By Michaela Gibson Morris
It’s not about looking good in a swimsuit for the people who use The Kelly Project gym.
The special gym stocked with equipment adapted for disabilities opens the door to stronger bodies and more independent lives.
“I am stronger now,” said Allison Holloway, who has been working since the gym opened under the supervision of LIFE office in February.
The Tupelo woman who has multiple sclerosis and uses power wheelchair, tries to make it to the gym about three times a week.
“I don’t have my rock back,” Holloway said pointing to her biceps. “But at least I’m not a mud puddle anymore.”
The Kelly Project, inspired by Kelly Garvin’s search for a place to house some accessible workout equipment, is a community partnership watched over by the Tupelo office of LIFE, a state-wide organization that connects people with disabilities with community resources.
“It’s open to the community,” said Emily Word, independent living specialist with LIFE.
Occupational therapist Lisa Brown and her colleagues from inpatient and outpatient programs at North Mississippi Medical Center-Tupelo volunteer their time on Thursday nights to help at the gym. They make the initial assessments required for all gym users and develop a program.
“We look at what issues we need to address,” Brown said, with an emphasis on what’s safe and what’s useful.
More than 50 people have gone through the required orientation to use the gym. – which is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and on Thursday nights from 5 to 8 p.m.
Access to a gym is increasingly important for people with disabilities to maximize and maintain maximum function.
“Insurance doesn’t pay for rehab the way it used to,” Word said, and it’s up to the individual to continue working to get stronger.
Without special equipment, most people in wheelchairs are limited to therapy bands and hand weights, Word said. The Kelly Project gym gives them a wider range of equipment, social interaction and a place dedicated to fitness where there are fewer distractions than there are at home.
“It can be hard to workout at home,” Word said.
The brightly colored gym has special strength training stations that are designed to accommodate wheelchairs. Special gloves and Velcro straps help people who would have problems maintaining a grip on the bars and levers. The therapists created a pulley system to create a pull-down bar in the gym. There’s also an elliptical machine and a Total Gym.
There’s also a hand-powered bike that can be checked out for those who want to take a ride around their neighborhoods or on the newly opened Tanglefoot Trail.
There is room for the Kelly Project to grow, too.
“If we can get more people, we can expand the equipment,” Word said.
Making a difference
Ivy Bishop of Mooreville started working out at the gym a couple of weeks ago.
“If you don’t use it, you lose it,” said Bishop, who uses a power wheelchair because of damage from diabetic neuropathy in his legs.
He works on strength training exercises for his arms. He gets his cardiovascular workout using a hand cycle machine.
“I want to have better use of my arms and hands so it’s easier to pick things up,” Bishop said.
It’s too soon to see changes in arm strength or blood sugar levels, but he’s already feeling better.
“All my doctors are happy right now,” Bishop said.
For Holloway, the program is all about maintaining as much upper body strength as she can.
“I’m trying to keep up my arm strength,” Holloway said as she demonstrates how a specially designed weight machine allows her to do bicep curls. “I love this thing.”