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The active life: getting revved up

The active life: getting revved up

[photo of Ed Leeman at the Revved Up gym with Laura Scott]
Photo by Bernard Clark

Ed Leeman works out at the Revved Up gym with Laura Scott, KIN'15, the gym's supervisor.

Ed Leeman places his hands side-by-side on a piece of exercise equipment and hauls himself carefully up to standing. Moving slowly but with palpable determination, he then lowers himself back into his chair and begins again. It is a movement Mr. Leeman diligently repeats 49 more times over the course of his hour-and-a-quarter-long workout, never once complaining about the effort.

After all, a year ago he couldn’t walk. Leeman, who has progressive supranuclear palsy, or PSP, a degenerative disease involving the gradual deterioration of the brain and affecting movement and speech, had been hospitalized due to complications from diabetes and found himself bedridden. “I was truly handicapped,” he recalls. “I had to learn to walk again.”

That’s when Leeman, who now gets around with help from a walker, was referred to the Revved Up program at Queen’s for his rehabilitation. An adapted exercise program for people with mobility impairment and developmental disabilities, Revved Up participants meet twice weekly to run through workouts that have been specially tailored by in-house personal trainers to meet their individual needs. The program, which is run out of the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies (SKHS) as well as a nearby rehabilitation hospital, pairs more than 100 participants, who pay a nominal monthly fee, with the same number of student volunteer trainers who support, guide and motivate as required. The program also provides placement opportunities for upper-year undergraduate students participating in academic “mini-streams” in subjects like ageing and disability as part of their degree programs.

If I hadn't come [here], I would be an invalid by now.

“As far as I know, we are the only adapted exercise program in the Kingston area,” says program coordinator Madelaine Meehan, HLTH’13, who first started with Revved Up as a program volunteer in 2009.

Modeled after a program at McMaster University and directed by SKHS professor Amy Latimer-Cheung, the Revved Up program, which opened its doors in 2008, operates out of a small, bright gym equipped with adapted workout equipment – from recumbent bicycles designed to easily accommodate wheelchairs, to weight machines furnished with straps and cuffs, making them simpler to use.

But Meehan says that for many Revved Up participants, the social aspect of the program is as important as the exercise. “It’s a chance for them to meet people in similar circumstances,” she says, explaining that social isolation can be an issue for many people living with disabilities. “Many of our volunteers and participants develop real friendships.”

Participant Andrea Andrecyk has used a wheelchair since developing a neurological condition called transverse myelitis as a child, and has competed internationally in both adapted downhill and water skiing.

“Revved Up provides great instruction,” she says. “The trainers are really knowledgeable, and they keep you on track.” But as much as she enjoys the encouraging atmosphere, she says she also enjoys spending time with likeminded people after her workout is over – in fact, it’s how she met her partner of three years. “They call ours the Revved Up romance,” she laughs.

For Leeman, the program has been just as life changing. “If I hadn’t come to Revved Up, I would be an invalid now,” he says matter-of-factly. “When I started in the program, I had to stay in a chair to do my exercises. Now I am an independent person and can carry my own weights.”

Most significantly, he says that his physical progress has amazed his doctors and that his medical condition does not seem to be worsening. “I don’t know how much more I can improve, but I plan to keep working at it every week.”

[cover of Queen's Alumni Review 2015 Issue 3]