Miguel Gonzalez Gets Fit at LACC and Gains Independence

Imagine for a minute that you live on the top floor of an older apartment building where the elevator isn’t very reliable, that you have limited mobility and use a wheelchair, and that you need to get out of your building due to an emergency. Will you be able to?

This was the question Miguel Gonzalez kept asking himself. He shares, “I live at home with my family, but I wondered what I would do if I needed to get out of the apartment in an emergency and they weren’t home. I wasn’t able to transfer in an out of my wheelchair by myself or support myself using my upper body.”

So over a year ago, when Gonzalez started attending Los Angeles City College, one of the classes he signed up for was Adaptive Fitness – a class that coupled time spent in the gym with learning about fitness – from the muscle groups to the technical names of the exercises.

Christine Tinberg, assistant professor of physical education at LACC, says, “When Miguel first showed up for class, I wanted so much to be able to accommodate him, and while we have a wonderful facility here, we didn’t have any specialized equipment for him. One of the staff members with a master’s in exercise science and a background in working with people with disabilities was able to design some exercises for him using free weights and rubber bands. And Miguel became a regular – attending class twice per week for two semesters with his independent living skills instructor. As I was walking around campus, I noticed an increasing number of students on campus using wheelchairs, and realized we really needed to pick up the ball as we weren’t doing anything for this population.”

But there was no money in the budget for adaptive equipment. The Physical Education department decided to apply for a grant to purchase an arm ergometer which would provide cardiovascular exercise and upper body strength training. Although the grant was not approved, the department had been brainstorming other ways to raise money. Tinberg adds, “We cleaned out our equipment room and found clothing dating back to 70s or 80s, since that style is popular again, we decided to sell the gear and put that money towards a piece of cardiovascular equipment. We raised about $1,000.” Coupled with donations made by the faculty and selling water, they raised enough money to purchase the arm ergometer for the fall 2009 semester.

Tinberg asked a colleague from California State University, Northridge, who specializes in adaptive physical education, to help create a program for Gonzalez. Originally starting out with 5 to 10 pounds on the weight machines, Gonzalez has now worked up to doing 30 repetitions of 50 pounds for most of his exercises. He attends class four times per week, and is now strong enough to independently move himself into and out of his wheelchair. As he has developed strength, Tinberg and Gonzalez’ ILS instructor from Associated Comprehensive Therapies, Inc., William Tveden, have revised and added to his fitness program to ensure he keeps making gains.

Tveden, himself a former athletic coach, shares, “Miguel has really come a long way. When we first started, he struggled with tossing a Nerf ball, now he’s tossing a basketball and is even learning how to dribble. When he dropped something on the floor, he didn’t have the flexibility to pick it up himself, but by working on his strength and stretching, he is now able to pick up items off the floor by himself.”

So as Gonzalez has gained strength and his upper body mobility and fluidity of motion has improved, he has also become more confident and gained more independence. He says, “I want to stay healthy. It keeps me young. I can do more things on my own faster and more efficiently. I’m more independent. I can get in a chair, on the couch and in the bath on my own now.” And if there’s ever an emergency, Gonzalez will now be able to get out of his building if his family isn’t home.