On Target: Disability and Health in New York State, Volume 6

Stay Fit for Life!

Healthy Lifestyles for People With Disabilities

Good health. Feeling great. Being independent and having control. Pursuing happiness. These are important ingredients for a healthy life.

A healthy lifestyle is its own reward. But it can be hard work. To achieve it, people must look beyond the barriers in their lives and realize that they CAN create their own opportunities for healthy, happy and active lives.

You may be thinking at this point, "That's sounds good. But how can I do that? At times, it seems impossible."

This issue of On Target contains practical ideas and suggestions for ways in which people with disabilities can improve their physical well-being. The samplings of programs, services and educational materials will serve as a starting point for becoming fit for life. It's always a good idea, too, to consult with your health professional before beginning any physical fitness program.

But, regular physical activity is just one piece of the healthy lifestyles puzzle. The next issue of On Target will explore other ways to lead a healthier life with a look at methods for improving nutritional, emotional and psychological well-being.

Regular physical activity helps you beat the chances of becoming overweight and developing health problems, such as heart disease, cancer and high blood pressure. And, people who are healthier, tend to be happier, live longer and feel they have control over their lives.

The recent U.S. Surgeon General's "Report on Physical Activity and Health" said that everyone - specifically citing people with disabilities - needs physical activity.

Why? The report gives specific examples: "Interventions to promote physical activity...have led to enhanced cardiorespiratory fitness and improved skeletal muscle function in persons with multiple sclerosis...increased walking capacity and reduction in pain for patients with low back pain...and improvements in endurance for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease..."

Studies indicate that many people with disabilities, especially physical ones, don't exercise or pursue well- being activities, such as eating healthy or taking up an enjoyable activity or hobby. Few studies, though, show how the 43 million Americans with disabilities can improve their general well-being. How can people be encouraged to lead healthier lives? Different people have different reasons. For some it may be the exhilaration of achieving a goal, or the improved sense of well-being that comes with physical activity. For others, it could be improved self-esteem, or the camaraderie of team sports. It could be the feeling of independence and control. It may be some or all of the above.

What motivates you? If you have a physical disability and are interested in sharing your thoughts on physical activity, please take a few minutes to contact disabili@health.state.ny.us. Your input will be used in creating and promoting messages to be used throughout the state to promote healthy lifestyles for everyone.

Sports for the Blind

Blindsport is a new electronic mailing list dealing with sports for the blind. Topics range from announcements of sports training camps; upcoming tournaments and events, and their results; discussions on how to make sports more accessible to the blind; and other related subjects. To subscribe, contact jmeddau@cris.com and include name of this list, Blindsport.

Fit For Life Brochure

Physical activity can be a part of everyone's life, regardless of physical limitations. A new State Health Department brochure for people with disabilities explains how to make physical fitness part of your daily routine; suggests sports and leisure activities; and discusses available adaptive equipment. The benefits of exercise for people with disabilities are highlighted. For a free copy of "Fit for Life," write:

NYS Department of Health
Box 2000
Albany, NY 12220.

Accessible Recreation

The N.Y.S. Department of Environmental Conservation brochure, "Opening the Outdoors to People with Disabilities," lists wheelchair accessible state campsites, educational centers, hiking trails, fishing sites, nature viewing areas on land and by water, and personal care stations. For a copy, call the regional DEC office listed in your telephone book.

'Warriors on Wheels' Improves Strength, Independence

Do you wish you had a way to build your strength and endurance? And, ultimately, make performing daily tasks easier?

If you live in the Albany area, you may be interested in a recreational fitness program called Warriors on Wheels. It is designed for people with disabilities, especially those who use wheelchairs, and uses weight training and Nautilus equipment to help develop the stamina and muscles needed for everyday activities.

More than 140 adults and 30 children, with varying disabilities, are currently working out under the direction of Warriors on Wheels founding president, Ned Norton, a former Olympic trainer and body builder. He said dedication to the workout leads to improved independence and a sense of well-being. "The physical benefits are obvious. People have an easier time getting in and out of wheelchairs or opening heavy doors. The psychological benefits are even more significant. There's a feeling of accomplishment, of self-confidence. The program makes people more independent," Norton said.

