By Samantha Dwyer
I started going to the gym shortly after I was diagnosed with a condition called Friedreich’s Ataxia when I was 10 years old. I wasn’t allowed to do sport at school anymore, so I needed to find a way to stay active.
My dad suggested going to the gym and helped me find a trainer. Although they were lovely, they didn’t always understand how to work with someone who had physical limitations. And if they did, it would usually be how to train someone with an injury, rather than a physical disability. However, it was my only option in a small city.
When going to the gym, I found that the goals were always to ‘get bigger’, ‘get stronger’, ‘do more reps’. But all I was trying to do was maintain my health and wellbeing. Practical things that would help make my day-to-day life easier, like transferring from my wheelchair to my bed. Most of the sessions were taken up by trainers helping me on and off the machines. Besides getting in a machine, I rarely got out of my wheelchair.
When I moved to Brisbane, I found exercise physiologists that were trained to work with disabled clients and had a lot of knowledge about different disabilities. They knew the everyday problems that someone in a wheelchair would face. For the first time ever, I was able to set goals that were actually useful in my day-to-day life. One goal was to maintain my transferring ability, another goal was to work on my standing ability.
With their help, I was able to practice standing for an hour twice a week. I hadn’t stood for over 9 years. This means I can now do standing transfers which has helped me navigate my day so much more efficiently. I can now get in and out of cars, which I had nearly given up on. That in turn, saves me money on taxi’s and it means I can now go out with my friends.
In order to get better at standing and transferring, my EP’s helped me to realise that I actually needed to work on balance and co-ordination rather than the muscular strength that comes from lifting weights on machines.
They are constantly coming up with creative solutions to target specific areas that I need to work on. For example, they often get me out of my wheelchair and sitting on a bench where I lean at different angles, trying to reach their hands. While this might not seem like a ‘gym workout’ for an able-bodied person, this has helped immensely with my core strength, which actually keeps me safe. My condition affects my strength and muscles, so having the core stability to keep myself upright when I sneeze or cough at the table, can actually prevent me from getting a concussion or injuring myself.
Working with EP’s who are specifically trained, means they also know how to get me in and out of my wheelchair safely, and can even offer advice on how I can do this more effectively and safer while I’m at home.
Without the help of a specially trained EP this wouldn’t have been possible. I encourage anyone with a disability to find someone that can help them in this way.
Thank you Sam for writing this blog for us! Please checkout out her socials here: