Fitness club is good fit for disabled
10/04/02
Thomas Ott
Plain Dealer Reporter

Euclid- There is a fitness club in Euclid where no one worries about having a less-than-perfect body.

The members of Break Out Fitness are well aware of their bodies' imperfections.

They are disabled. The nonprofit club, inside Euclid Hospital, gears some equipment to special needs. But atmosphere may be what these workout enthusiasts find to be most important.

"They won't go to a gym; it's too intimidating," club manager Cyril Nalty said.

"They can come in here, and it's immediate acceptance."

Break Out Fitness, which will hold a fund-raising run, walk and wheelchair "roll" tomorrow at the hospital, opened a year ago.

It charges $25 a month and has about 35 members, many of whom come faithfully during the club's hours Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights.

Membership is diverse - younger adults injured in violence, older folks hobbled by a stroke or disease. Besides offering a chance to blend in, the club provides a refuge from the isolation and depression that can set in after rehabilitation ends.

Terry Goodwin, 41, was left paralyzed from the waist down in 1994, when a gang initiate mugged him at a bus stop, hit him in the head with a brick and jolted his spinal cord. He visits the club to build upper-body strength and "shoot the breeze."

"It keeps me from going insane," said Goodwin, who was unable to continue working as a mechanic. "If they didn't have this, I'd be stuck in the house."

Club members come from as far as Lorain. Goodwin takes a private shuttle service from the West Side of Cleveland.

Rudine Washington, 61, of East Cleveland, is weakened by a neurological disorder that surfaced when she was a teen.

At Break Out Fitness, she walks haltingly between parallel bars. Her son, Derek, patiently stutter-steps behind, holding his mother's waist and lifting her rail-thin left forearm as she shifts her grip.

Washington kicks out her right foot, slapping the ground heel first. She will make one or two round trips, sagging into a wheelchair to rest at the halfway point.

"I haven't gotten to the point where I can turn around and go back," she said. "That's my goal."

Able-bodied spouses can exercise, if traffic permits. Break Out Fitness also accepts older adults who may not qualify as disabled but are too frail to walk the mall.

Euclid Hospital provides space in its rehabilitation unit for free, plus a "stipend" the club uses to pay staff.

Hosting the club is an inexpensive way to fill a "gap in our continuum," said Rich Lea, director of rehabilitation and pain management for the eastern region of the Cleveland Clinic Health System, which includes Euclid Hospital.

Break Out Fitness founder Kathleen Ferguson, a physical therapist, spearheaded a now-closed "prototype" club at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. She is applying for grants to open a club downtown and another one on the West Side.
To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

tott@plaind.com, 1-800-275-5253

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