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Inspiring Functionality

An 80-year-old client with MS? Perfect!

CLIENT: Erika Miller

PERSONAL TRAINER: Michele DeJesus, MS (movement therapy), PhD (nutrition)

LOCATION: Lexington Athletic Club, Lexington, Kentucky

Erika Miller’s life changed when she was 42 and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. By age 45, she was wheelchair-bound. Some might have been daunted by this, but Erika was determined to keep moving forward, one way or another. When she first met trainer Michele DeJesus in 2007, Erika was 68, had been training at a local YMCA pool and was engaged in light resistance training. Still, she was ready for more.

“Her goal,” says DeJesus, “was to develop strength, keep whatever mobility she had, exercise in and out of her wheelchair, and be independent.”

In other words, Erika was seeking what many aging clients seek: functional longevity. And, as with all clients, understanding her particular needs was the key to training success.

First Things First

Erika was not DeJesus’s first client with MS, but she was the first in a wheelchair, and DeJesus understood that MS symptoms can dramatically differ from person to person. The starting point was an assessment of Erika’s unique situation.

“Barometric pressure, heat, cold and sleep all affect her ability to lift and transfer from wheelchair to machine,” says DeJesus. “Some days are better than others.”

The constants, however, were Erika’s positive attitude and DeJesus’s commitment to providing a quality training experience.

“I am deeply responsible for her safety and wellness,” she explains. “We have built trust over the years, and she will try almost anything.”

No Resistance to Resistance

Michele DeJesus and Erika Miller Resistance Training with Multiple Sclerosis

Erika trains with DeJesus twice a week. The 1-hour program includes light weights, leg presses and extensions, cable systems, medicine balls, dumbbells, and range-of-motion exploration in all planes. “Erika’s daily life consists of forward/back (sagittal) motion, and I want to encourage transverse and vertical movement patterns, since she sits in a wheelchair the rest of her day,” says DeJesus.

She also credits her client for helping to keep things fresh.

“Erika enjoys changing her routine and will ask for new material periodically,” DeJesus says. “That makes it more challenging for me as I strive to engage her mentally, use physically relevant exercises and keep her safe.”

Erika also challenges herself by going to the pool 3 additional days a week for water walking, weights and calisthenics.

Inspiring? Yes!

DeJesus has this advice for trainers whose clients have specific medical needs: “Learn everything you can about the particular diagnosis. Listen and pay attention to the nuances in their movement and their mindset; fill in the movement gaps.”

The work she does with Erika has not gone unnoticed.

“So many club members have come over during our sessions and called her ‘an inspiration,’” DeJesus says. “Erika just shrugs. She doesn’t feel like one. She’s just trying to take care of herself. No matter how fatigued she feels in the morning, Erika says, ‘I know I will feel better when I am done working out.’ And she is always right.”


WHAT’S YOUR STORY? 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.

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November-December 2020 IDEA Fitness Journal

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