The News Journal: Two men with disabilities turn to Delaware Ys for solace, and find each other

Bruce Drainer, 57, called out “taxi!” and stood expectantly waiting with his arm stretched out in front of him, his hand wide open, as Ronnie Felton, 68, reversed his scooter.

As soon as Drainer felt the scooter gently back up against,  he grabbed the back of the seat. Felton glanced over his shoulder to be sure Drainer seemed secure and then shifted gear to drive forward, to the YMCA Brandywine workout room.

Felton weaved the scooter – and Drainer – down the halls and past people, into the Fitness Center, stopping at the elliptical workout machine.

After Felton dropped Drainer in the cardio zone, he checked with Drainer between sets at the weight-lifting machines.

“He will come over and ask me if I need to go anywhere, and it feels nice that I don’t have to wait on help to work out,” Drainer said.

The pair has been working out together three times a week since late last summer, after an employee thought that Drainer, who lost his sight after surgery six years ago, and Felton, who had his leg amputated after a knee replacement went bad, would be a good duo: one would be the others’ eyes and the other would be a good friend.


(Photo: Daniel Sato, The News Journal)

When Felton picked up Drainer to drive him to the Y, Drainer said he was nervous, but said Felton seemed like a nice guy and he was easy to talk to.

“The first trip took away all my fears,” Drainer said. “I’m glad I met him. He is a good guy and now I get to the Y more.”

The two men have just committed to working out five times a week together, splitting time at the YMCA-Central and YMCA-Brandywine.

They met at the gym after Terri Borkand introduced them. Drainer had been waiting more than two hours for the bus. Borkand wanted to make sure he didn’t feel alone and could catch a ride, so she said she immediately thought of Felton. And a friendship grew.

“Sometimes we worry about the little things, but if you let it happen organically, everyone will be happy,” Borkand said.

Borkand said the YMCA has many members with disabilities. These two were different in every way, she said, but she thought they would make a good match.

The workout buddies hold each other accountable to hit the gym.

“He has his routine and I have mine, but I will still drive him here to make sure he can get his routine in,” Felton said. “We’ve got the teamwork.”

Drainer has been blind since 2012. For the first two years after he lost his sight, he slept for 20 hours a day.

“I wasn’t doing anything,” Drainer said. “I finally was like, is this how I want to live my life? I was depressed and angry and sad. It was rough.”

Drainer started getting out to walk in 2016, and then he began to want to hit the gym like he used to. Drainer began with a personal trainer, but wanted his independence back.

“I wanted to start trying it on my own,” Drainer said. “I’m just like you. I just can’t see the machines. I can feel them and figure out how they work. I can do exactly what you do. It’s me. No one else is helping me.”

After a knee replacement surgery that left him with an infection that caused him to lose his leg, Felton has needed a scooter to get around since 2010. The shift has been difficult, especially on friendships.

“You want to see who a person is, then find out how someone treats you when they don’t need you,” Felton said. “Then you will know.”

Socializing was a driving force for Felton’s regimented workout schedule. Felton said the YMCA community has helped reduce his loneliness, and helped him meet friendly, caring people he enjoys seeing.

“I don’t have anybody at home. So this is a safe haven for me,” Felton said. “I live alone, and if I fall, then I don’t want to lay in the house for two or three days before somebody finds me.”

Both use the Y for the physical benefits of exercise, and both have begun to notice results. Drainer said he has seen a difference in his balance and the distance he can walk.


(Photo: Daniel Sato, The News Journal)

“When I first went blind, I couldn’t walk,” Drainer said. “People used to stop outside their house and ask if I was okay, but now they come out and ask me how I am doing and say I’m walking pretty fast now.”

“Your health is your wealth,” Felton said. “I just want to be able to enjoy the rest of my life.”

Both expect their friendship to flourish. They haven’t hung out outside of the gym, but a dinner party is on the horizon.

Contact Josephine Peterson at (302) 324-2856 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jopeterson93.






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