My Fitness Adventure
This week, we are pleased to bring you Part One of a two-part Article by Deborah Armstrong.
First, a quick back story: I used to walk long distances daily. I was partnered with a wonderful golden retriever guide, having outlived four equally fabulous dogs. Though I was overweight, I had plenty of energy.
Then I was washing my bathroom floor one day and the next minute I was sliding across it on my back screaming in extreme pain. I had slipped in a wet spot, and torn the meniscus, a ligament in my right knee, and spent the next six months on crutches, depressed and turning overweight in to obese. The doctors wanted me to wear a knee brace permanently. I wanted to be active and feel vital again.
Perhaps there is a silver lining when you are middle-aged, creaky and overweight. Those sexy, skinny but sedentary young people, tied to video game consoles and eating chili cheese fries don't think about their health. Barely able to limp, I realized I didn't want to lose the fitness I'd always taken for granted. This is what got me started exercising, trying everything I could find to return me to brisk and confident walking anywhere and everywhere again. Now I'm a far more regular exerciser than most of the thin young people I know.
So, if you get injured, insist on physical therapy. Many HMOS now simply give patients handouts with exercises they can do at home. Having no vision, and not wanting to rely on inaccurate and incomplete descriptions by my friends, I pushed to have a therapist meet regularly with me and teach me exercises one on one. I had to insist that giving me inaccessible pictures of exercises was a violation of my ADA rights, but I'm glad I did. The therapists I worked with were eager to have someone committed to getting well.
Once I outgrew the therapy, and after I knew I didn't want to use a knee brace, it was time to find a gym. This was before BlindAlive existed!
If you'd like to get started in a gym, try checking out your local community college. Many have special courses for the disabled where you will get extra assistance.
You often need more help at the beginning of your gym experience, locating equipment and learning how to use it. I've found though that the beginning is when people are the most eager to assist. Ask ahead of time if the college has student workers or interns who would benefit from working with you. If they have a program for physically limited students, they probably do.
For me this strategy was so successful at the college where I work I am now the official guinea pig. We have young people learning to be personal trainers, so now, in order to complete their training, they work with me, teaching me a new exercise, or simply guiding me around and adjusting the equipment. Our school believes that future personal trainers should not work just with athletes, and training me with my blindness and creaky knee helps them learn to better describe exercises and work with those who have injuries or disabilities. Before I used our gym, the students learning personal training mostly worked with other young, nondisabled people, so it makes me feel great that a future generation of personal trainers will be better educated, thanks to my advocacy and effort.
Even if colleges have no facilities for training the disabled in physical fitness, they often have programs in nursing, massage or physical therapy. Students in these programs might be able to earn extra credit for learning to work with you. Ask the programs’ instructors and/or dean, and don't be afraid to suggest they start such a program.
Facilities that are sponsored by your city or college are often free or much cheaper than profit oriented gyms, plus they often have fees based on a sliding scale so as to include those with fixed incomes.
I've found in a large and hectic gym like the one on our campus, that even though I know my way around, it is still better to have a companion guide and spot me so I can work out safely.
However, if you want to be more independent, try a local senior center and ask about your city's fitness options for seniors. You will often find that there is a sports center with a much smaller gym where you can safely walk around. And most of the users will be seniors themselves. Retired people often have plenty of time to assist you with learning the location and operation of equipment, and for me, at our local senior fitness center, I often get more help than I want, though I can truly navigate this area with no need for assistance.
Remember it's perfectly OK to be flexible. In some gyms, I require a guide and in others I don't. In some gyms, I've taught my dog to find my favorite bike and the exercise mats. (Putting a treat on the mat will do it every time.) In another gym, where I would have to thread my way through a class of forty kids learning to use free weights, I simply arrive at a busy time, and ask someone near the door to help me find a free treadmill.
A blind friend who goes to many conventions for his job shared another tip. He always checks out the hotel's fitness center, where he is often alone and can explore the equipment without interference. If he gets really stuck, he uses FaceTime or skype to video call a sighted friend, who can read instructions or describe layouts. By exploring so many hotel gyms, he finds he's often faster than sighted people at figuring out unfamiliar equipment, and sometimes shows them how to use an unfamiliar machine.
Try to get to know the fitness center director. Explain that you might have special needs in the future and just want to stay in touch. More and more fitness centers are receptive to this kind of approach, because in some cases, it's people with health concerns who are most committed to fitness.
More and more fitness centers have inaccessible equipment with touchscreens. Sometimes there are apps that let you control them with a smart phone. Ask your center director who you've now befriended to include purchasing that app-controlled equipment in next year's budget. If not, go when the gym is fairly crowded so you can ask your neighbor to start a workout for you. I find if I go at the same time, I can usually get the person on the treadmill next to me to adjust the speed and incline. It is often a fellow exerciser I know well, and when he sees me coming, he'll welcome me and offer to set the machine up for me.
About Deborah: Deborah Armstrong is the Alternate Media specialist at De Anza community college in Cupertino, just a few miles from Apple’s famous main campus. She assists students with a plethora of print impairments to successfully acquire and read textbooks in a variety of ways. She is an area coordinator for Golden retriever rescue – her volunteer passion -- and is working her sixth guide, who quite naturally, is a golden.
Thanks to Deborah for sharing part one of her story, and some helpful tips. If you have your own fitness tips to share, you can do so in our Facebook group, or by sending email to support@BlindAlive.com .