Disability and fitness; why do they still appear so far removed to so many?

When Kris Saunders-Stowe met the Australian Paralympic team, his life changed completely. He underwent something of an epiphany that has gone on to have a butterfly effect, touching the lives of many others through his fitness classes.


How everything began

His story begins roundabout the Paralympic Games in 2012, when Kris met the Australian Paralympic team who it just so happens were staying in the same hotel as him in Cardiff. Hugely motivated by the experience, he started playing wheelchair basketball but soon realised this particular discipline wasn’t quite right for him. In trying to explore his fitness options, he realised there were no specific sport services for wheelchair users and people with disabilities in general. Adopting a “can do” attitude, Kris set about becoming a fitness instructor so that he could address the problem head on.


“I learned qualifications to teach able bodied clients, but due to my disabled condition I was able to adapt all that I knew to specifically target disabled clients”.


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He decided, at first, to qualify as a fitness instructor so he could coach people in the gym. But the desire to reach more people grew on him, and it wasn’t long before he decided to start his own business in Herefordshire.


The establishment of his company

Wheely Good Fitness runs several classes adapted for people with disabilities including; Wheel-Fit and Wheel-Spin classes. The former works on upper body mobility, flexibility, posture and strength and the latter takes the same principles as the bike spin class but it is specifically adjusted for wheelchair users as it requires a roller station. Since its inception, Wheely Good Fitness’ popularity has grown massively with both classes receiving a large attendance. Wheel-Fit is open to both disabled and non-disabled people.

As well as enjoying their classes together, members often hang out together too. Kris comments, the approach of disability in fitness tends to be wrong as a lot of people get into age related groups. They are people with lots of energy; they still want to be challenged and want to have fun in their classes and life. “Wheely Good Fitness is quite unique in that sense”.

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Making a difference

During our interview Kris goes on to describe the enormous positive effect that his classes have on people. “I have seen huge changes on people in the time they are coming into classes, many of them have changed quite significantly. People have become more confident, a lot more energetic, they have a lot more faith in their own abilities and they want to do more”. There are even three members in the group who have taken part in marathons that a year ago they could not imagine that they were capable of. A 60-year-old woman who was unable to push herself on her wheelchair started taking classes one year ago. And now she manages to move around without any help.


More than just helping to support health improvements for people, Kris wants to change the way we think about disability and fitness. There are many differences between human beings, whether they have a disability or not. But unfortunately, Kris feels disabled people are seen as delicate and fragile. “We are all different, very unique and special people. People need to realize that. It’s like the age, it’s just a number, and it doesn’t mean that once you reach to certain age you can no longer do specific things. The same happens with disability, just because you have a disability it doesn’t mean you can’t do some things. It might be a battle but you just have to look differently and think you can make this happen”.


Have your say

Regarding fitness centres, do you believe the facilities in your area are suitable for both disabled and non-disabled people? Did the London 2012 Paralympics and the Commonwealth Games really help change perceptions? Or was it more momentary excitement? Are people who have disabilities still seen as “fragile”, like Kris suggests?

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