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A paralyzed man uses a Power Plate machine with the help of two trainers.
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RISE: Putting the Fun in Functional Fitness for Wheelchair Users


Editor’s Note: When Wheel:Life writer Betsy Bailey overheard her booth neighbors at Abilities Expo San Mateo talking to attendees about wheelchair users working out at their gym, she knew she needed to find out more information to share with our readers. After introducing herself to Reed Snook and Rachel Galaraga, she found out they were part of RISE Paralysis Recovery Center, and one of their goals is to normalize wheelchair users working out at the gym. Bailey set up an interview with the two of them to talk about their ideas on the effectiveness of activity-based therapy, the importance of having fun while exercising, and why they cultivate a sense of community. 

How did each of you get involved with RISE Paralysis Recovery Center?

Reed: I started with Forma Gym about six years ago, and RISE is located at our Walnut Creek, California, location. I’ve done almost every single job that you can think of when it comes to health clubs, from maintenance to front desk to membership services to management. One of my favorite times was when I was working as an aide with Project Walk and was immersed in the wheelchair-using community and specifically with people dealing with paralysis. Now, as the sales director and assistant general manager of Forma Gym, I ensure Rachel and the rest of the team at RISE are supported and integrated into the whole Forma community.

Reed Snook from the waist up wearing a blue polo shirt, smiling, and crossing his arms. Rachel Galarago from the waist up, standing on an angle smiling toward the camera with her arms crossed.

Reed Snook and Rachel Galaraga

Rachel: After I graduated from San Jose State University, I worked for a physical therapy company, and at one point, I was debating whether I wanted to go back to school to get my doctorate or not. Around that time, an old classmate recommended I apply to an opening at Project Walk. I had no idea this kind of program in a gym existed, and I went into it completely blind. The first client I ever worked with was Marcus Williams, the founder of LYDO Life. I thought working with him was the coolest thing ever.

It forced me to think outside of the box instead of staying within the cliché realm of physical therapy.

When you work at a PT clinic, it’s like a revolving door. Patients come in and out, and you don’t have sufficient time to make progress with someone with a spinal cord or traumatic brain injury. Working with Project Walk was a big change from that model.

Now, I’m the department manager for RISE, and I also manage the spa at Forma Gym. That allows us to integrate massage therapy into the program for paralysis clients.

Rachel, can you tell us what Project Walk is? A man in his wheelchair from a profile view using a hand cycle at a gym.

Rachel: The founders of Project Walk are the original innovators of activity-based therapy. Their headquarters were based in Carlsbad, California. It started with an individual who was diagnosed with an SCI, and he had exhausted his physical therapy. He was frustrated with the whole experience and didn’t feel he had made any progress. He started training with two CrossFit coaches who owned a gym in Carlsbad. They didn’t follow a template; they just did functional training and began seeing results. That gentleman eventually started walking again.

The original Project Walk no longer exists. However, there are still two privately owned locations in Boston and New Jersey. Project Walk Boston is owned by the Arlen family. Victoria Arlen is a former Paralympic swimmer and a host on ESPN. She was diagnosed with transverse myelitis at a young age. She went through the program at Project Walk in Carlsbad, and then her family decided to open a location in Boston. A lot of the activity-based facilities you see today are based on Project Walk.

How did RISE come about?

Rachel: Robert Jackson, the founder of RISE, has a background in personal training. His cousin was in a serious motorcycle accident and suffered a TBI. Robert would train him at Forma to help him gain functional movement and get him moving and out of his wheelchair. When Project Walk’s headquarters were no more, Forma Gym bought them out, and it became RISE. We wanted to be able to integrate the entire gym experience into the paralysis recovery program under one roof.

Robert Jackson smiles at the camera with is arms crossed. He is wearing a pink plaid button down shirt.

Founder of RISE, Robert Jackson

The RISE website states that you encourage people to “play every day, embrace change, and build an open-minded environment.” Can you elaborate on that?

