We spoke to Para-athletes, and REPs Registered Instructors, Craig McCann and Mike Hanney for the latest issue of the Journal.
Craig was selected for the London 2012 Team GB Wheelchair Fencing team just two years after taking up the sport. He was registered disabled after suffering severe nerve damage, following surgery to remove a brain tumour. He is a REPs Level 2 Gym Instructor and is aiming to be selected for Brazil 2016.
Mike represented Team GB in the 1988 Paralympics in Fencing and now works as a REPs Level 3 Advanced Fitness Instructor in Bristol. He is also hoping to qualify for the 2016 Games in Brazil.
Read the full version of the interview…
REPs: What has been your greatest sporting achievement?
Craig: Being selected for Team GB was just incredible news; I’d say making the team has been my biggest achievement to date.
Mike: Obviously for a sportsperson the ultimate goal is an Olympics or Paralympics and I was fortunate enough to make selection for the Paralympics in 1988 which took place in Seoul, Korea.
Other than that I am very proud that I became a PADI Divemaster in 2005 and to my knowledge I am still one of the only paraplegics in the country to hold a full commercial dive medical which gives me teaching status as a Divemaster. I took up skiing (on a mono ski) about 2 years ago, so still have goals which I want to achieve. I am also currently working towards both coaching and refereeing qualifications in fencing.
REPs: What advice would you give to REPs trainers who may have clients with disabilities?
Craig: Every individual is different and every disability is different. So it’s about being able to alter your approach, this may include devising different exercises to suit different needs. The key might be to work more closely with your client.
Mike: My personal feeling is that, as with anyone you are working with, you need to get to know them.
Don’t be shy just ask. As a trainer you need to know a client’s limitations, or if they have pain/lack of sensation in areas of the body. Only when you have this knowledge can you really come up with an appropriate exercise plan.
One thing to keep in mind, the progress may be slow and in your eyes minimal. For some of your disabled clients, just gaining a degree of control over movement is a massive achievement.
REPs: What advice would you give to people with disabilities who want to get more involved with sport and fitness?
Craig: Just go for it. There’s often no reason why you can’t get involved in sport and fitness in some way – it’s about being able to adapt. I suppose you have to learn to work around your disability.
Mike: If you are thinking about making fitness your career, you may already have a list as long as your arm of the barriers which will stop you. Believe me my list was extensive.
What I found very early on was that there are ways around 99% of the things you are worrying about.
So go and do it, start that course and don’t be afraid to use technology, or another person, to help with things like demonstrating exercises.
REPs: What are the biggest barriers within the fitness industry regarding people with disabilities?
Craig: I don’t really think there are any major barriers except maybe in terms of equipment and kit. Obviously a lot of gym apparatus is designed with able bodied people in mind. In terms of overcoming that you just have to be creative.
Mike: Probably the biggest barrier is being able to get to fitness centres, especially if an individual is reliant on a carer coming along as well.
As a disabled person working as a trainer you sometimes need to find different solutions to what would normally be considered an easy task. For example, in my case, running on a treadmill isn’t going to happen, but that doesn’t mean I can’t give my clients a description of how to set the treadmill up, or what programme to use. I got hold of the manuals for the cardio equipment we have in the gym and I learnt about the programmes and what they did.
You may have to work with your managers to make sure that the layout of the gym allows you to get around.
REPs: How can the fitness industry ensure there is a lasting legacy from the Paralympic Games?
Craig: The industry needs to get people more involved. It’s often just a case of educating people and letting them know that disability needn’t hold them back.
Mike: Perception of disability has changed and we are now a lot more willing to accept disability in our work environments and also in the media.
In order to keep the momentum going as an industry, we need to make sure that as many of our facilities are accessible and welcoming for disabled people.
Our websites need to show if the centre is part of the Inclusive Fitness Initiative (IFI) and encourage people to understand what that actually means. It needs to be communicated that specialised equipment is available, allowing greater independence to those with a disability.