Moving with My Memory: Using the Gym without being Able to See

With each step,
I move forward
Moving with my memory.


     In the last year and a half I have participated in more organized physical recreational activities than I did in the entire first 23 years of my life combined. Being involved in organized recreation was always something that was on the back burner for me. Academics, friends and gaining independence always seemed to be the main focus throughout school and university. As a child the focus was always on helping me to learn braille in a school and home where no one new braille other than my travelling itinerant teacher. Keeping up with academics and life in general was the top priority; organized physical activities weren’t generally included in my “plan” for success.      

I did just enough physical activity through the years to keep myself at a healthy weight. Going to the gym through university I worked as hard as I needed to to make myself feel that it was worth my time-rarely breaking a sweat at all! I memorized where each piece of equipment I wanted to use was at; I put stick on raised dots on the buttons I needed to use on the machines and used as few buttons as possible to allow me to use the basic functions. Before getting on any machine I would listen to see if I could hear if anyone was using the machine that I wanted to use. My biggest fear was trying to get on an elliptical that someone else was on-how embarrassing could that be! Here other girls refused to go to the gym because they were worried about being watched by the other gym watchers at the gym or because they could not possibly be seen without a friend keeping them company. All the while I was walking around with a white cane by myself and stopping at the machines to listen if they were being used out of fear that I might accidently touch someone inappropriately or collide with them! When you live my life you have to be less       concerned about petty worries and insecurities that consume some girls and women and more focussed on how you’re going to live your life the way you want to live it. One of the ways I’ve done this is by finding the strength to accept myself and be accepted by others for who I am. It’s not that I don’t care what other people think of me-because I do-but I’ve needed to accept that some people are going to ignorantly mistaken me for being incapable or will be unsure of me because I see differently than them. Other people will become amazed at what I can do and how I live and the amazement of others has been comical at times as well as flattering and encouraging.

After leaving Fredericton to move to Halifax I decided that I was going to join a new gym. I was a bit nervous about joining somewhere new because I knew that it would mean having to get used to new lay outs, new people and a new location. After I learned with my orientation and mobility instructor how to get to a gym where I lived in Dartmouth, I made an appointment to get a tour and signed up for a membership. When I met with the personal trainer and the sales person for my health assessment for the first time, I became discouraged when the sales person repeatedly attempted to have me agree to a training package that would provide me with a personal trainer three times a week at $40.00 an hour. I told the salesman that I was a student and that his yearlong plan for me equaled more than my tuition! He didn’t give up with pushing this plan on me and insisted that he wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to come to the gym by myself. I told him I had gone to the gym by myself at university but he didn’t seem to hear me. I got the impression that he didn’t know how I could use the gym because I could not see. I left the gym that day frustrated and on the verge of tears. All I could think about at that moment of time was if I had someone to go to the gym with me than I would be fine. In Fredericton my former boyfriend had begun to workout with me at the gym and was a support at showing me new things when I needed him to. I missed him so much then and questioned whether or not I could do it without him. I had to remind myself that I had learned how to use a gym by myself before and that I could do it again-but one thing was for sure I would never go back to that gym where that salesman was ever again.             

With the help of an old friend I found a new gym to join and this is the gym where I have been going for the last year. The staff has been great. They have put raised dots on the buttons on the machines that I use so that I have a tactile indication of where the buttons I need are such as start and stop, faster and slower, incline and decline. When I used the gym in the past I didn’t tend to work myself very hard and because I can’t see the speed or distance I am moving at, I never had any idea of what I was accomplishing. Not knowing this information was one of the main reasons I never set goals for myself. Since organized sport has become a part of my life in the last year and a half the ways in which I want to make use of the gym have changed. I became curious about how far I was running and how fast. When I used the rowing machines I was curious about what my stroke rate was and how many meters I was rowing. I decided that there was no way for me to learn this information on my own and that the only way I could find out is by asking someone at the gym. This meant that I started asking the staff questions. I learned how to put my treadmill on pause and would run over to ask someone to come see my distance and time. Sometimes they would not get back to my treadmill fast enough and the pause time would run out erasing all of my stats for my work out that day. This was disappointing but at least some of the time I knew what I was running and could try and work towards improving.    

Another barrier that I faced was that when I pressed the increase in speed button on the treadmill I never knew what I was setting the speed level at. I tried counting in my head as I pressed the button up and up but I soon discovered that the treadmill was never set at the speed that I wanted. For example, I would press the increase button until I thought it was at level six only to realize after my work out that it was 5.4, or 5.8 instead of 6. I decided that for now a better strategy would be to ask someone from the gym to come watch me when I was increasing the speed and to tell me when to stop when I got at six. Then, if I ran for 20 minutes without changing the speed, I would run 2 miles. So far this strategy has been working for me. Some limitations I have just learned to accept. In the women’s section of my gym there is a circuit of electronic weight machines and a button to increase and decrease the weight. When I do use these machines I test them out to feel if they are two heavy or light for me and then I increase or decrease as appropriate. Since I can’t see the weight I am using I never know what I am choosing as my ideal weight. I solely make my decision on my own feeling of what is good for me and I think my strategy is better than doing nothing at all. However, if you were to ask me how much weight I can lift, I would tell you that I have absolutely no idea!      

In the time that I’ve joined my current gym I have maximized my ability to use the gym by requesting help from others, using my memory more and using my problem solving skills. I think I’ve also been able to teach the people where I work out that a person who can’t see can be fit, can row and run, skip with a skipping rope, bike, and do yoga and lift weights. A lot of the staff knows who I am and have learned to address me by my name so that I know they are talking to me. They have discovered that small changes in the environment of the gym can mean that I get confused because of the change and not because I am losing my mind. For example, the pop machines were moved recently and I used them as a land mark to find the yoga room and the staff immediately recognized that I could no longer immediately find the room anymore because the machines weren’t there as my land mark. I am so happy to be comfortable at a gym again and I know that with the right attitude, environment and people around me I can make use of any gym facility.