About the author: Travis Gaertner was born without a left leg and with only half of his right leg. Being in a wheelchair hasn’t stopped him from being extremely active. Gaertner has won two Paralympic gold medals in wheelchair basketball and is training for a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games in handcycling. Find out more about Gaertner’s quest.
Fitness has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. Despite being born with no left leg and only half my right leg, I was involved in sports at a very early age. That included both wheelchair sports and abled-bodied sports. At first, it was just easier to get involved quickly by participating in an able-bodied swim team and in gymnastics at my local YMCA using a prosthetic leg. I’m grateful that my parents didn’t simply think that without any legs and no local disabled sports program that they knew of, that I shouldn’t participate in athletic activities. Those early years really set the hook for me to adopt an athletic mindset. I was moving! I was working! And most of all, I was having a lot of fun!
If you are just getting started, you don’t need the perfect gym or sports program to begin realizing the benefits of exercise. Start slow, and set attainable goals, then just START. That may mean going out for a run, cycle, or simply walking three times a week. Sit down and intentionally plan out your typical week and decide how much you can realistically do. Then commit to it no matter what happens. Don’t tell yourself you have a good excuse to skip or not start. You’ll want to start slow to let your body adapt at the right pace and avoid injuries that could put you right back on the couch. If you do have access to a gym with some nicer equipment, I highly suggest becoming a member. The right equipment and having people around you trying to do the same thing you are will help keep you motivated.
Injuries do happen though, whether from overdoing it or from other circumstances in life. It’s very easy during these times to tell yourself it’s time for a break. It’s rare to really need a full break from all exercise. Sometimes we have to just turn down the intensity and find a creative way to stay active. When I was training for the 2000 Paralympic Games, I had elbow surgery on my right arm. Part of me wanted to say, with no legs, and a right arm in a cast for four weeks that I should just rest. Instead, I found a willing friend to join me at the gym and rebound for me as I taught myself to shoot with my left arm. More recently, I had another procedure done on my right elbow while handcycle training for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and was told to stay off the bike for four weeks. During those four weeks I did one-arm work on my SCIFIT Pro1 Upper Body Exerciser, swam laps in a lap pool, and strapped weights above my elbow to keep up my strength.
It’s all mental, and there is always a way to do it. Look to others who have paved the way, get creative, and just START!