Tom Morin, who is paralyzed from below the mid-chest and has been a Warrior for nine years, agrees. "I have more energy and endurance. Working out keeps my blood flowing and prevents pressure sores," he said. Morin faithfully follows a three-hour, weight-training and upper body/ cardiovascular work-out each week. "It's good for stress reduction," said Morin who, since joining Warriors, has become active in wheelchair roadracing and wheelchair basketball. He said people at the club and other Warriors are friendly and supportive.

Norton started Warriors on Wheels in 1988 when he was fitness manager of the Colonie Athletic and Sports Club. (The program continues to operate from there, thanks to the health club's generosity.) Membership grew so quickly, via word-of-mouth, the media and medical referrals, that Norton incorporated Warriors on Wheels and now works as its full-time trainer and coach.

Norton said he enjoys working with individuals whose body toning "is a direct line to improving their lives."

Warriors on Wheels has garnered kudos, both locally and internationally. The President's Council on Health and Fitness and Sports recognized the group a few years ago and invited Norton and four Warrior members to the White House to meet the then council chairman, Arnold Schwarzeneggar.

Norton is also proud that his program has inspired similar ones, the most recent in Tokoyo, Japan. This is particularly significant, Norton said, because the traditional Japanese viewpoint is that people with disabilities should be treated as social outcasts and that their disabilities are punishment for individual or family wrongdoing.

Warriors on Wheels is the only New York State weight-training chapter of Disabled Sports USA, the national governing body in the field. Members have also have won prestigious weight lifting competitions, both in able-bodied and physically challenged categories.

Norton has produced a videotype showing how people with disabilities can use regular workout equipment at health clubs, and has written a manual, "Access to Power: A Guide to Weight Training." For more information on materials or membership information and costs, contact Ned Norton at P.O. Box 5427; Albany, NY 12205. Children with spina bifida can join Warriors on Wheels for free.

ASPIRE Inspires Physical Fitness

Three New York chapters of Athletic Sports Program Involving Recreation and Exercise (ASPIRE) help children and adults with amputations and other physical disabilities to enjoy such sports as tennis, basketball, swimming, track and field, golf and skiing. Drawing people from across the state, each chapter designs its own programs based on regional interest.

The oldest chapter is ASPIRE of New York City. It was established 10 years ago, as a result of a research project to increase aerobic capacity of amputees. (Amputees require more oxygen when they walk, run and perform other physical activities.)

ASPIRE of New York City president and Registered Nurse Paddy Rosbach, who is a below-the-knee amputee, said her chapter serves amputees and is best known for its track and field, swimming and ski trips for youngsters. ASPIRE of New York City meets the last Wednesday of each month at 6:15 p.m. at the Hospital for Special Surgery, 70th St., New York City. A support group for parents of children with amputations meets as needed. The chapter makes referrals and has educational materials available.

Amputees with medical referrals can work-out and receive physical therapy at the Joyce Center, located at 50 Maple Place, Manhasset. Offering comprehensive sports medicine, the Joyce Center is sponsored by ASPIRE of New York City, and two area businesses, Advanced Prosthetics and Orthodotics and Partridge Kreuter Belding Physical Therapy. Those interested can contact the center at 516-365-7225, or call Ms. Rosbach at 516-627-3496. Ms. Rosbach said that many ASPIRE projects are made possible by the generous fundraising efforts of the Plainsville-Old Bethpage Roadrunners Club, including its annual, 50-mile relay race that draws up to 130 teams from across the United States.

Best known for its annual wheelchair tennis tournament at Schenectady's Central Park, ASPIRE of the Capital District strives to offer sports and recreational activities to amputees and people with other physical disabilities.

"Rather than concentrating on disabilities, we encourage individuals to center their attention on their ability to participate in an active lifestyle," said executive board member William J. Sampson. Sampson's Prosthetic and Orthotic Lab, Schenectady, has actively supported the club since it was founded in 1991.

ASPIRE of the Capital District sponsors sports clinics, support groups, a loaning library, and publishes a directory of regional athletic opportunities and services, from the usual, like wheelchair basketball and tennis, cycling and track and field, to the more unusual, like sky-diving and orienteering (cross-country racing that requires participants to use compasses and maps to complete the race course). ASPIRE also maintains listings of manufacturers and distributors of various adaptive sports equipment.

