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Entries in Patricia Glynn (35)

Friday
Jul092010

The Upside of Happiness…for Your Club and Your Bottom Line

By Patricia Glynn

‘Don’t worry. Be happy.’

The straight-to-the-point catchphrase from the 1980s song offers a recommendation which, given the many burdens of our hectic daily lives, we’d all be wise to abide by. Of course, it’s much easier said than done.

Or is it?

Could we, with a bit of committed determination, fret less and become more optimistic? And would achieving a state of relative euphoria possibly have a greater end result, beyond just putting a smile on our face (as if that weren’t enough)? How, for instance, might a health club be affected if its owner and staff were, on the whole, full of cheer?

The subject of happiness is currently more popular than ever. Indeed, in my own office, I have more than a half-dozen recently published books on the topic. One is titled Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out, and I recently had an opportunity to speak with the author, Marci Shimoff, about how we might become happier and how an improved mood could augment our lives, both personally and business-wise. 

While she’s in relatively jovial spirits nowadays, Shimoff wasn’t always so.  “I didn’t win the happiness jackpot at birth,” she admits. “And I really wanted to be happy.” But instead of feeling discouraged, Shimoff studied positive psychology. “I interviewed more than 100 unconditionally happy people. I found answers and applied them. Eventually, I went from a D+ in happiness to an A-.”

Surprisingly, she says, only one thing separates the happy from the unhappy: habits. In other words, what we do and how we think matter—a lot. “We all have a happiness set-point,” she explains. Scientists describe it as “the genetic and learned tendency to remain at a certain level of happiness.” Essentially, regardless of what happens in your life, be it a devastating loss or a lottery windfall, you always return to the same set-point from whence you began. Fifty percent is determined by genetics. But 40%, she’s happy to report, is malleable and dependent on our actions and attitude. (The remaining 10% is based on circumstances like the aforementioned lottery triumph).

“There are a number of techniques available to us,” Shimoff says. “For instance, ‘Don’t believe everything you think.’ We have over 60,000 thoughts per day. Roughly 80% are negative. We need to question their validity.” We must, she advises, ask if what we’re thinking is true. Is it really true? To illustrate her point, Shimoff recalls a time when, during a lecture, she was faced with a disagreeable man who failed to laugh at her jokes and who sat rigidly, arms crossed. She thought: “He hates my speech. He hates me!” Yet, when the surly spectator later approached, he offered nothing but sincere praise. “Just because you think something,” she observes, “doesn’t make it true.”

In addition to dismissing false thoughts, Shimoff recommends associating with more happy people while simultaneously limiting contact with negative individuals. “We catch the emotions of the people around us. It’s called emotional contagion. We are, experts say, the average of the five people we spend the most time with. So choose wisely and set boundaries when required.”

But of all the habits we might practice that can influence our temper for the better, one, in particular, stands out appreciably: exercise. For Shimoff, it’s vital. “Phys. Ed. class should have been called Happiness 101!” However, while she does advocate for fitness, she proffers one caveat: “I believe you ought to do exercise you enjoy. When you love what you’re doing, you get a double dose of happiness—body and brain both benefit.”

As with all her tips, Shimoff resolutely follows her own advice and visits the gym regularly. ZUMBA, the popular Latin dance-based class featuring interval and resistance training, is, she says, her “absolute favorite. I love the philosophy: ‘Ditch the workout; join the party.’ I’m literally smiling throughout the entire workout. It’s a celebration; it feels good.” And that, she attests, is key. “Find something you can’t wait to do.”

As it turns out, happiness doesn’t just make us feel good. All told, there are numerous repercussions resulting from amplified bliss. By bolstering the level of happiness in your business, you can, for example, boost your bottom line. Shimoff notes that, according to researchers, “people who are happy earn over $750,000 more in their lifetime.” A study led by Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California-Riverside, confirms this: “Happy people tend to earn higher incomes.” So, while money may not buy happiness, a joyful outlook does lend to prosperity.

