client: Ezra | personal trainer: Joe Drake, MS, co-owner, Gravity & Oxygen Fitness | location: Boca Raton, Florida

A challenging beginning. Ezra didn’t have an easy start. Born with club feet—a congenital condition in which the foot is twisted out of shape or position—he had his first surgery shortly after birth and spent the first few years of life sleeping with corrective boots.

Left untreated, kids with club feet can expect to have difficulty walking and to face significant structural and mobility problems as they grow. They will likely develop arthritis and may also struggle with self-image.

Ezra’s parents wanted to do everything they could to help him. As Ezra grew, his dad began to notice that his son was losing his ability to keep up with other kids, and he asked his own personal trainer for help.

“I had been working with Ezra’s dad for a while,” says Joe Drake, MS, co-owner of Gravity & Oxygen. “I hadn’t any experience training kids with the condition, but I let him know that I’d love to help.”

Focus on fun. Drake started with research. “One of the biggest challenges I faced initially was [finding] easily accessible protocols and information that weren’t designed for physical therapists,” he says. “On top of that, there sure wasn’t a lot of guidance out there on how to get a 6-year-old boy with club feet to stay focused and have fun [while still doing all the movements].”

Drake knew that sessions couldn’t feel like training; they’d need to include games and mini-challenges that would keep his little client smiling and laughing. Drake would also work in exercises like squats and lunges to encourage improved lower-body strength and mobility.

“One of the biggest problems for someone like Ezra is a lack of ankle range of motion and stability in the foot/ankle complex. That leads to other issues later in life,” Drake says. “I researched some of the better ways to appropriately improve these things and [conferred] with a few medical professionals who had a great understanding of his condition.”

Positive momentum. “Ezra has to be—hands-down—one of the most positive and fun-loving humans I have ever encountered,” says Drake. That indomitable attitude shone through when, in 2017, Ezra needed another complex surgery. Surgeons drilled a hole in the bottom of each foot and reattached a tendon through that hole in hopes of improving foot alignment and stability.

Even when Ezra had both feet in casts—and was unable to walk for 8 weeks—he and Drake found ways to keep the momentum going.

“There wasn’t a lot we could do for his legs when he was in his wheelchair, so much of what we did early on was keep him excited about training and engaged with some upper-body band exercises and games in the gym,” Drake explains.

When Ezra was ready, they also did some training from the floor or with Ezra seated on a bench to get his legs moving again in a safe position.

“We’d do little things like place him on his back and push his legs against my hands to engage his abductors and adductors so those muscles still got some activation while he couldn’t walk. Using just the weight of his casts, he’d do leg extensions and curls while seated on a bench. He was a trooper as we experimented with things and has been coming back quickly since the casts came off.”

Every step matters. Ezra continues to make progress, in both mind and body.

“He has always been a sweet and positive kid, but I have seen his self-confidence grow even more since we have started training,” Drake says. “I don’t know many kids his age who absolutely love coming to the gym to work out, but this kid does. He continues to impress me with his determination and resolve, and with all of the issues he has had, I have never heard him complain even once.”

Calling All Trainers

Do you have a client who has overcome the odds to achieve new heights in health and fitness? Send your story to [email protected], and you
and your client may be featured in an upcoming issue of Fitness Journal.