Fitness for everyone
Class connects UGA students with community members often unable to work out in a traditional gym.
Kim Keeney’s goal was to lose 30 pounds.
But with cerebral palsy, she never felt comfortable going to a traditional gym. So when University of Georgia kinesiology professor Kevin McCully approached her with the idea of working out with some students who would be specifically studying exercise modifications for people with disabilities, she jumped at the chance—even if she was a bit of a guinea pig in the process.
“When we first started, we were trying to figure out where we were going with this,” said Keeney, 37, who, three years later, continues to be a part of the fitness class “Introduction to Wellness for Individuals with Disabilities.” The physical education class is open to students in any degree program, and it provides initial disability fitness training before connecting them with members of the community.
Students initially meet one day a week for certification training, and then work one-on-one with class participants for three to six hours a week, depending on the number of credit hours they are taking. When the class first launched, there were eight UGA students and 12 community volunteers, said kinesiology doctoral student Ashley Fallaize. Today, the class has expanded to as many as 40 students in a semester, serving up to 30 community members. The class counts as a physical education requirement, and many students come back for additional semesters as a supervisor, offering tips to new students and overseeing several community members.
Shanice Reeves, a fourth-year exercise and sport science major from Palmetto, Georgia, is one of dozens of students who are also using the class to obtain a certificate in disability studies. She said the class is challenging because every day is different—but it’s also excellent training for her future career as a physical therapist.
“You have different people to work with, and every day you’re learning something new, so you have to adapt,” she said. “I’ve learned how to adapt exercises for people with a range of disabilities, and, because I’m a supervisor, I’m constantly looking out for safety.”
Since its inception, the class has branched out into working with different types of disabilities. Today, Reeves said, she may work with someone who has cerebral palsy one day, then the next day work with someone who is visually impaired or has Down syndrome or Parkinson’s disease.
“It has changed how I see myself—this class has put the focus on my health. This is something I didn’t do before.”
— Kim Keeney
Athens resident Ouida Williams, 72, has always been physically active. But when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, she felt her exercise routine needed to change—or, at least, focus on exercises that could help minimize her symptoms.
She began exercising with the class in January, working specific exercises for balance and flexibility into her routine. She also had been losing weight—a side effect of Parkinson’s—and so she worked with the students to regain a few pounds. After a few months, she’s achieved that goal.
“At the beginning of the class you’re measured by how much weight you can lift and what you can do physically,” she said. “You work harder when you have a focus, and my trainer was very flexible. The students have been just great—very encouraging.
“One of the things I learned is that I can do more than I thought.”
There is no prerequisite to take the class, Fallaize said. It’s simply an opportunity for students of all disciplines to work with members of the community and also learn more about fitness and nutrition.
“It’s for anybody with an interest in how to include nutrition and fitness into the daily lives of persons with disabilities,” she said.
And for participants like Keeney, the effect has gone beyond an initial goal of losing weight. Not only did she lose that 30 pounds, but she began to set clearer, more long-term goals for her overall wellness.
“Now it’s flexibility and maintaining my weight,” she said. “Because of this class, I take an hour out of my day three times a week for me. It has changed how I see myself—this class has put the focus on my health. This is something I didn’t do before.”
— Kristen Morales, College of Education