A Healthier Me

On April 11 I celebrated my 15th "re-birth-day." For me, this re-birth signifies the anniversary of my injury. This is a day that my family, friends, and I choose to celebrate rather than mourn. I'll be honest: this particular anniversary is one that I have always feared. It meant that I had been a wheelchair user for over half of my life and for some reason that scared me. Knowing that this date was approaching, I had a revelation at the end of 2017 that I needed to start taking better care of myself. I spend much of my free time volunteering in my community and helping so many other people in my life that I let my health fall by the wayside. It was then that I found a healthier me at Swagler Strength and Performance in Auburn, NY.

Comfort Zone

Since the day that I started at Swagler's, I've felt right at home. Over the past 15 years, I have been a member of a few different gyms but none of them made me feel as welcome as I do here. My friend Katie has been an avid gym member at Swagler's for some time now and she kept asking me to come check it out. I was reluctant because every other gym experience involved people just staring at me, making me feel uncomfortable.

My boss Craig, the Central New York Vice President at Monroe Wheelchair, came to us in January 2017. While getting to know Craig, I discovered his son, Jamie Swagler, was the owner of the gym and he slowly began to convince me to give it a try. Between the two of them telling me how great this gym was, I finally gave in. I found myself at Swagler's late one evening after work and after an introduction to Jamie, I grew to love my "me-time" at the gym. Although this is something that I chose to do for myself, I have also grown to love encouraging and motivating others to "just give it a try!" At the gym, things are simple: no one stares, we all work hard, and everyone treats each other with kindness.

Finding My Strength

My trainer, Jamie, has challenged me with workouts to help strengthen not only my arms and shoulders but my entire body. Your average active manual wheelchair user self-propels between 2,000 to 3,000 pushes in a single day. You can imagine the wear and tear that this can have on your upper body. I knew that I had let myself get weak over the years and that it was time to rebuild and strengthen. As I age, the importance of remaining injury-free is imperative to my life expectancy, my ability to complete ADLs and being independent. Finding the motivation to get back in the gym is something that has been difficult for me. But with an open-minded and educated trainer who has come up with fun and adaptive workouts, I find myself looking forward to my sessions.

Creating Workouts

Part of the excitement of going to the gym is finding new workouts. Social media has been my friend through this journey, and I lean on it heavily when it comes to learning new adaptive training. I find myself following different adaptive workout sites as well as athletes that are differently abled. A few that compel me to work harder are @AdaptiveCrossFit and Coach @kevinogar on Instagram. The concepts I get from these sites are helpful, and I bring them to Jamie to assist me with weekly workouts.

Jess pulling weights with her wheelchair

On Mondays, Jamie has me do a conventional workout with dumbbells, barbells, resistance bands, and weights. I surprise myself with how much weight I can lift now compared to when I started in October 2017. On Fridays, I have an "unconventional" workout day. These fun (but more challenging) workouts include dips, wall ball throws, battle ropes in my chair and sitting on the floor, sled pulls, sit-ups, weighted push-ups, and sometimes even crawling across the gym with dumbbells in my hands. My favorite Friday workouts are with battle ropes and pulling Jamie across the gym with resistance bands. I have found that training can be difficult but still enjoyable. Who says you can't have fun at the gym?!

I Love Going to the Gym

I absolutely love going to the gym! Never in my life did I ever think those words would come out of my mouth. I guess you can really surprise yourself with your capabilities if you put your mind to it. Finding that inner strength, both mentally and physically, can be a challenge, especially on the days when my body is syaing 'no' but my mind is saying 'yes.' Accepting my own strengths but knowing my limitations has been tough. Jamie is constantly evaluating my abilities on a day-to-day basis and creates the workouts according to how I am feeling that day. We are both learning and growing the longer we work together.

Jess working out at the gym

A huge thank-you to my husband, Jason, for putting up with me constantly talking about Swagler Strength and Performance, to Katie and Craig for having faith in me and to Jamie for empowering me to work hard. I am thankful that I have found such a welcoming community to better myself in and that I have a continuous support system in my life.

Advice to Readers

I am by no means a CrossFit Queen and I'm a newbie when it comes to this type of working out, but having gone through this experience I can offer some advice to readers. When you decide you want to find the right trainer and gym to work with, you may have to do some trial and error. The very first thing you must find is an accessible gym that you're able to get into and out of easily. For those who need it, an accessible bathroom is important as well. I don't know about everyone else, but the bathroom seems to be the first thing I scope out when going anywhere, and the gym is no exception. It may take a few different trips to multiple locations to figure this one out. Ask around for gyms that your family and friends attend and how comfortable they are working out there. You'll find that people are quite honest.

Jess at the gym

Your average gym will have more than one trainer on staff. There's no reason you must stick with one, so try them all out to see who you fit best with. I was fortunate enough to find Jamie early on. Don't worry about hurting anyone's feelings if you choose someone else over them; they're tougher than you think. I would ask the trainer(s) if they have ever worked with adaptive athletes before and find out their ease in coming up with workouts for you. Again, you should find that they'll be honest in their abilities and comfort level. My advice is to just get out there and take the bull by the horns because you don't know your abilities until you try. I certainly never would have thought I would have a personal trainer helping me maintain my health and grow stronger, but I finally found a healthier me.

About the Author

Jess Patterson

Jess lives in central New York with Jason, her husband of nine years; three Boston Terriers; a Pug; and a cat. She was in a motor vehicle accident on April 11, 2003 in which she tore two holes in her aorta and lost blood flow to her lower extremities. The result was T-12 incomplete paraplegia. Jess chooses to celebrate her abilities and enjoys encouraging others to do the same. She has worked at Monroe Wheelchair for the past four years in Marketing and Business Development and is an Administrative Assistant for Monroe Learning Network. Jess has also been volunteering at the local children's hospital for six years and enjoys helping to run weekly fun and educational programs for the patients and families. In her spare time, Jess has a passion for working out at Swagler Strength and Performance, being outdoors, and spending time with her family and friends. Jess' proudest endeavor was holding the title of Ms. Wheelchair New York 2013-2014, competing for Ms. Wheelchair America 2015, and peer mentoring throughout her reign and still today.

Jess' ride is a Quickie 7R.

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Date: 5/29/2018 12:00:00 AM


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