Thursday 29 March 2018
This week’s personal experience blog comes from Wendy Hall, who when she couldn’t find a gym she liked decided to train as a gym instructor herself
In 2008 I had a blackout and fell down stairs. I broke my neck at C5/6/7 cervical level, which essentially means everything below the break is affected and I had instant paralysis from the neck down. Some of my friends and family were always hopeful I would get some sort of recovery as I was physically fit and always did exercise, used weights and gone to the gym, but I know how lucky I am to have achieved any recovery, feeling or movement due to the level and severity of my injury.
Soon after the accident I was lying in bed, not being able to move, but still trying to work out how I was ever getting back to the gym.
I thought it would be a very difficult road ahead for me – and I was right. Some days were harder than others with several gyms and personal medical struggles trying to hold me back. The attitude towards me was unexpected, especially from lots of staff and members who knew me; it was like I had two heads and was contagious! I was offered no support, no alternatives or adapted induction to be able to re-learn equipment. I even struggled to enter the building, even with my partner’s support.
That’s when I decided it shouldn’t be the case for others….
I did some voluntary work with Aspire, a spinal cord charity, which led me down the path of becoming a gym instructor again after my accident. Aspire has a great InstructAbility programme which provides fitness industry training for disabled people. I used to teach aerobics classes before my accident, and so the training for me was a brilliant opportunity and helped me to feel like the ‘old me’ again.
Although my spinal injury can make things challenging at times, being active helps. Practical exercises support me with everyday functions like getting about and some flexibility, which can be challenging with my nerve damage.
While in the gym as a volunteer, I decided I wanted to start an Inclusive Circuits class when I became qualified. I wanted to create and give more opportunities to bring more people together. It was (and still is) so apparent there are very few inclusive classes in gyms; the issues I had faced just seemed to be all too common. Anyone is welcome to join in with us, and anything can happen. My class has been doing so well and is popular with regular participants!! There are many abilities, and we all come together to exercise and some of the transformations have been amazing for individuals.
Any top tips or recommendations?
I’d say most of all, keep looking and trying to do something you like and enjoy. Whatever you can manage today, may get you through tomorrow. Family and friends will see you through, and will help where they can. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Charities for example, can offer much more than just financial support, they can help with all sorts of things. Without Aspire, who knows where I would (or wouldn’t) be today. I have a lot to thank a stubborn practical attitude, and Aspire for.
I think I had all but given up on trying to progress, so the opportunity to be supported in teaching in exercise again I couldn’t miss out on. I just wanted something to remind me of some part of ‘me’ before my accident, I could hardly remember with struggling with so many things after coming back home from hospital. I never realised how soul destroying coming home would be, but I couldn’t give up trying to find another me.
In taking on the InstructAbility gym course it set me challenges I wasn’t sure I would manage. From taking on a full course including written and practical work, and trying to manage a job as well, it was so difficult. It was exhausting and painful, physically and mentally, but I wanted to do well and kept believing I could.
Doing the gym course, with other disabled people helped me learn to be me again and have some confidence to be me again. Staff and gym users (at Portway Lifestyle Centre, Sandwell Leisure Trust) knew nothing about me, other than I was a qualified gym instructor on a voluntary placement.
Challenging myself has been the best thing, as well as the hardest. If it was easy it wouldn’t be so worthwhile.
It’s been life changing , almost literally for me.
It’s given me confidence to speak to people again, look people in the eye, learn to be in the gym exercising again and learn to enjoy being with others and be in my own skin. I had hated myself for a long time, felt worthless and pointless. I’m finding my new me, even though it’s taken about 7 years though (I’m now 10 years post-accident).
I’m stronger mentally, growing in confidence, happy to speak with others , and importantly I’ve seen I can encourage others, especially with mixed ability. To see others grow in self confidence and personality is so inspiring to me. I’m doing things I never would have before, like outdoor rowing, and I’m taking those who want to try new things with me too.
I’m proud to have my disability now and to be able to inspire, encourage and see others grow. My journey could have been so different and, more importantly, without those who I love and live with who have always encouraged me and see how difficult it is, it was and still will be. I’m lucky and very grateful to many, but I spread lots of thank you’s wherever I can. Usually cake & a cuppa, that’s never changed.
Even though I still used my wheelchair, but it never stopped me pushing forwards.