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Monday
Jul122010

Every Body’s Different

By Mia Coen

I’m going to start off this blog post by hitting you with a thought-provoking statistic:

According to the U.S. Census Bureau report from 2003, about 50 million Americans live with a disability. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are about 307 million Americans in the country today. So… are one in six people at your gym disabled? Let’s try one in 10? One in 20? Probably not.

So, perhaps the question to ask is not, “What’s missing from my gym?” …but, “Who’s missing from my gym?”

I’ve been very inspired by the idea of inclusive fitness and hopeful that the message will hit home with club owners. Every body is different, but everyone needs fitness. So why doesn’t the physically challenged population have a major presence our gyms?

If you click back to my blog post called “Making Lasting Connections,” you’ll read about Taylor Isaacs, an award-winning exercise physiologist known for his work with spinal cord injury (SCI) clients. His gym is a place that the physically challenged community would call a home-away-from-home, powered by Taylor’s all-inclusive fitness philosophy: that exercise is preventative against disease and injury, as well as a performance enhancement. He works with people who come from all walks of life—people who’ve suffered strokes, aneurisms, spinal cord injuries, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), muscular dystrophy, and so on. But the bottom line is that they are people, too. They have families, academic backgrounds, jobs, and meaningful lives just like the rest of us… they work out, they work hard, and they’re an inspiration to all who know them.

So, why don’t we see more of these people at our gyms?

Well, I’ve been working with someone who’s trying to change that: Debbie Miller, the founder of Project VisAbility, an organization that finds jobs in the health and fitness industry for people with physical challenges. “At Project VisAbility, we believe the best way to foster inclusiveness is to have highly skilled and qualified instructors with disabilities not only participating in group exercise classes, but leading exercise programs and training,” she said. “When they’re on stage and at the forefront of the programming, it changes both the club’s mindset, and that of the members, into understanding that we are all human beings with a desire to improve our physical fitness and quality of life.”

Rightly said. But the truth of the matter is that clubs can do better to accommodate the physically challenged, whether that’s investing in equipment that satisfies a range of abilities, or having personal trainers and certified exercise physiologists on-site, or even hiring fitness professionals with physical disabilities.

“Club owners have been afraid and reluctant to do much with the disabled, but most of what we fear is what we do not know or understand,” Miller tells CBI. “In our experience, a challenged athlete who can inspire members is an amazing asset for all.”

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