Finding Fitness After a Spinal Cord Injury

Health and fitness have been passions of mine for as long as I can remember. In 2008 I made the conscious decision to get sober and knew that I needed a healthy outlet as a distraction. It wasn't very long before I discovered that I loved running. Over the next year I started training hard and quickly began participating in marathons and ultramarathons. Before I knew it, I had run in seven of them by the end of 2010. Through my fitness journey I would always hit the gym and train hard, but I never quite had an end goal in mind. I just knew that I wanted to be fit and healthy, but I still felt like there was something missing.

Desiree competing at a marathon

In 2010 a friend of mine suggested that I check out a figure show. I went and watched one and I knew right away that I had found my calling. That was my goal. Watching that bodybuilding competition lit a fire in me like never before. I learned how to meal prep, train, and pose for my shows. Like the marathons, I competed seven times and loved every moment of it. Seven must be my lucky number! I watched my body transform and it was amazing. I competed for two years and placed 1st through 5th in my shows. I was quite proud of where I was in mind, body, and soul.

Desiree competing at a bodybuilding competition

Life was great. I was happy, healthy, and fit! In June of 2012 everything changed. I became paralyzed at level C5/6. I learned that I had a herniated disk that cracked. A piece broke off and lodged in my spinal cord causing an impingement. At first, I was not able to move my arms and hands. With a lot of therapy and my own fitness bands tied to my hospital bed rails, I was able to eventually get some function back. To this day, my left hand has minimal function with no grip strength. After my injury I was so lost not being able to train and run like I had. I could feel my zest for life and my passion fading. It was easy for me to sink into this depression and I knew that the weight would start piling on more if I didn't do something about it.

When I was released from the hospital and started my new life as a wheelchair user, I realized that I had two options. I could sit around, feel sorry for myself and continue to let my mind and body slip away, or I could pick myself up and work hard to adapt to my new life. I knew that I needed to start eating healthy and exercising again. This is especially important for wheelchair users due to the transferring and pushing we need to do on a daily basis. With my new disability, I had to learn how to cook a little differently, but I persisted and I'm proud to say that I succeeded. Sometimes it's the little accomplishments that can mean the world. I started meal prepping again and it felt like the good old days. On Sundays I cook my meals for the week and my refrigerator is stacked with Tupperware filled with healthy, delicious food. I aim for six small meals a day that consist of 5 ounces of protein, 1 cup of green veggies, and ¼ cup brown rice.

Desiree working out at the gym

Getting back into the fitness world brought on a whole new journey. I started training for wheelchair racing and began workouts at home before joining a gym again. Gyms can be intimidating for a lot of people, but if you can find somewhere that you are comfortable, you will make strides like you wouldn't believe. In 2016 I found adaptive CrossFit. This is a great workout and it challenges me in ways I never thought possible. I was amazed that I was able to do push-ups, sit-ups, battle ropes, and clean & jerks off the blocks! I started losing weight and gaining muscle. I was so proud of myself for getting back in touch with who I was pre-injury. I had found my happy place again!

Aside from CrossFit, I also really wanted to find a workout that had more cardio because it takes a lot to get my heart rate up. I heard about a new kickboxing facility opening in my area, so I checked it out. Burn Kickboxing is my favorite workout by far! While my able-bodied peers are kicking or on the ground doing flutter kicks, I'm coming up with combinations (jab, cross, hook, hook, back, back). This high-energy and fast-paced workout is just what I was looking for. I take four one-hour classes per week and I feel amazing! I am so happy that I decided to get out of my comfort zone and try all different types of fitness.

Desiree boxing

My advice to you is that if I can do it, so can you! You can find different adaptive workouts that can be adjusted or scaled to fir your needs and abilities. The hardest part is just getting through those doors. Since all these workouts can be adapted to you, don't think that you can't join a gym or take a class just because you use a wheelchair. You are worth it, so go for it! No one is in charge of your health and fitness but you.

About The Author


Desiree is a C5/6 paraplegic. She has a true passion for health and fitness and enjoys doing adaptive CrossFit and adaptive kickboxing. Her hobbies include shopping, reading, working out, and relaxing with family. Desiree enjoys spending time with her children, grandchildren, and fiancé Jayson.

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Date: 1/8/2019 12:00:00 AM

As always you inspire me & others... you my Friend are a true testament of what life is... thank you for writing this... I will share as I'm sure many others will too... love you always xo
1/8/2019 6:20:00 PM
Patrick J Marnell
Truly Dez, You are One of the Strongest Women I have known.
Life is a Journey, Thank you for being a Friend on this journey.
Much Love..
1/8/2019 4:42:02 PM

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