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What I Wish People Would Do When They See Me at the Gym With My Walker

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Imagine stepping into a gym track and having everyone give you side glances as you position your walker to the left side of the track to avoid oncoming runners. Imagine the fear, the embarrassment and awkward feeling as you are sweaty before you even get started. Your body feels twisted and fragile, like you are going to break a bone.

Erin exercising with her walker.
Erin exercising with her walker.

I happen to think almost everyone has a “mini heart attack” before working out at the gym. I go through the wringer with my emotions, and just want to work out where no one is watching. I  worry that someone is going to see me on a machine doing reps and feel compelled to help the “disabled person” by calling an ambulance. I’ve been “working out” regularly for eight-plus years and that fear has always stuck with me.

I can assure you, it has never happened, and I’m glad. The gym is embarrassing enough. People are concerned with their own workout needs at the gym, so I have been mostly left alone. Unfortunately, I am not immune to the classic commentary, such as “You are such an inspiration,” “It’s OK, you can’t walk like everyone else,” “God bless you, you make me thankful I’m not disabled” and “good for you for trying.” I try not to roll my eyes, just nod and continue my workout. Talk about a shot to the heart!

Imagine if you had someone say that to you while you were working out. I know people are trying to be supportive, but the best support you can give is just leaving me to work out without the commentary. As a disabled person, I take comfort in the fact that nearly everyone feels like giving up on their workout, especially if you aren’t getting appropriate results. It’s easy to throw in the towel when people don’t believe you can succeed.

Working out for me is not about a perfect beach body. I do it to manage chronic pain with my back; my walker causes me to bend over all the time. This is not to say I dislike my body. I love my disabled body, I just don’t like how it makes me feel sometimes.

I can’t run marathons, I take a million breaks, and I’m overweight, but working out is for everyone. Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do it. They don’t know what your body is capable of; only you know. Talk to your doctor about exercises, you can do or to get some ideas. I love swimming along with awkwardly running with my walker in spastic bursts.

I also enjoy walking outside on flat surfaces. I have used Garmin to track my steps, but because I can’t move my arms when I walk, I have to wrap it around my leg. It looks more like a house arrest monitor than a pedometer! So I stopped using that and track my progress with MapMyRun. It works for me, but I am very curious to know what works for other people with disabilities who work out regularly.

Please share your experiences with having a disability and exercising in the comments.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your disability, disease, or mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold this misconception? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


Originally published: May 17, 2016
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