CLOCKWISE TOP: DEGREE DEODORANT INCLUSIVE POP-UP CYCLING CLASS; STEVE SERIO, 2-TIME PARALYMPIAN GOLD MEDALIST TEAM USA BASKETBALL; GARRISON REDD, TEAM USA PARALYMPIC POWERLIFTER
Event Photos Courtesy of Degree Deodorant
In late September, Degree Deodorant launched the #TrainersforHire Campaign, an initiative for of National Disability Employment Awareness Month challenging the fitness industry to hire trainers with disabilities. The kick-off was an inclusive pop-up cycling class in New York City’s Flatiron Plaza, led by eight-time Paralympic Track & Field medalist, Blake Leeper. The class included people with and without disabilities, on both spin bikes and hand cycles, to showcase how simple it is to create an inclusive fitness class.
As a participant, I can attest to the inspiration of a spin class taught by an instructor with a disability – a Paralympian no less – and the fact that it was a great class regardless. Blake told me that he actually has an advantage to offer that others don’t. “I use my personal experiences of adversity and challenges, that mental toughness from being born without legs, and apply that to the class. I’ve had to push through, so push through with me.”
Blake was born with a congenital birth defect, and has worn prosthetics since he was 9 months old. He made his international Track & Field debut in 2009, and his first Paralympic Games were London 2012. Blake set his sites beyond the Paralympics last summer, with the goal of competing in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, but was barred from competition on the grounds that his blade-like prostheses might give him an unfair advantage.
“With my set up, I can go and take a spin class, but I do have friends that can’t. With a different level of disability, or a wheelchair, access is just not there. Even when they do show up, they feel like they’re a burden for the trainers. It’s not like, ‘How can we help you?’ They seem surprised you even want to work out.”
Degree believes in the power of movement to transform lives. Research from event partner, the LakeShore Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing opportunities for people with disabilities to live a healthy lifestyle, found that 81% of people with disabilities say they don’t feel welcome in fitness spaces.
Degree has made it their mission to change that, and as part of the initiative created TrainersForHire.com, a site where fitness companies can find a growing roster of diverse disabled trainers and coaches looking for employment within the industry. It also features educational resources where companies can learn more about how to make their spaces accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities.
To further support the initiative, Degree created a marketing spot titled “Watch Me Move,” starring professional surfer, life coach, and adaptability advocate, Bethany Hamilton, who became headline news in 2003 after a shark attack severed her left arm. The spot aired during the Paralympic Games, and celebrates those who have defied society’s idealized ability standards and definitions of what a “mover” looks like.
“You walk into a place and you feel the stares. It’s like a flood of people looking at you. I understand why people are held back. I love this Trainers For Hire program because you’ll start to normalize it. Like now I see surfers all the time with different disabilities and they are charging right next to me. It’s super cool!”
Unlike Blake who has lived his entire life with a disability, Bethany’s was the result of a devastating event that happened when she was a teenager. “When you go through something as traumatic as I did, so much came back to my mindset,” Bethany told Style Of Sport. “I was just thankful to be alive. Lying in the hospital after the attack and realizing my arm is gone, I knew my life was going to be very different. I thought a lot of my dreams were gone and I didn’t know what my future held.”
Bethany got a glimmer of hope from a friend and fellow surfer, Mike Coots, who visited her at the hospital. Mike had lost his leg to a shark, but learned to surf again with one leg. Mike told her she could learn to surf with one arm. “All I needed was a hit of inspiration and I was on a mission. Less than a month later I was surfing and there’s been no turning back.”
That same inspiration and hope is what the #TrainersforHire campaign looks to encourage in Degree’s ongoing campaign to better serve the needs of people with disabilities. These collective efforts are part of a larger program, Breaking Limits, a $5 million commitment over the next 5 years, supporting those facing barriers to being active, and providing access to coaches, mentors and safe spaces to move.
I too challenge the fitness industry, and all my favorite workouts like SoulCycle, to hire more trainers with disabilities. I’d love to see Blake up there on the podium teaching class again, and I’m sure any of my fellow riders would as well!
Related post: BE BRAVE: SPECIAL OLYMPICS X PARSONS