Yeah, I’m in a chair, but you look worse for wear than I do: Part 1

The following is a guest post by Jim Smith.

The biggest thing that motivates me is when people tell me that I can’t get fit. I’m disabled and have been since birth. Being told that I couldn’t become fit or will end up dying prematurely is one of the worst things anybody can do.

Fitness comes from the heart, quite literally. A fit heart is required to run a body, and if the body is over what the heart can handle, then your heart is strong, but not fit. The other thing, is that a healthy body, requires a healthy mindset, and being told “you can’t” or worse of all, saying “I can’t” are the two worst openings of a sentence any human has to endure, and I struggle with this daily.


Up until 7 months ago, I was in denial about being disabled. I could walk good distances and blocked out the pain. I could hit the gym 5-6 times a week, and still do at the minimum. That changed when I started to use 5 flights of stairs, 2-3 times a day to get home. I was getting compression pains in my back, and my breathing was getting poor. I knew my back was causing it. My cardio has always been good but I suddenly remembered that my lungs aren’t in the proper spot and therefore, my breathing suffers.

What were the reasons I was in denial about classing myself as disabled?

Easy answer, the way society views the disabled. It has this ingrained, and albeit very unfortunate, social stigma to it. There are however many active disabled people. The category I am in has an extra level of social stigmatism.

You’re disabled, why are you trying to stay fit?“, or worse of all, “Hey, stop it, you’re making the rest of us look bad“. You honestly can’t win, or can you?

How I’m Winning

I’m winning by moving and increasing my strength. When my muscles strengthen, my body begins to repair itself a little more. When it repairs itself a little more, I become less dependant on pain medication. When I am less dependant on pain medication, my mind becomes free from the cloud of depression or chemical addiction. I started to see that things weren’t as black and white as I previously thought. I became more social and met new people. Most of all I found a place to train where there are other disabled people.

It was this part for me, that was a change on my view big time. I had remembered meeting tonnes of chair bound people in my time, but it was very rare that they had that glint in their eye, the glint that says:

Yeah, I’m in a chair, but you look worse for wear than I do

I have met some very interesting people in my life, but it was doing this course to get my level 2 that opened my eyes. Three chaps in chairs, 2 of them were arm powered, the other was motorized.

Seeing a 27 year old man, with muscular dystrophy, doing bicep curls with 8kg dumbbells was astonishing. Feeling a pushback from him doing a chest exercise went to show me that because the body is in a weakend state structurally, by no means shows that the Mind or the muscles that control them are. Another of the guys was on the British Paralympic team in Atlanta for basketball.

Strength in Numbers

Working with the people I did on my course showed me that not only physical disability can be a problem, but emotional/mental disabilities are just as crippling. One of the course participants dropped out after 3 classes, due to the over-powering depression she suffered. She has promised to come back knowing now what the class work will be like, but she needed some time to adjust.

Another gentleman on my course had severe depression and other ailments. To me, he was a bit of an inspiration. We had a lot in common, and found that we both had similar mental conditions.

He was having difficulty with the stress levels on the course but he worked it. He said to me that he hated leaving the safety of his house, but knows at the same time, that this is an unhealthy option and knows to move it out of his mind.

He has suffered it all his life, tried many different ways to deal with it. He found that exercise, proper mental preparedness and the thought-out prescription of medication has helped him out tremendously. We also both found out that we were in a minority in fitness, in that we are both varying level vegans. He still eats very small amounts of meat, but is progressing towards getting rid of meat out of his diet, whereas I still eat eggs, but no other dairy/meat products.

What’s Needed

Diet, especially for disabled people, needs to be watched closely. Especially for motorized wheel chair users, diet cannot exceed output too much, otherwise obesity becomes endemic, and you can see this in daily life with how many people under the age of 40 are using scooters to get around.

The final piece, is to find a trainer who has either a good working relationship with the disabled, or is a disabled trainer themselves. This can be the difference between you, the client, coming out of bed on a bad day. There are more of us starting to get out there, and honestly, the more of us that can, the better for the rest of the population. Because remember, everyone is a disabled person in the making. Be it through age, accident or a hidden condition waiting for its kick-in point, we are all going to become disabled sooner or later. And the more trainers we can get out there with an intimate knowledge of disability, the better.

Take this into perspective. Not all disabled trainers are going to be able to train every client that comes into the door. The trainer has the knowledge, but they may lack physical presence or communication that a client wants, so obviously, they would pass them on to an able bodied instructor.

Are you an able-bodied trainer? You may have all the theory in the world, but a disabled person is going to ask, so how hard was it for you to get out of bed this morning? Answering with “Well it was really hard, I was at a huge party last night, and only had 3 hours sleep,” is not going to be an answer they want to hear, or show sympathy towards.

As a community, we should make this a pertinent point to learn from eachother. Not only that, but to also get a wider segment of the disabled community in as well. Nothing scares a disabled person more about coming into a gym, than knowing that there is nobody inside that can fully empathize with their situation.

My deadlift

Check out Part 2 Now

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