Also, “When the people you work with are happier,” she observes, “you’ll find it much easier, and more fun, to be around them. And they are going to be committed to your company.” Researchers back this up: In the “Happiness at Work Index—Research Report 2007,” published by Chiumento London, the British HR consultancy organization, experts found “staff who enjoy good working relationships, receive proactive career development, feel valued by the organization, and are well treated…are likely to be contributing the most. Furthermore, they will be ambassadors for the organization, sending out positive messages to the outside community and enhancing the employer brand.”

“I truly believe,” says Shimoff, “happiness has a payoff.” Case in point: “I’ve walked into a club where the associates were, unfortunately, very unpleasant. My reaction is consistently the same—I want to run out of there as fast as possible. Alternatively, I’ve encountered incredibly positive staffers. I feel welcomed and it’s a place I want to be part of. I am eager to return. Members of your club really do pick up on the energy of your employees. On a subtle level, happiness, or a lack thereof, can make or break your business.” 

As for achieving a joyful atmosphere, Shimoff recommends those in charge focus, first, on increasing their own happiness. Leaders will find it challenging to infuse enthusiasm into their staff if they themselves are lacking contentment. Further, she recommends reserving time during meetings to work on behaviors conducive to happiness. “Select one thing and have it be what your staff works on that week. You could even broadcast it to the whole club. Post a habit and encourage everyone to practice it.” Another effective tactic involves appreciation. “Acknowledge each person, recognize their contributions, and praise them for the ways they’ve brought happiness into the club.”

Happily, when optimism leads the way, as Shimoff teaches us, much is possible.

Is your club a happy place? Tell us how you keep your members and staff smiling in the comments section below. 

And to find out more about achieving your own happily-ever-after, visit Shimoff’s Website.

- Patricia Glynn is associate editor of CBI magazine and can be reached at p.glynn@fit-etc.com

Wednesday
Jun232010

Meditation in Motion…or Yoga on the Go!

By Patricia Glynn

Yoga, the ancient meditative practice, has, in recent years, undergone a countless number of facelifts. You can, for instance, bare all and do it naked. If you like to keep things hot, you can crank up the heat and make it a sweaty affair. Or, if you’d rather play it cool, you can make a splash by doing it in the pool. It can be done to a disco soundtrack. Alternatively, you can bust it out while hip-hop pulsates. It can be done with your dog and with your baby—preferably not at the same time. There’s even a yoga practice designed specifically for those who’ve had an actual facelift or, for that matter, any sort of plastic surgery.

Now, you can even do yoga on roller skates. Yes, that’s right—on wheels!

The latest incarnation, dubbed Mobile Yoga, puts an entirely new spin on a decidedly old workout. Created by Kris Fondran, a Cleveland, Ohio-based fitness instructor who’s certified to teach both yoga and in-line skating, this innovative hybrid marries the “cardiovascular endurance and strengthening benefits of skating with the mindfulness, breathing, relaxation, and flexibility-enhancing benefits of yoga.” Essentially, she remarks, “It kills two birds with one stone.”

Both skating and yoga have, throughout the years, helped the 42-year-old mother of three remain “physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. The byproducts of a yogic lifestyle, the balance, peace, and, happiness,” she says, motivated her to want to “bring yoga to people who might otherwise never practice. Skating,” she believes, “is an ideal vehicle for introducing yoga to a wider audience. It’s gentle on the body and is really fun. Overall, each activity—together and individually—is empowering and life-changing. And each will challenge stability along with heightening body awareness.”

Fondran first developed the workout after recognizing the complementary attributes of the two disciplines. It was officially launched in April and is sponsored by Rollerblade, the West Lebanon, New Hampshire-based leader in the in-line skate market. “Yoga and skating both call upon balance, rhythm, and fluidity.” Indeed, as she glides across the pavement, gracefully moving through poses, the two modalities—although they may initially appear to be at odds with one another—meld seamlessly. The calming, meditative effects of yoga are, in fact, magnified by the smooth, flowing movements of skating.

Of course, while she’s worked tirelessly to transform her quirky creation into a first-rate workout, she realizes that some will assuredly still fault her approach. Fondran, however, merely dismisses any potential naysayers. She, like the many others who’ve introduced unique elements into their practice, embraces the “whatever brings people to yoga” tactic. “As my study of yoga has grown, so, too, has my definition of what true yoga really is. It goes beyond the mat,” she explains. “The spirit, the breathing, and the elevated consciousness—it’s something to take with us, wherever we go. And skating really facilitates that; it allows for a sort of meditation in motion.”

With several workshops under her wheels, and more planned for the future, including a summer trip to Germany, Fondran is eager to roll out the class to instructors worldwide. Like other fusion classes, the Mobile Yoga workout promises to entice those perhaps formerly hesitant to participate in either activity. Further, it presents a fresh physical and mental challenge to long-time gym aficionados. Fondran hopes the latter group, in particular, will seek it out as a way to overcome any monotony and stagnation they may be encountering. “So many people are bored with conventional offerings. I know I grew weary. Plus, exercisers, when they’re revisiting the same regimen over and over, plateau. This shakes things up. It reintroduces excitement. And, simultaneously, it’s effective.”

Clubs interested in adding the Mobile Yoga workout to their group fitness lineup will find sample poses and a list of upcoming seminars on Fondran’s Website. Ultimately, for best results, she recommends facilities pair a skate instructor with the club’s yoga staff so they might collaborate and thus deliver a safe, well-polished routine.

Would you consider giving this new yoga hybrid a spin? What do you think about fusion classes in general? Please share your thoughts in the “Comments” section below. 

Wednesday
May192010

Pro Shop Pros...Plus!

By Patricia Glynn

In this month’s edition of CBI magazine, in the roundtable feature ‘Riding Out the Recession: Five Pro Shop Experts Share the Secrets that Ensure Success,’ I reported that retail spending, at the onset of 2010, had finally begun to recover. Happily, the trend has continued—and with seemingly no end in sight: according to Jharonne Martis, director of consumer research for Thomson Reuters, the Manhattan-based information company, the retail industry is “definitely showing an upward trend.” For January, the company accounts, same-store sales rose a robust 3.3%; then, for March and April collectively, sales grew even further, ending at roughly 4.8%. “Consumers,” Martis told the New York Times, “are spending.” Finally!

On that upbeat note, I’d like to share with you some additional insight provided by our five accomplished Pro Shop pros. As a reminder, our panel consisted of: Lara Price, retail buyer for the Coop, the 800-square-foot shop within the Cooper Fitness Center at Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas; Bonnie Patrick Mattalian, president of The Club Synergy Group, a consultancy in River Edge, New Jersey; Eric Ricard, national director of spas at five SportsClub/LA locations, which are under the direction of Boston-based Millennium Partners Sports Club Management LLC; Lynda Reis, manager of the 800-square-foot pro shop at Chicago’s Midtown Tennis Club; and William Banos, vice president/COO of Gold’s Gym Los Angeles, part of the international chain of clubs.

CBI: When hiring for a retail position, what traits and skills are most desirable in a potential associate? And throughout employment, what sort of training/educational protocol will help staffers reach their utmost potential?

Lara Price: Personality is a key factor. You can easily teach someone to run a cash register and tag clothing, but you can’t teach personality. When hiring, we look for an outgoing, friendly person who will genuinely enjoy being a customer’s personal shopper. We try to find a person who we feel customers will connect with, someone they’ll enjoy just stopping into the shop and chatting with. Because great service is one of our core values, each of our staff members participates in extensive customer-service training. We work to ensure that they’re motivated, continually, and that they’re able to please the customer. Ultimately, we want to help them deliver what is, in the end, a great shopping experience.

