There is a population of people who often times get neglected, forgotten about, and excluded from certain activities because the thought process is that they can’t function the same way as everyone else. Society is so focused on accommodating and dealing with able-bodied individuals because they make up the majority of our population, that individual’s with specific physical challenges are left to adapt to a society that is not set up for their success. Due to this reason, many of the physically challenged isolate themselves inside their home. They don’t want to feel awkward or fail at being able to function normally out in their own community like they did before their injury or illness. Instead of integrating back into society, many of these individuals succumb to the physical, emotional, and spiritual hardships that come along with these challenges.

Meet Chris Felton, a 45-year-old father of two living with an above knee amputation (AKA) which resulted from a catastrophic motorcycle accident that occurred on August 16th, 2005. Like many of us reading this article, Chris was an individual who never believed that he would end up becoming a victim of a major automobile accident. In fact, that was probably the last thing on his mind, until it happened. In a split-second Chris’ life completely changed forever when a car traveling 50 mph ran a red light hitting his motorcycle head on. His road to recovery over the past 15 years has been difficult. A catastrophic accident or illness is a life-long injury, it’s not something you simply recover from after going through physical therapy like one does from a torn rotator cuff or ACL injury. Hobbies and activities that Chris so easily participated in before his accident seemed insurmountable and left him feeling lost and helpless. Chris gained weight because of immobility, every movement caused immense pain in his joints, and he had minimal muscular strength & cardiovascular endurance due to muscle atrophy and poor ambulation. These challenges are excellent examples of why so many individuals living with physical challenges give up and allow the injury or illness to take over, but not Chris.

Chris went through years of numerous physical therapy sessions after his accident. Once physical therapy plateaued for Chris, the challenge was finding a program that could continue building upon the gains he made in physical therapy. Chris didn’t need more physical therapy exercises and modalities, he needed to continue strengthening his muscles, conditioning his cardiovascular system, and working on his flexibility & range of motion. The only options out there seemed to be personal training, even though personal trainers don’t typically specialize in working with catastrophic injuries such as amputations, spinal cord injuries, or traumatic brain injuries.

Chris was introduced to Onward Therapy Services in 2008, and participated in their inclusive fitness training program until 2012. Inclusive fitness training was the perfect answer for Chris, as this niche focuses on the therapy aspect combined with the fitness training component. An inclusive fitness trainer holds credentials and has specific experience relating solely to working with catastrophic injuries or illnesses.

When Chris began working with Onward Therapy Services, his #1 goal was to travel with his family to Disney World and witness the joy of his children’s Disney experience not by wheelchair but by keeping up with them walking around the entire park. Considering that Chris lacked the endurance, stamina, and mobility to maneuver down a 25-yard hallway on crutches just to get to the pool and fitness center, he had a long way to go to accomplish his goal to say the least.

The first year at Onward Therapy Services was the most difficult for Chris. Many road blocks presented themselves along the way. The prosthetic leg wouldn’t always fit properly and constantly needed to be refitted to reduce pain levels, overcompensation on the right side of Chris’ body would occur to make up for the inefficiencies and weaknesses on his left side, and poor balance would make gait training exercises virtually impossible unless Chris was in the pool taking advantage of the hydrostatic pressure that helped to stabilize him. Dozens of meetings between his nurse case manager, physician’s, and inclusive fitness trainers took place to collaborate on designing an efficient long-term recovery plan.

One thing that Chris had going for him was his determination and perseverance. Nobody was going to tell him what he couldn’t do. The only person who could limit his abilities was Chris himself. Half the battle was just showing up, and he managed to do that consistently three times a week for several years. When Chris arrived to each session, he worked incredibly hard by refusing to give up on exercises, kept an open mind to trying new innovative techniques, and was patient by realizing that the recovery process wasn’t something that happened overnight.

After Chris’ first year of working on every component of fitness, he began to make considerable progress with his recovery. His cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, balance, and coordination improved to the point where he progressed out of the pool to perform the same exercises on land where the element of gravity made things much more challenging. Soon after the transition, Chris was performing squats on the Smith Machine, leg presses, single leg shoulder presses, deadlifts, and gait training around the hallways of the fitness facility unassisted. Upon being successfully discharged from Onward Therapy Services in 2013 Chris lost approximately 50 lbs, gained enough strength and mobility to function back into society the way he envisioned, and was educated properly on the different components of fitness in order to keep moving onward in his recovery safely, confidently, and most important independently.

Eight years later Chris has accomplished many things in his life. He has traveled to different parts of the world. Participates in various hobbies like rock climbing, sled hockey, and mud runs, but none more important than accomplishing his original goal of taking his family to Disney World and being able to share that experience on foot instead of by wheelchair. Chris continues to inspire others around him with his can-do attitude, and believes that failure is not an option. If you allow those failures to define you then you’re ultimately going to lose the battle. Chris is also an avid exerciser who understands that the key to an active, more productive life is to keep the body in motion. As for the next adventure, his goal is to begin training to hike the Appalachian Trail. Not bad for a guy who’s “physically challenged”.