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Raising funds for Spinal Cord Injury Program at Habersham YMCA

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It has been voted the best gym in Savannah for over ten years running and anyone who passes by the crowded parking lot at night can’t help wonder what it is that attracts so many to the Habersham YMCA.

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Is it the pool, the weight room, the children’s programming, free educational events and low cost health screenings or is it something else?

Regular members of the Y know each other by name. They sit at the tables outside the gym and chat or sip coffee and share jokes, sending laughter reverberating down the halls, enticing office workers to take a break and join them to share in the fun.

The early risers who walk through the doors before the sun has made its way out of bed, help turn on the lights and set the fans and radio. They know the routine and aren’t afraid to pitch in and help when things are busy and the staff can barely keep up with what needs to be done.

One of the things that impresses most of the members is that the Y accommodates everyone. It is not just a gym full of muscle bound men and women, it is a gym for young and old and even for the physically challenged.

A stranger to the gym might be surprised to see a paraplegic walking on a contraption that looks a bit like a mobile clothes hanger on wheels that hoists a person upright allowing him or her to sling their legs to stimulate the movement of walking, without bearing all the weight.

There are hand pedaled machines for those with upper body strength who have little control in their legs. The legs are placed on pedals and the arms rotate the legs so that muscle memory is retained and the muscles do not atrophy.

Michael Jackson is the trainer for the program. There are currently seven participants, but Michael Mahany, who spearheaded the organization several years ago after falling on his dock, says that they could and would like to add more, but need more funds.

They would also like to add more equipment, including special hoists and equipment to aid in water work outs in the pool. There are so many things they would like to do, but funds are limited and the money raised at the car wash was just a drop in the bucket to defray those costs and allow them to offer the program to those who can least afford to pay for it.

Insurance only covers partial treatments and does not cover long term therapy for most people. The program at the Y is cash only and is not covered by insurance.

Mahany said that it can cost hundreds of thousands for ongoing care and treatment of severe spinal cord injury with paralysis, so the car wash at the Y was just one of many fund raisers set up to help bring awareness and funds to the program.

The Habersham Y allows them to use the facilities and provides specialized equipment, but it is still expensive to run the program. They have also hosted cookouts, food sales at basketball games and an assortment of charitable events, but is an ongoing commitment that takes a lot of planning and a lot of volunteers and any extra money donated to the cause is always appreciated.

The car wash netted about $700 with many people stopping by and donating money because they either did not need their car washed or they were in too big of a hurry to wait, though, with almost seven people per car or truck, the wash and wax jobs were done so quickly that it barely took ten minutes to move one car out and another car in. They even scrubbed the wheels.

There were a lot of volunteers helping as well and it was an upbeat attitude even in the humid, hot, summer weather.

Many of the spinal cord injury program members have shown marked improvement and while they may never fully recover from their injuries, the exercise and training programs help them maintain muscle strength, improve circulation, digestion and mental health as well.

Mahany said that they could work out at home by themselves, but that this got depressing and took a lot of self motivation and that Jackson pushed them harder than they thought they could go.

Everyone seemed to agree that getting together with others at the gym several days a week was a good way to keep them motivated and allowed them to share similar stories and ways to overcome difficulties that those without spinal cord injuries may not appreciate.

The group also applies for grants and relies on donations from the community as well. If you would like to give to the program or volunteer your time to help with the program, you can stop by the Habersham YMCA on 6400 Habersham Street and see what they need most.

In an earlier interview with the Savannah News Press, Mahany said, “When a person becomes a quadriplegic or is severely paralyzed, you typically run out of money within the first year of your injury.”

“If you don’t show immediate and significant progress early on, your insurance runs out and they put you back in your wheelchair and say, ‘goodbye’”.

The YMCA offers scholarships to those who cannot afford to pay full price for membership, whether in a wheelchair, recovering from a stroke or just temporarily struggling with a lowered income.

It is a good way to stay physically and psychologically motivated.

It is interesting to hear the stories of the spinal cord injury program participants and makes you realize how fragile the human body can be and how easily it could just as well be you and not them.

It can also be a great motivating factor when you are working out in the gym and thinking you are on your last leg on the treadmill or elliptical and then see a wheelchair bound man pushing himself to his ultimate limits to put one foot in front of the other. Suddenly your problems seem pretty small and petty compared to theirs.

If you have had an injury, even if not severe and think there is no hope of ever recovering from it, there is always a way to improve and move forward and joining a gym and getting a personal trainer is a good way to start.

If you can’t afford a personal trainer (the fees can run up to $60 an hour), the Y offers an Activate program, where if you join the gym, they will do an assessment on what you would like to accomplish (whether it is to lose weight, build muscle, or gain cardiovascular health, or just learn safe techniques for sports). Then you will be shown how to use the various pieces of equipment from weights to workout machines, where your target heart rate should be and how many reps you need to do.

The program runs six weeks, so once a week you check back in with the trainer or fitness assistant to make sure you are on track and doing what you need to be doing.

There are also programs targeted toward diabetes control and a new program coming up for cancer survivors, so if you thought you could not afford a gym, think again. There are a number of scholarship and assistance programs and if you really have no money to spare, consider starting an exercise and fitness group at your local church or community outreach program or get a group of friends together and share healthy recipes and exercise routines.

Don’t ever tell yourself you cannot improve on your physical or mental condition or make excuses as to why you can’t seem to stick with something long enough to see improvement.

If you join forces with like minded people, you can achieve great results like the Spinal Cord Injury Program at the Y, and we think their ‘disabilities’ are probably a little greater than yours, so if they can do it, what are you waiting for?!!

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