RowNation SpotLight – Michelle D
Every once in a while you get to meet someone who amazes you. For me that date was Tuesday March 21st, 2017. People were making their way in to a waitlisted 5:30 class and the waiting area was buzzing with excitement, yet one person was calm, cool and collected. Michelle, along with a group of her friends and work colleagues were attending their very first class.
I invited everyone into the Boathouse from out front, and saw Michelle making her way into a new and unknown space. Her and her group made their way to one of the back rows in the studio, sat down and began to listen about how to get set up on the WaterRower. I knew there was something very special about this class and my excitement grew as it unfolded. What I didn’t tell you is that Michelle lives with Spastic Cerebral Palsy. When she walked into the studio, it was with the assistance of 2 walking canes. Even though she is active her flexibility is limited, and let me tell you… this is the only limiting thing about this woman!
I looked over after the first bit of instruction in the class to see Michelle with a big grin on her face. Her seating arrangement modified to accommodate her flexibility, perfect grip on the handle and perfect pace with the rest of the room. At this point she is unable to use her legs to push, so she is rowing using only her core and upper body. The handle in her hands is helping her stay upright and she is working hard to learn the stroke with everyone else in the room. She continued on for the entire class, participated in every aspect of the class including the team race at the end. We set all of the monitors for a 150 meter relay style race to finish off the class. 150 meters in most cases takes between 25-35 seconds to complete, so I came over and set Michelle’s monitor for 30 seconds. When it was her turn in the relay, she turned it on for 30 seconds at a time and then like everyone else yelled GO to the next person in line. Her meter total in 30 seconds? It was 100 meters. Impressive.
We finished off the class, her friends helped her to her feet and there was a general feeling of pride in the Boathouse. The start of something special had occurred, no-one could quite put their finger on it yet. I came over to Michelle and offered a High 5. I was met with a smile of accomplishment and of course that High 5. Peeking down at the monitor, i saw that Michelle was just over 2000 meters for the class. Most people can anticipate reaching between 6000-7000 meters in their first class, and without the use of her legs I was impressed to say the least. I had already been thinking of a few ideas to help Michelle in regards to setup on the Machine while class was going, and made a couple of those suggestions before we left the Boathouse.
Out in the lobby, the group of colleagues and friends were laughing and chatting about the different parts of the class and out came Michelle sweaty, smiling and walking under her own power on her walking canes. Since that day, Michelle has attended 35 classes. We have come up with a formula that allows her to seat herself, get up on her own and now to even use her legs as part of the rowing stroke. Her highest single class meter total is now at 7392 meters and she even completed a back to back class totalling 12 170 meters. She has kept track of her totals from every class, and the consistent growth and improvement is truly staggering.
I had the chance to sit down with Michelle to see what her take on rowing was and to get to know about her daily life.
Michelle is a Social Worker that assists Seniors and Adults 65 and over and their families that live at home in the Calgary Community. She has locations that she visits as well as answering calls on a help line. This is a very rewarding career for Michelle, and it really keeps her on her toes since everyday can be extremely different.
As a youth, Michelle moved around a lot since her Dad worked for the Railroad. She has lived in many places, yet she would say she is from Revelstoke, Vernon and the Shuswap Area.
Cerebral Palsy is a brain injury. Michelle was born 10 weeks premature due to a lack of oxygen to the brain. Now, messages and electrical signals from the brain tend to get jammed up or backlogged. “Patterning” or repetitive motion are ways that Michelle re-trains her body to move by finding new pathways for signals to travel.
Q: What brought you to Row17?
A: My friend Chris T brought me in. It’s all her fault, now we are equally addicted. We were talking about needing a spin class, but with rowing machines. “I can do that!” No one fights over the rowing machine at the gym, but it’s boring. This is not boring! I also had a reality check this winter while skiing. I got relegated to the bunny hill, so it was time to up my game a bit.
Q: What keeps you coming back to Row17?
A: The community of RowNation is very welcoming. I also have a blast overtime, and if i wasn’t having fun I wouldn’t keep coming back. Row17 has also been very accommodating where others haven’t been. The very next day after our first class, I was talking to Chris and said “They were very chill with me being there, right?” It was like the twilight zone, and we were very thrilled about it. After a couple of classes and playing with the setup, I was able to get myself seated and up without the help of anyone else. This is big for me because when I go skiing it takes an army. The independence that this activity provides is amazing. It’s one of the only spontaneous things I can do because I can do it with no other assistance. The instructors are so happy to see me and they don’t treat me any differently either. When I learned that Josh’s mom has Cerebral Palsy, I knew I wasn’t about to get a free ride on anything. His understanding of my condition has been helpful.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
A: I always try to fake being able bodied. That means I am up at 6:15 am to get ready. I have to be on the ball right away, since showering is one of the most dangerous parts of my day. At work I have 2 days per week providing Face to Face Social Work support and 3 days per week are spent on the 403 Seniors Phone Line providing assistance and support.
Q: What improvements have you noticed since joining RowNation?
A: Immediately I noticed improvement in flexibility, which helped with posture and range of motion. Strength in the core, improvement in balance and a better work life balance too. It isn’t just physical, there are other things that improve too.
Q: What are your rowing goals?
A: Strap my feet in for an entire song. I’m up to 2 minutes and 30 seconds at the moment.
Q: Michelle, you are an inspiration to everyone at Row17, when you walk in you can just see and feel the adoration of your presence. (It needs to be mentioned that when I told Michelle this, she had a surprised look on her face) That said, who do you admire?
A: My family. They push me to my limit because I am their sister or daughter, not someone with a disability. I just had to keep up, so I did. Living with CP is hard, and it’s not like I have a choice.
Every time that I see Michelle registered for a class, I personally have a feeling of excitement build. I know that when she walks around the corner past the glass brick wall I will be greeted with an infectious smile that brightens my day no matter what. I am so proud that Michelle has found Row17 and feels comfortable enough in our RowNation community to not only continue to come 3 times per week, but to set goals and exceed them every time. Anyone who attends a class with Michelle in it can sense how special she is and it fills the Boathouse with an energy that has to be experienced. After class more than not I get the privilege to walk with Michelle to her vehicle, and we get to talk as friends. Michelle has every reason to not show up, yet she never has an excuse. Thank you Michelle. From all of the Row17 Crew, the rest of RowNation and myself. Thank you.