Bonnie Patrick Mattalian: The size of your shop will determine whether you need a dedicated full-time employee. As for the best person, they ought to be impeccably organized and very charismatic. They should be comfortable talking to anyone, at anytime. Conversely, they’ll also know when it’s best to just step back and allow the customer to browse. With regard to training, vendors should provide onsite instruction or, at the very least, a Webinar demo. Additionally, beyond basic product information, ongoing sales training is necessary. Staff should be instructed in varying selling techniques: how to identify customer needs; how to offer solutions in the form of product; and how to up-sell. This sort of education needs to be continually managed and updated regularly. Consistency translates into success.

Eric Ricard: We focus on hiring individuals who have sales experience coupled with a customer service background. And to ensure that our staff reach their potential, we offer extensive, comprehensive training in multiple areas, including sales, merchandise, and customer service.

Lynda Reis: Our associates are really vital to our success, particularly in terms of repeat business. We’re constantly striving to find ways to both improve our customers’ experience and to set ourselves apart from the competition. With that goal in mind, our employees all participate in a training program called “beREMARKABLE.” The goal is to teach staff how to build relationships with clients and how to make the shopping experience truly exceptional. A primary element is role-playing. Staff will act out different scenarios and, in the process, learn how to positively resolve a variety of situations. Overall, the program helps keep our associates engaged and motivated, while also educating them on best industry practices. As an adjunct, we also partner with equipment manufacturers who provide educational seminars. It’s ideal, as it keeps staff up to date with the latest industry information.

William Banos: We’ve put into place an entire orientation program designed to prepare our staff in all areas of retail service. One component of our education involves visits to high-end establishments in the area. By observing the typically outstanding techniques they employ, we then learn how to better serve our clients.

CBI: How do you determine which products to stock?

Lara Price: Learning what the latest and greatest trends are requires observation. Be attentive and proactive. In particular, be aware of what’s going on in your own club—get to know the members and find out what they need, what they prefer. It can be a bit of a trial-and-error exercise at first. But you’ll soon come to know what your clientele will prefer. I know now, for instance, that the color green, for this location, does not sell. In general, we tend to bring in clothing that works both for workouts and for when a member leaves to run errands—items that are functional yet stylish. Also, people recognize our company name, which is quite helpful; they come in looking for Dr. Cooper’s vitamins and books.

Bonnie Patrick Mattalian: You’ll want to pay attention to trends (eco-friendly “green” items, for instance, are very big right now) and make it your job to know what’s out there, what’s new. Also, be aware of the demographic you’re serving. Ideally, you ought to stay current and change product at least six times per year. Of course, in general, you’ll want to offer necessities, such as towels and locker locks. Other products to consider include gift baskets, body care items, pedometers, apparel, etc. Branded items are always good—T-shirts, water bottles, bags. Selling these items will promote your business when members utilize them out in the community. Tie-ins, too, can determine product; you may offer a stress-relief clinic and then sell related products, such as books, CDs, aromatherapy items, supplements, and such. And, when selecting a vendor, be sure to ask lots of questions, such as what their minimum order is and what the return policy is.

Eric Ricard: We seek to carry a variety of health and fitness products and it’s a team effort as far as determining what the next “hot” item is. Also, since we have clubs throughout the country, what we sell in a particular location depends on the needs of the people in that particular market. To figure out what will sell, we listen to the client—listening to customers’ needs is crucial.

Lynda Reis: We work to keep our apparel current and to feature the latest technology in racquets and shoes. Also, we’ll gladly fill special orders if there’s something we don’t carry. Customers really appreciate when we go that extra mile. When deciding what inventory to stock, I depend a great deal on feedback from both associates and customers. I think having a good eye is helpful, but what’s particularly important is utilizing current market data to determine future decisions. By analyzing past trends, we gain a better understanding of how to proceed.

