Fitness Centers: Equal Pay with No Equal Play

In Columns, Just My Bellybutton, Opinion by Nathasha Alvarez

Before I decided to go on a fitness center hunt, I gave myself a reality check. I knew that not all people with physical disabilities would be able to use the machines and services of a fitness center.

I knew that the person with a physical disability would need enough strength and mobility to use the equipment. There needed to be a criteria. I didn’t know what it was but for the time being I was going to use myself as the guinea pig.

I went to Bally’s Gym and the salespeople were so helpful. They showed me every single machine even the ones I would never be able to use like the stationary bikes. They told me I could use the free weights, weights that were not connected to a machine.

I took a mental inventory and realized that the only equipment I would be able to use would be the free weights.

I wouldn’t be able to use the rowing machine, the stationary bikes, the leg press machine, and many other shiny, pricey equipment.

I asked him if there would be someone around to help me reach a free weight or a bar if necessary. They said there would be people “around”. The place was packed with big sweaty bodies and not enough people “around” to help me or anyone else for that matter.

Bally’s wasn’t offering any discounts for people with physical disabilities even though the number of machines a person with a wheelchair could use was practically down to three machines, if any!

Bally’s struck out!

The next biggest talk of the town was LA Fitness. I was told that the one closest to me didn’t have a pool that was accessible but the second closest to me did have one. I was psyched!

I figure I could use the free weights and the pool! That would give me strength training and cardiovascular exercise. As soon as I entered, I was approached with smiley faces.

We took the grand tour of the place even though I specifically wanted to see the pool. We finally got to the pool and I was so very happy! There was no one in it which is great for me since I get nervous having others around me when I am trying to swim.

I saw a hoya lift! I hate those things! They look uncomfortable and very dangerous. This one came in two pieces and I could visualize my small body sliding out from between those two pieces of cloth that were supposed to protect me from the ground.

I found it very interesting that there was no way for me to maneuveur the hoist by myself. I explained this to the salesperson and she was very understanding about it.

She said that someone from the gym could help me. Then I realized that there was no way for me to get out by myself nor contact someone to help me get out.

Basically, I would be in the pool by myself and stay there until someone noticed me.

We spoke to the manager. She said that she would contact headquarters. It’s been over over a month and I never heard back from them! Yet, they really, really, really wanted me to sign up with them.

LA Fitness struck out! No pool, no accessible machines, no nada!

I was getting frustrated! What happened to the ADA! I couldn’t believe that with all of this technology and push on healthy bodies, no one realized that people with physical disabilities want to exercise too!

There was one more place that I needed to check out.

I didn’t want to go there because I still have some issues regarding my relationship with the University of Miami.

However, Damian Gregory, who lives with Cerebral Palsy, works out there and he said that the University of Miami has the best health fitness centers for people with physical disabilities.

I figured I should give it a try. I also remembered that I was asked to approve the blueprint for the University of Miami’s Wellness Center during its early stages. My curiousity got the best of me. I wanted to see if they had taken of my suggestions.

I hit the jackpot!

The Wellness Center at the University of Miami has two excellent exercise machines that can be adapted for people in wheelchairs! Of course, there were free weights, too.

The beauty for me was the pool! It was calling my name!

The hydralic chair allowed me to slowly enter the pool and exit the pool without any assistance. Even so, there is a life guard there who stood next to me as an extra safety precaution.

The locker room had an accessible shower stall and there was even an indoor track where I could push for miles and miles without getting in anyone’s way.

It was a bit pricier than the other fitness centers but it was like that for everyone. I had no problem paying the same price like everyone as long as I had the same opportunity to use the equipment available to everyone.

If I could offer one more suggestion to the Wellness Center, it would be to turn the two machines around so that we could watch television like everyone else.

Being disabled doesn’t mean your body has to rot! It means we have one more reason why we need adaptable equipment to help our bodies maintain its peak in good health.

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