In the few weeks I have been going to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) gym, it has been an enlightening experience in many ways. The other day a guy whom I will call Tom, asked me to show him some arm exercises, he said he wanted to have arms like me. As we all know, no one is ever satisfied with the way their body looks, especially to themselves, and this was no exception. I thanked him for his compliment about my arms but only after I prefaced by saying my arms used to look better.
I showed the basic exercises for biceps and triceps , you know like curls, hammer curls, skull crushers etc. Tom is afflicted with multiple sclerosis, particularly on his right side. I understood the magnitude of his disease once I began instructing him on how to do various exercises. I helped him grasp the dumb bells by manually wrapping his hand around the bar part of the dumb bell. Tom asked me to move and hold his right leg out of the way while he did his bicep curls with his right hand, something I was honored and thankful to be able to do for him. It struck a cord with me at that very moment, that perhaps I should rethink my quasi-dissatisfaction with the way I look and focus on the gratitude I should feel about being able to as much as I actually can do.
My friend Tom was trying his best to lift and curl a ten pound dumb bell and it was as much work for him to do that as it is for me to curl a forty pound dumb bell. This was an eyeopening experience for me, these patrons at RIC are as dedicated a group of individuals as you will ever be privileged to come across in your lifetime.
I know how this is going to sound to you, but hear me out before you pass judgment. As I was looking around the gym I was reminded of the old Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Christmas special that was hosted by the snowman, whose character was voiced by Burl Ives. You know the one I mean, it wasn't exactly a cartoon, they were characters like Gumby and Pokey. Anyway there is a part in that story about the misfit toys, broken or damaged toys that nobody wanted. If you were to look around at the patrons at this gym you might feel the same way about them.
I have been in quite a few different gyms through the years I have been working out, and I was always struck the superficiality of a lot of people who work out at the gym; people overly concerned with their gym attire or making loud grunting noises to get attention or chatting in clicks reminiscent of high school. As odd as this might sound, I have never felt as comfortable in a gym as I do at RIC. At the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago gym there is no pretense, no trying to impress each other, no fear or angst about how you look or about your abilities to perform various exercises; in essence it is a genuine place.
Perhaps it is not us physically challenged people who are the misfit toys but rather that we live in a world that too much of the time forgets that we are all members of the same family, that family of humankind.
I have met a variety of people with a variety of physical challenges, and there is a sense of acceptance on all levels of all people there. One of the regulars at RIC said to me as I was expressing to him how impressed I was with everyone whom I had met thus far, "everyone in this place, has a story." He went on to say, "if they didn't have a story, they wouldn't be here." I took his comments to mean that we are all here because we were seeking a place that could accommodate our special needs and RIC is such a place.
I have always tried to remember to focus on the good in my life and be thankful for what I am still capable of doing, this has become even more apparent to me after having joined the RIC gym. Who would have thought that I, who has lost both of his legs, would be able to help another who has lost even more, accomplish something as seemingly simple as a bicep curl? It puts a lot of things in their proper perspective, one person helping another, it doesn't get any better than that.
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