William Banos: We have a dedicated retail director who handles product selection. She pays attention to prior sales—what sold, what didn’t. Additionally, she’ll visit trade shows to see what’s new and what’s available. Finally, she’ll keep in contact with members, listening to them, finding out what they want to buy. Also, we have our logo products—these are always very popular among both members and non-members alike. People will come in just to buy Gold’s Gym branded items. Then, along with specialty products, which maybe aren’t readily found elsewhere, we stock all the essentials and items that members may have forgotten at home. 

Wednesday
Apr282010

Operation Beautiful: Sticking It to ‘Fat-Talk’

By Patricia Glynn

What if I told you that a Post-it note, the colorful stick-it-anywhere-you-like square, could potentially boost retention? Or what if I suggested that the ubiquitous office essential could possibly even help transform our industry?

It might seem a bit preposterous. You may even believe I’ve gone mad. But as Caitlin Boyle, a health blogger, fitness enthusiast, and soon-to-be-published author, discovered on an ordinary day back in June of 2009, a small piece of paper can indeed be a revolutionary tool capable of exacting a dramatic shift. After all, as she explained to me from her home in Orlando, Florida, “simple ideas can often be the best ideas.”

It was last summer when Caitlin, weary and downbeat after an especially arduous afternoon, hoped she might, with a sticky note, at least brighten someone else’s day. Upon the small pad she scribbled, with a Sharpie marker, just three words: “You are beautiful.” She stuck it squarely to a mirror in a public rest room, never imaging that what she’d done would spark a worldwide revolution that has become, officially, Operation Beautiful.

After posting that first brief but encouraging note, she shared the details of the deed on her blog. Reader response was overwhelming, and she sensed an opportunity to elicit change. It became her mission to fight fat-talk (the insidious habit of harshly critiquing one’s appearance).

Within days, followers of her site, with her prodding, began plastering cities around the globe with heartening affirmations like “You are amazing,” and “You are good enough exactly the way you are.” It caught on like “wildfire,” she acknowledges. Individuals from California to Germany, from Sweden to Japan, from New York to Iraq, from Australia to Guam, were working, under her guidance, to reduce, if not wholly eradicate, negative self-talk. Eventually, Caitlin felt compelled to introduce a new site. It serves as a place to highlight the stories of those who leave notes for others to find, as well as to chronicle the often emotional reactions of those who happen upon what she terms “a much-needed dose of kindness.” Currently, she reports, the site receives over 100,000 hits per month.

Now, perhaps more than ever, cues aimed at upping one’s self-worth are a necessity, Caitlin says. “A lot of women and men are struggling. They’re having a difficult time accepting themselves just as they are. I’ve felt that. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t in a good place. Unfortunately, a lot of people are dealing with those emotions.” And media and advertisers, while not solely responsible for the situation, aren’t helping. In fact, she says, they’re frequently making the issue markedly worse. “Like so many others, I’ve compared myself to images of models and actors. I’ve compared myself to a strict, thin ideal that’s totally at odds with what I really look like—with what most of us look like. It’s something we can’t match. And really, what we don’t often recognize is that, in truth, what we’re seeing doesn’t even exist. It’s all generated by a computer. It’s a photo-shopped reality and so it’s not even achievable.”

But could a simple Post-it note with a few cheery words scrawled upon its surface really alter a person’s internal dialogue? Could it truly thwart self-flagellation? And what of my original query: how might this idea play out in the context of a health club?

As a fitness professional, I’m sure you know that a judgmental, disconsolate attitude can rapidly deflate motivation. Mentally berating yourself prior to, or during, a workout is a surefire way to deplete your energy and sap your strength. Exercise, under such circumstances, quickly morphs into a chore you’d rather forgo. The phenomenon has actually been scientifically verified: researchers from the University of Kansas confirmed, last year, at the annual Society of Behavioral Medicine meeting, that a negative self-image and disapproving self-talk will actually deter individuals from adhering to a workout regimen.