ASPIRE of the Capital District also has a basketball team that is open to people of all disabilities. Many players have spina bifida, spinal cord injury and/or amputations. Call Chris White at 518-862-1519 for more information.The chapter's sports clinics, which are held in conjunction with local sports clubs and fitness centers, have included fly fishing, walking, golf and water skiing.

Individuals who have been recently disabled, can be matched, if interested, with a person of similar disability from ASPIRE's amputee and spinal cord injury support groups, to share experiences in a peer-to-peer relationship.

For more information on ASPIRE of the Capital District or for a copy of its brochure and services directory, write: ASPIRE, Inc. (Upstate), P.O. Box 2042, Albany, NY 12220.

The Mid-Hudson ASPIRE is the newest chapter. It is for children and adult amputees and has family-centered sports activities. Adaptive jet ski training and a golf clinic are planned for Spring 1997, and self support groups are available. For more information, write Denise Milazzo, Home Route 1, Box 114, Greenwood Lake, NY 10925, or call her at 914-477-2800. This new chapter is also in the process of designing an ASPIRE information Web page for the Internet.

Stretching, Strengthening With Yoga

Many people don't realize that yoga is a physical activity. In fact, it can be especially beneficial for people with disabilities. Yoga relaxes and connects the mind and body, and is also good for stretching and strengthening, according to Judy Goldberg, a physical fitness professional and competitive swimmer who is walking disabled.

"In yoga, you focus on the mind and body. You use posture, called asanas, to help with body positioning, and we do lots of breathing and relaxation techniques," explained Goldberg, whose daily routine includes yoga.

"Yoga helps you become aware of your body. For people with disabilities that can be difficult because we often disassociate ourselves from our bodies after being touched and manipulated by medical professionals. Yoga helps us find our bodies and minds again."

By using different postures, you can adapt yoga to different disabilities, said Goldberg. "People who don't have use of their legs can do yoga in a sitting position. The postures can be adapted for their upper bodies."

For those interested in yoga and its benefits, Goldberg suggests reading "Yoga Journal," a national publication, and checking its directories and listings for classes nearest you. She also suggests contacting community centers for yoga classes and working with instructors interested in using adapted postures.

Windham Disabled Ski Program

At Windham Mountain, in the Catskill Mountains, the philosophy is that anyone can ski, and the resort makes it happen. Since 1983, the Windham Disabled Ski Program has provided individual skiing lessons for people, ages 5 and older, with varied disabilities, from learning disabilities to severe cerebral palsy.

Programs include alpine skiing, snowboarding, racing, "fun 'n games", as well as consulting services and instructor training and certification.

Assisted by 125 trained and certified skiing volunteers, 375 people last season participated in the Windham program, which is a nationwide model training center for instructors in adaptive skiing in the Eastern United States. The program is funded and governed by the Educational Foundation of the Eastern Professional Ski Instructors Association (EPSIA-EF).

Several other ski resorts currently working with the Educational Foundation to set up adaptive skiing programs, are: Greek Peak at Gore Mountain; Hunter Mountain in Hunter, NY; Kissing Bridge, VT; Holiday Valley, Massenutten, VA; Snow, VT; and Peak 'n Peek, Stowe. Whiteface Mountain, Hole in the Woods Gang (NY), and Little Switzerland, WI have also expressed interest.

For ski lesson information and costs, and more information on the program, call 518-734-5070 after Nov. 1.

HHH's Classic Run

Each spring for 14 years, Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw has sponsored the Classic Run, a day of races for runners and wheelers of all physical abilities. It is considered the first race of its kind in the country because the main races do not segregate on ability. Up to 1,000 racers participate annually.

Racers with disabilities can also participate in the "Disabled Ambulatory Competitors and Walkers' 10K Start" and the "10K Wheelers Start." For more information, contact Helen Hayes Hospital's public relations department at 914- 947-3000.

On Target is also available on audio cassette. For a copy, contact:

Mary Burt, Editor
Bureau of Community Relations
New York State Department of Health
1084 Corning Tower
Albany, NY 12237
(518) 474-5370