by Terri Griffon
From the Editor: Terri Griffon and her husband Nick Wilcox live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. As you will note from the article that follows, she believes in the value of exercise. Perhaps her story will encourage us all to get in shape for the summer. This is what she says:
“Place the resistance band [a stretchy rubber cord with handles on each end] around your back just under your armpits. Grasp it with each hand and stretch it equally on both sides by extending your arms forward and out,” Barb said. “Your elbows should be slightly flexed and your forearms should be parallel to the floor. Stretch the band by extending your arms until your hands touch in front of you as far forward as you can reach. This is a chest press.” I successfully completed this exercise and seven repetitions. Smiling, I thought back to a time I had foolishly skipped participating in the class, assuming I would not know what was happening because of my blindness.
It all started in September 2006 when my treadmill malfunctioned. I was used to walking for an hour a day on it, but it was becoming unsafe because it would not maintain a constant speed. I started walking outside but found that I was not able to walk as fast over the uneven ground using my cane, so my heart rate was not high enough for a true aerobic workout. I live in a subsidized complex for seniors citizens and people with disabilities that offers an exercise class twice a week. I had been skeptical about joining the class because I thought I would not be able to follow the instructor’s directions. Regardless of my misgivings, I decided to participate because I felt sluggish without an exercise regimen.
First I consulted the instructor, Barb, who seemed very willing to use auditory cues so that I could follow the exercise she was demonstrating. “The class is composed primarily of seniors,” she explained. “Everyone has some issue we are working around.” Barb used clear auditory explanations. My doubts about my ability to participate had caused me to miss a worthwhile opportunity for six years. Another incorrect assumption I was making was that the instructor would demonstrate by doing an exercise without explaining it. Barb later reassured me that, since not everyone learns by mere demonstration, a good instructor accompanies every part of each exercise with explicit verbal instructions.
This class is designed to promote increased balance, range of motion, flexibility, and good posture. After the first day I was sore, but I felt my posture improving. I almost felt taller as I walked. After participating in the class for close to two years, I am now seeing some benefits from increased strength and balance. For example, each summer my husband Nick and I attend a week of camp sponsored by Christian Record Services for the Blind. I pretty much live in the lake: swimming and diving. One of our favorite activities is riding the water shark. The shark is a delightfully adventurous rubber boat that six people sit atop. In front of each person is a handle extending approximately three inches above the rubber. The shark is attached to the motor boat by a rope. The driver motors along at a top speed of fifteen mph. He or she takes pleasure in driving in circles and over waves. This inevitably capsizes the shark and dumps the riders into the water. Of course falling is half the fun. The other part of the fun is trying to stay on top of the shark in spite of all of its gyrations. We were treated to this ride for about an hour each day and fell from three to seven times. On one ride the shark almost tossed me, but I managed to hang on. I concluded that I had probably managed to stay on because of my increased balance and strength from the exercise class. I commented to my husband and the other riders, “Wow, that was close! I thought I was going to bite it for sure. Anybody? Anybody?” Then the realization hit, and I started to laugh. I was the only one still on the water shark. Even my husband was in the water.
The exercise class has also increased my flexibility. My husband and I attend a four-day camp for the blind sponsored by the Salvation Army. One sensationally spectacular surprise this year was the zip line. To access it we first had to climb a tree on three-inch metal staples to a height of forty-five feet. Physically this was the hardest thing I have ever done. I am only four feet eight-and-a-half inches tall, so the stretches between staples were as far as I could possibly reach. At the top of the tree one must climb onto a platform. All this is done in harness, so we are completely safe. Two men provide assistance by belaying us and providing instructions about the location of the next staple.
After safely reaching the platform, we attached our harnesses to the zip line. As I jumped off the platform and flew along the zip line’s 350 feet of cable, I knew this was going to be my closest experience to flying until I reach heaven. Only one other person besides my husband and me successfully negotiated the zip line. All of us were totally blind. However, my blindness was surely not my biggest handicap. It was my shortness. The two men climbed the tree in a third the time it took me to scale it.
Now I encourage others around the complex to participate in this excellent exercise class. It is a great way to enhance energy as well as to increase strength and endurance. I might not have tried the class if I had not been encouraged by my husband, my family, and my knowledge of the National Federation of the Blind. The members do not let blindness stop them from full participation in life. We realize that blindness is just a physical nuisance, not a barrier that keeps us from acquiring whatever skill captures our imagination.
“As you take in a deep breath, stretch both arms as far as you can toward the ceiling,” Barb says. “Now push this good air into your heart, and we are done.”