowded. Or at least that’s what I though…what I really witnessed was a packed floor of 36 people!! 36!! And probably only 8 or so of us were Wednesday night regulars.  Statistics tell us that many of these fitness “newbies” were New Years Resolutioners–those resolving to lose weight, get fit/healthy, do something active, etc. in 2013. I got fired up and I got to thinking…

Dear Resolutioners,

I applaud you. Whether you call it a resolution, a goal, or a plan; whether it begins on the first of the new year, your birthday, or the third tuesday after the first friday; we have all been there. We know what it’s like to come into a gym, let alone a group exercise class for the first time. To have no idea what the heck you’re doing. To get stuck next to the girl who thinks she’s seriously in a combat situation right now the way she’s throwing those punches. But you’re here. And that ‘s everything.

Now, please do me one favor. Just one I swear. Stick with it. Come back next week. Better yet, come back the next few weeks. Research shows that it takes three weeks, yes 21 days, to make or break a habit.  That doesn’t mean you have to work at some unrealistic level for the next 21 days, pretending you’re a seasoned group ex’r. That means you work at your pace, at your 100%, for three weeks. Some days will be better than others, as they are everyone.  But at the end of those three weeks, I can promise you that you’ll start to see results.  They might not be the results you expect. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee they won’t be, because life is funny that way. But I can tell you that they will be worthwhile. Happiness, less stress, physical strength, emotional strength, increased energy levels, the  list could go on for days.

If you need a little bigger push to convince you, you should know that in the first group exercise class I ever took (spinning), I barely lasted the entire class, never got out of the saddle, and both of my legs were bleeding when I got off the bike. Had I never gone back, I literally wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t be writing this blog, I wouldn’t be strong enough to do anything I do on a daily basis, I wouldn’t have learned to love myself and my body, and a certified instructor? Ha! That wouldn’t even be on my radar.

So stick with it. You just never know where it will take you. 

Molly

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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…

Know Your Body: The Importance of Modifications in Fitness

To any of you that know me on any personal level it may seem absolutely crazy that I, of all people, would write a blog post about knowing your body. I thought it was crazy too. Until I started picking up my workouts this past week.  

I come into the gym every day knowing that it’s going to be a mental and physical battle, just like everyone else.  But unlike many gym-goers, I live for that battle.  Most of the time this is a good thing, but sometimes it can get the better of me, when I unknowingly push myself to the point of injury as I did a few months ago.  Once I recovered and came back, I really had to be mindful of how I was moving my body so that I could avoid re-injury.  This not only includes constantly checking my form, but also knowing my body and how to modify for whatever it’s feeling at that moment.

In no way am I suggesting that every person become an Anatomy and Physiology expert. I definitely am not…I’ve just barely learned the basics AFAA is requiring of me! But you don’t have to be a psychic either.  We all know what are bodies feel like when they are functioning at 100%, and we know what they feel like when they’re not. That’s where it all begins.  It took me while to know for myself when a muscle group was screaming at me because it was burning in soreness and when it was in pain, but I’ve definitely gotten better at discerning that–and everyone can in time! 

Another hugely important factor in fitness is knowing modifications for yourself! This is particularly true for me because I usually have to modify about 25-50% of any Group Ex class I take (with the exception of spin). Any good instructor will show their class participants one or two modifications of a movement, but if those are also too advanced, knowing your body comes in vey handy. Having an idea of the muscles you are trying to target will help you to come up with an appropriate modification.  For example: a skater’s lunge (think Apollo Ohno’s speed skating move); this is a movement I cannot yet complete. Instead, I do a side-to-side steps with arm movement.  This is still keeping the exercise in the cardio range, and working my arms and legs just like my fellow classmates.  If all else fails and you can’t think of an appropriate modification, just keep moving in any way, and ask your instructor after class. That’s what they’re there for and love to help people find ways to get the best benefit.

The traditional saying goes: “Know your limitations.” but I’d like to propose it be changed to “Know your modifications.” There are no limits.

Until next time, thanks for reading and keep on living. 🙂