The News Journal: Harnessing Inclusion

The YMCA of Delaware wants to add more specialized gym equipment for people with intellectual and physical disabilities.

At a press conference at the Bear-Glasgow YMCA Tuesday, officials touted the partnerships that have brought adaptive treadmills, exercise bikes and harnesses to the gym to allow for all people to work out together. The hope is to add more equipment at the other YMCA locations throughout the state.

The YMCA unveiled adaptive equipment at their Bear-Glasgow center for people with physical disabilities. The hope is to have this equipment at all the other facilities as well.

“This will serve a real, broad population of our community,” said Jim Kelly, chief officer of operations for the YMCA, which has six Delaware locations.

There’s a movement to expand all services in the community for people with disabilities, Kelly said, and finding ways to help such people exercise has become a focus. People with disabilities are less likely to be physically active and more likely to be obese or smoke compared to others.

“We should all be in it together side-by-side,” said Delaware Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf at the event. “We all win when we are included.”

Terry Hancharick said she didn’t want her daughter, Bridgette, to become one of those statistics. Bridgette, who has difficulty speaking, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. Terry felt that Bridgette should be able to work out at the Bear-Glasgow YMCA just like she did. So she contacted the directors of the YMCA of Delaware to see if there was any way there could be more options for people with similar needs as her daughter.

They worked with engineers from the company Enliten to figure out how the equipment could be adapted. Their harness invention, which has been used in research labs at the University of Delaware, proved to be key. It supports people so they can stand straight and use their muscles to move on their own.

Fast-forward to May, and the YMCA now has harnesses set up in exercise classes such as Barre and Zumba as well as on treadmills.

The adaptive system and machines are not cheap. The motomed, an adaptive exercise bike that can be used from a wheelchair, costs about $15,000 for a used model. The adaptive treadmills are about $13,000.

The organization will need additional funding, Kelly said, especially to fund new staff and programming to help bolster exercise programs for people with disabilities. They are working in collaboration with the University of Delaware to apply for federal and state money, but partnerships with local organizations also will be key.

“We are willing to invest in this,” he said.

So far, Gary Harp of Newark has seen his son, Will, make enormous strides with the help of the adaptive equipment.

“It makes therapy less like therapy,” Gary said, as Will walked on a treadmill with the help of physical therapist Tracy Stoner.

Will, 9, has mild cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair throughout most of the day. But when he’s working out at the YMCA, he can stand and move like any other kid. He even made a personal best walking Tuesday.

“Seriously, I made it 12 minutes,” Will said.

The next room over, Anne Dunlap, 34, was completed immersed in a basic Barre exercise class. The full-body workout is a fusion of dance, yoga and Pilates and works the muscles with small isometric moves.

Dunlap was in a car accident nearly 18 years ago that left her with a traumatic brain injury and a long journey to recover. Unable to walk on her own, she uses a power chair, scooter and walker to get around.

But Tuesday, she was in the Barre class doing plants and an abdominal workout with the rest of the gym-goers. Hooked up to a harness when she stands, the former ballet dancer can work through some of the small leg and arm movements with the class using her muscle memory.

“It’s hard isn’t it,” Barre classmate Norma Carey, of Elkton, Maryland, said to Dunlap after the class concluded at 10:30 a.m.

Carey, who joined the Bear-Glasgow gym in January, said she was thrilled to have Dunlap in the class.

“Honestly this is the friendliest place,” Carey said. “In here, there’s no age, no race, no challenges.”

Jen Rini can be reached at (302) 324-2386 or Follow @JenRini on Twitter.

, The News Journal

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The YMCA is an association of people of all ages, ethnic groups and religious affiliations that strives to cultivate the human potential, self-esteem, and dignity of all people. Our organization exists to develop and practice the Christian principles of love, caring, inclusiveness, justice and peace…and to enrich the emotional, physical and social life of all individuals, families and our community.