Program run in partnership with Spinal Cord Injury P.E.I.
Janice Gillis has never been a huge workout afficionado. But she drives nearly an hour from Summerside to Charlottetown P.E.I. twice a week for a special CrossFit class for people with spinal-cord injuries.
Ever since a car crash left Gillis in a wheelchair nearly five years ago, she’s been searching for new ways to keep active.
“It was difficult to be active,” she told CBC. “To get your heart rate up and be breathing heavy, you’re really wheeling uphill, because the flat doesn’t do it.”
The adapted class at CrossFit 782 is being offered in partnership with Spinal Cord Injury P.E.I. Seven people have signed up, and Spinal Cord Injury PEI will be covering the cost of the class for one year.
It’s the brainchild of physiotherapist Bonnie Caldwell, who also works out at CrossFit 782. She said finding ways to be active is particularly important for people in wheelchairs.
“They’re more apt to develop secondary heart problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes,” Caldwell said.
“And this population needs to exercise, and they are really sort of forgotten in our general exercise buildings.”
Gym co-owner Brett Roberts said this is the first time he’s had any wheelchair users work out at his facility, and he had to do a bit of research to figure out which exercises to teach. But he said the way he adapts exercises for the class — and for each individual — is no different from what he does in all of his classes.
“We’re taking them out of their comfort zones and making them push the extremes of what they can do,” Roberts said.
“They’re working as hard as anybody else that would come into the gym, but they’re working to their own ability.”
‘You’re really getting a work out’
Like any CrossFit program, participants cycle through different activities, focusing on areas such as cardiovascular fitness, strength and stamina.
“You’re getting a workout,” said Gillis. “They push you and it’s a great environment.”
The activities vary from week to week and include rowing machines, medicine balls, resistance training and pull ups.
Roberts said the adapted workouts do more than build strength — they build confidence.
“Before they would look at me in kind of awe and shock and be like ‘there’s no way I can do this,’ ” Roberts said.
“Now they look at it and they see it as a challenge and they want to do it. And I’ve talked to them about taking that attitude outside the gym to their daily tasks.”