But the gym, Caitlin attests, is an ideal environment in which to combat poor self-esteem and fat-talk. Members are typically hyper-focused on their appearance and, more often than not, their awareness tends toward the negative. “The locker room especially is a tough spot; it’s where you can’t help but look at the people around you and compare yourself,” Caitlin laments.

Back when superficial thoughts overwhelmed her, back when fitness was about getting skinnier and fitting into a teeny bikini, she was, she confesses, a “chronic gym quitter.” Today, however, she’s an avid, fully committed exercise devotee. (Actually, in the two days following our conversation, she was scheduled to run five miles and bike 61). Thankfully, she explains, she recognized the folly of her former ways and began to value herself regardless of her looks. (And, by the way, she’s very fit and very pretty.) Her well-being and her internal happiness are, nowadays, way more important than the size of her thighs.

That attitude adjustment is one she’s eager to share and she believes gyms are especially well-suited for promoting a project like Operation Beautiful. “When I see clubs promote fitness as a life-long commitment, as a tool for attaining good overall health, rather than as simply a means to a hotter body—I know they’re the ones who are nailing it. That’s a place I want to be a part of. Operation Beautiful emphasizes being strong, fit, and healthy for reasons beyond appearance. It’s about accepting yourself exactly as you are in this moment.”

Caitlin has, in fact, seen an approach similar to her own work with great success: “One gym, for example, hung a bulletin board and invited everyone who passed to share a thoughtful note. Members encouraged one another. I love that! The positive words, such as ‘You did a great job today’ or ‘You did a great thing for your health,’ reinforce healthful behavior, and they make people want to do more of the same. People begin to feel better internally and they feel good about what they’re doing for themselves. When gyms encourage a more holistic approach, it keeps people coming back. People love that. They know the gym really cares about them more as a person than a number. A project like this, something promoting self-acceptance, surely benefits clubs and members alike.”

Caitlin’s made it her goal to post as many uplifting notes as possible. Some, she admits, may have no effect. Others may simply bring a smile to a passerby’s face. Yet, there’s always the possibility that one short message could make a long-lasting difference. In any case, her random, thoughtful acts of positivity are, undoubtedly, making the world a much more beautiful place.  

Wednesday
Apr072010

Beyond the Headlines: Kristina Ripatti

My name is Patricia Glynn, and I’m CBI’s Associate Editor. I recently had the privilege of interviewing Kristina Ripatti, who was a featured presenter at the 2010 IHRSA Convention in San Diego (Transforming Lives: An ‘Extreme Home Makeover’ Success Story) and our cover story in the March issue of CBI.

One of the first things you’re likely to notice about Kristina is her wheelchair. It’s ever-present and hard to ignore. However, once you hear her speak, once you learn her story, you quickly realize that, even though she’s disabled, this is a woman who is, in many ways, very able. In fact, she’s someone who consistently surpasses expectations.

It’s been more than three years since Kristina’s life was forever altered: during a routine patrol of the streets of Los Angeles in her role as an officer for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), she was shot twice by an assailant. Despite having worn a protective vest, the bullets penetrated her body. She was left paralyzed from the chest down. 

Her story made headlines. Eventually, executives at the ABC television network learned of the senseless tragedy, thanks to an outpouring of letters pleading for help for this woman who’d risked her life protecting her community. Kristina soon caught the nation’s attention when she was featured in an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, the popular weekly series in which a team of designers and builders rewards a deserving individual with a remarkably upgraded dwelling. In Kristina’s case, the Extreme Makeover team transformed her formerly obstruction-riddled house into a fully accessible haven. At last, she could move freely throughout her Redondo Beach, California, home. She no longer had to sleep in her living room because she was unable, in her wheelchair, to fit through doorways. And she could better care for her young daughter who, until that point, had fearfully rejected the new version of her mother.

When I first spoke to Kristina—one of two thought-provoking and inspirational conversations—she discussed many of the challenges she faces. There are, for instance, the multiple obstacles of daily life. The simple sidewalk curb, which many of us would just step right over without a thought, stops her cold: “It’s crazy! A six-inch curb is for me, in my chair, like Mount Everest for somebody else. As small as it seems, there’s no way I’m getting over it by myself.” It was a seemingly minor detail, yet it forced me to think. It clearly demonstrated how very unwelcoming and unwieldy the world can be when your mobility is limited.

And then I listened to her detail her experiences with our own industry. For years, Kristina had been an avid fitness enthusiast. Before the shooting, she’d run several miles to her local Gold’s Gym, where she’d engage in a formidable strength-training workout. Fitness, to her, was essential and enjoyable. It was even a prime reason why she survived the shooting. “The doctor said that my fitness level was one of the key factors that saved my life.” She also recognized that returning to the gym would be crucial to her recovery, both physically and emotionally. “I had to get my upper body strong quick, so I could move myself around, transfer myself. I value exercise for the mental aspects, too. I use it for stress relief. ” Unfortunately, despite her enthusiasm, she encountered yet more obstacles. “It’s kind of funny—there will be a ramp going into the gym to cover the ADA accessibility issues, but there won’t necessarily be any workout equipment inside the gym that’s accommodating to people in wheelchairs. A lot of gyms just don’t have accessible equipment.”

Kristina is lucky in that she has a trainer who hands her equipment and helps her transfer from her chair. Also, as part of Extreme Makeover, she received a NuStep recumbent stepper directly from the company, an IHRSA associate member. The gift is one she cherishes—so much so that she signed on as a spokesperson for Ann Arbor, Michigan-based NuStep. But she acknowledges that her situation isn’t the reality for most. “I’m fortunate; otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this at all.” She did note some bright spots: gyms that include options for the disabled, manufacturers offering better choices. However, in most cases, there’s so much more that clubs could be doing. And it would, as she pointed out, benefit not only those in wheelchairs, but also the elderly and individuals with injuries, whether temporary or long-term.

My chat with Kristina opened my eyes to the need for change. But speaking to this amazing woman did far more than that. As I became aware of all that she’s achieved, all she does, all she plans to do, I couldn’t help but rethink my own attitude. You see, there are some days when I find myself thinking what is perhaps one of the most self-defeating phrases: “I can’t.” It’s actually a rather normal human tendency. We all have those moments when circumstances appear impossibly overwhelming and we feel incapable of moving forward. Yet now, when those sorts of thoughts creep into my head, I consider Kristina.

I think of this woman who has done more from a wheelchair than most people, completely able-bodied, ever do in a lifetime. I think of her surfing, completing the 2009 Boston Marathon, working out at the gym consistently, five days a week, volunteering to aid inner-city youth, having a second child, and studying to enter law school so that she might someday advocate for the disabled. She’s done all of this, and more, without the use of her legs.

Another important point Kristina brought up is that we all, in spite of any limitations we might face, have a choice: we can let life pass us by, or we can strive to live it fully and give it our very best. Kristina makes the conscious decision, every day, to achieve and strive for more. “I want to experience and enjoy all the good stuff that’s still left out there in life. So, I stay motivated…and I push myself every single day. Someone in my circumstances could just decide to give up and wait to die. A lot of people might think that once you’re disabled, that’s it. Life is done, especially as active things go. You can’t let that happen. It comes down to this: you either press onward, or you quit and give up. Even before the injury, I lived my life not letting other people set limits on me. I wouldn’t let people tell me what I could or couldn’t do. I’m passionate about that. I refuse to let this injury, or anything, put boundaries on me.”

So, just when I begin to hear the whisper of the word “can’t,” I reflect on Kristina’s accomplishments and on her outlook. It’s then that I realize that I, and in fact all of us, actually “can.”

To read Patricia’s interview with Kristina Ripatti, please click here.

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