Fitness and the “Abled Disabled”

By now it’s no secret that I’m training to climb a mountain (just in case you missed the entire temporary overhaul of Hazina Safari for the duration of the #MSvsTheMountain campaign) and it’s been a heck of a ride so far but also a very informative one.

PC: Michael Madsen

PC: Michael Madsen

It's not always pretty...actually it's almost never pretty

It's not always pretty...actually it's almost never pretty

Now, I frequently say that, “if I can do it, anyone can do it,” when it comes to various fitness activities. I don’t mean to demean or diminish anyone (or any practice) when I say that, but given the right mindset, leadership and a little hard work, everyone and anyone can make a step towards being more fit. You might not be hanging from the rafters any time soon (maybe you are) but you can take a short walk, take a long walk, get off the elevator a floor early and take on that last flight. Don’t have weights? Use a water bottle. There are so many little things and small hacks you can do to move (see what I did there?) towards a goal to be even just a bit more fit. And if I, with a fused spine, numb hands, seizures, little bit of crazy and other random MS symptoms can accomplish my goals (hopefully) then you can too. I know I am the exception and not the rule (yup I just pulled a He’s Just Not That Into You quote) when it comes to level, but it is, on your own level, possible. You just have to decide what your goals is (with the help of your doctors if the situation requires) and work toward it. If you said to me three years ago when I was laying in a hospital bed, unable to feel half my body and on excessive amounts of IV steroids, among other things, that I would lose that 30lbs of steroid weight, be back up and moving and training and know how to use my hands and arms without always being able to feel them and about to head back to Africa to climb one of the Seven Peaks, I would have never believed you. Yes that was a lot of commas and “ands” and and and just because. I digress.


So in reality this has been a much longer adventure, going all the way back to my early teens when I had my spinal fusion for scoliosis (Harrington rods). Not being able to bend your spine has a weird way of restricting fitness and limiting recreational options. I couldn’t do gymnastics or dance and I definitely was told I wasn’t supposed to play contact sports again (we all know how that worked out with lacrosse all the way through Clemson). Don’t tell anyone but I also rode a roller coaster, six months after having my spinal surgery, against all medical advice, still wearing the brace because they were afraid of the hardware pulling out of my still too soft bones (bones are “soft” until you stop growing much like the soft spot on baby’s heads).

When I moved to New York City, it was eye opening in so many ways. And then Groupon and LivingSocial and GiltCity became a thing. I suddenly had a new confidence to try things I’d always wanted to do but had previously been scared of or felt they were outside of my abilities. All of these new discount and flash sales made things financially accessible in a way they previously hadn’t been and if I couldn’t do it after all or didn’t like it, it was a minimal sum that I was out.

AntiGravity is one of the big ones. I had seen aerial yoga and other similar performance inspired fitness classes but never had the kahunas to just go for it.  Again, I’ve never been able do dance or gymnastics or anything like that but I bought a Groupon pass anyway. What was the worst that could happen? If I didn’t like it or couldn’t do it then I would simply finish out my pass with mat yoga. I never looked back. It made aerial arts and gymnastics and dance accessible to me and thanks to some great instructors I have continued to practice and succeed and even train as an instructor. Yes, there are a few moves I have to modify. I can’t do most things that involve the bulk of weight on your hands but forearms always work as a great alternative and I can’t do anything that involves a rounded spine but I can do it. I CAN DO IT!

So back to fitness for the able disabled (tangents, I know). I’ve been doing a sort of experiential experiment with different studios, fitness classes, instructors and genres to not only find what is going to work best for me as I train to climb this mountain but also to recommend to people like you what could potentially be helpful to you as you navigate a really intimidating arena that is of immense benefit your life and wellbeing, no matter your status of ability/disability because let’s be honest, just showing up is sometimes the hardest part.

I’ve been to spin classes and yoga classes and rowing classes and aerial classes. I’ve learned a lot about my competitive nature and myself. I’ve learned that anything that keeps track of your output or progress is a no go for me because I’m too competitive a PR or ER (personal record or emergency room) is a very real thing in my screwy brain. I’m looking at you Flywheel.

Over the next few weeks I plan on breaking down my experiences with the help of ClassPass to keep it interesting and switching it up to try things I’ve never done before (I’m in my 30’s and had never been to a spin class until February of this year!!), paying far less for classes that are incredibly expensive in this city (I get 5 classes per month through them for maybe $75 which would be the equivalent of 2 full price classes at any studio since most run between $35 and $45 per session…go ahead and pick your jaw up off the ground. We know how ridiculous it is but the alternative is kicking your own butt at your local Planet Fitness or similar gym which seems ideal until you realize you only do the exercises that you like and not necessarily the ones that you need) and a few studio specific memberships of the ones I love and hurt in a the good way.

Stay tuned…


*I would however, recommend (and encourage) you to NOT do what I tend to do and not tell your instructors about your physical limitations until a few weeks in when they try to correct your form and you answer, “oh yeah, by the way I don’t bend that way because my spine is titanium” because as an instructor, most of us will not judge you or push you any less than the other students but we will make sure that you don’t hurt yourself and give you alternatives to get the same results from a variation of that move (sorry LA). It took me to the point of becoming a certified instructor to realize that to be true because I’ve long had a fear of people underestimating my ability based on my disability.