Adaptive P.E. classes work out for everyone
Tomoko Nishi
Staff Writer
March 26, 2003

Lifting 110-pound weights isn't a big deal for Cliff Bushman.

In a mat room at Acker Gym, where there are two special weightlifting machines made for people with disabilities, the Chico State University student spends three days a week, an hour each day, exercising with the neat, white equipment as much as he likes. He works on maintaining his well-developed, muscular upper body.

"I love it," he said, while weightlifting. "I get to utilize all this brand new equipment that I never got to see before."

The equipment, which is designed for people who use wheelchairs, allows him to do weightlifting and range of motion exercises.

In the adaptive activity class, the community members and students meet needs for each other. It's a learning experience for students who volunteer to assist the clients, or students who have special needs or disabilities. And for the clients, it's a great opportunity to get proper exercise.

The clients work on cardiovascular fitness, stretching and weightlifting, or other exercises based upon individual situations, said Ami Maggi, a graduate student in adaptive physical education and the leader of the class.

"Ideally, we'd like to have one volunteer and one client," she said. "But we have a lot clients who are self-sufficient, so we just supervise them."

The class has 18 or 19 clients and 15 volunteers. Some come every day, some don't.

Volunteers have to fulfill a certain number of hours to apply.

"We have a wide variety of volunteers here," Maggi said. Other than physical education or exercise science majors, Maggi said they have a wide variety of volunteers, such as a recreation major and a speech pathology major.

"(The) challenges (of) working with this population are so fun," Maggi said happily. "It's more of the one-on-one type of interaction."

This is the second semester leading the class for Maggi, but she has been involved with the class for three years.

"I still see the same faces as I did three years ago, when I first started volunteering," she said. "Which is nice. We really develop the relationship with the clients."

At one corner inside the gym, Mark Gordon lies down on a thick mat and stretches with Megan Buchanan, a Chico State student.

Gordon, 42, has cerebral palsy. He said he was born three months premature, and consequently, a portion of his brain was damaged. He's been in the class for about four years.

"(Stretching) keeps my range of motion consistent," Gordon said. "It helps with keeping pain and discomfort at a minimum."

Buchanan said that after breaks, Gordon usually comes back stiff.

"Did you say you had arthritis developing on your elbow last time?" Buchanan asked, while massaging Gordon's right shoulder.

Gordon nodded his head.

The class provides necessary stretching three days a week for Gordon. Buchanan comes on Fridays as a volunteer for the physical education class she's taking.

"It's a win-win situation. It helps people wanting to work with special needs and people with disabilities," Gordon said of the course. "And Megan gets to see me every Friday. It's a wonderful deal," he said, laughing.

Buchanan smiled back, stretching the fingers of Gordon's left hand.

"He's always happy and ready to go," she said.

While Gordon and Buchanan do stretches, Cliff Bushman rules his favorite weightlifting equipment. Bushman, a senior, is taking the class for the first time.

He had a spinal cord injury in 1987. Before he knew about the adaptive activity class, he was trying to exercise in the gym on campus.

"You go across the hall, try to work with a wheelchair, it's like a joke," he said. "There is nothing over there for anybody with a wheelchair."

Bushman, who's been active in wheelchair tennis, wheelchair basketball and swimming, said he's only been active doing sports since his injury.

"I had to find something to do with my time," he said. "I couldn't go out and do everything else I used to do."

He was a captain of a wheelchair basketball team for three years at Santa Rosa Junior College, and he loves to swim at a lake every summer.

"Keeping your upper body strong and healthy helps with other problems that may occur where you have disabilities," Bushman said, lifting a 110-pound weight.

"And when you feel stronger, you feel better, I think," he says. "It kinda gives you satisfaction."

The class has given him that satisfaction.

"It's an important outlet for a lot people who have disabilities, who normally don't have these chances in society," he said.

Like his favorite weightlifting equipment, those opportunities aren't just anywhere.

So the program at Chico State benefits in two ways, Bushman said. It benefits people with disabilities, and students who work in adaptive physical education, providing opportunities for real experience.

"It's a plus-plus," he said.

Tomoko Nishi can be reached at