Reed: When it comes to fitness, if you look at it as mundane or as a chore, how likely are you to continue doing it?

If you see it as something fun that fits into your day-to-day routine and brings you happiness, you’ll be able to maintain a lifelong activity level.

Studies have shown that being active increases lifespan and enhances the quality of life. We really do practice what we preach, and we make sure exercise is fun. I even wear a wristband that says, “Play every day.”

Two trainers help a man get out of his wheelchair onto a machine at the gym.

Rachel: In a typical rehab situation for someone with an SCI, for example, doctors begin by telling them what they won’t be able to do anymore. When they start rehab, they go into an office, see a doctor for 15 minutes, and then they’re forced to do exercises. It’s not very motivating or encouraging. If a patient later decides to go to a gym to do rehab on their own, they have many things to choose from, but they don’t necessarily have the guidance to know what to do. At Forma Gym, we emphasize community. Despite having a few thousand members, if you come in through our door, our front desk team is going to know your name. You’ll be greeted and asked how your day is going. We make it a priority to get to know every single member of our gym. What are your likes and dislikes? Why are you coming in? We want you to have fun when you’re doing rehab. It’s not a task to check off of your to-do list. You’re going to go to the gym, have fun, and socialize with the staff and other members.

For individuals who are already going through a life-changing experience, coming to Forma helps them get back to a sense of normalcy.

It allows them to get back to living and get out of the funk that they may be in.

Reed: My main focus is on the education of our staff and members so that they understand and support our clients who are experiencing paralysis. For any brand of gym-goer, the gym can be intimidating, especially if it’s their first time.

Making our club a community-centered, supportive, welcoming, non-judgemental atmosphere is where we stand apart.

You notice it when you walk in. We’re hoping other gyms will see what we’re doing and adapt to our philosophy because it’s a great one!

Rise Paralysis Recovery Center logo

What is your typical protocol for new clients with paralysis?

Rachel: When a client comes in for the first time, we do an initial evaluation that tests sensory and muscular movement, as well as functional movement. In the first couple of weeks, we tell clients we’re going to sound like a broken record because we ask them a lot of questions. We tap around the body, and ask questions such as, “What do you feel?” “Do you feel tapping?” “Do you feel numbness? Tingling? Burning?” We use that feedback to gauge how their body is responding and know what they have to build off of.

What are some examples of exercises you do with someone with SCI?

Rachel: The most intimidating thing for individuals is when a doctor or physical therapist uses big words. When you see a medical professional, you hearing all of these medical terms that you then have to look up online. The same thing is true when you go to a gym, and a trainer feeds you anatomical words. When clients come into Forma, we simplify that process and help them understand why their body goes through certain things. We do a lot of work to get them to recognize the importance of breathing correctly. We incorporate some methods from yoga to facilitate relaxation and getting a sense of how the body is functioning. We get clients on a table and do a lot of passive range of motion.

The best way for your body, brain, and central nervous system to relearn movement is to put the limbs through those typical ranges of motion.

This could be lifting the hips or bending at the elbows and knees, for example. That’s what we do initially to get clients to activate those muscles and get the feedback to know what’s working.

We also do a lot of core exercises and let them know that even though they may not be able to initiate certain movements, the fact that our trainers are moving their bodies through various ranges of motion is still beneficial. Physical activity of any kind helps prevent the possible secondary complications that come from lack of movement and allows them to move forward in their overall health.

How can someone who is paralyzed work on core strength?

Rachel: When people think about the core, they imagine the cliché six-pack. But in reality, your core is that chunk of muscle that’s underneath your six-pack, and it’s what helps stabilize your spine. For C- or T-level injuries, the person often feels like a slinky when they try to sit up straight. If they can activate their core, those muscles wrap around the spine, and that’s what creates stability. It allows the limbs, whether it’s the arms, head, or legs, to move without exerting as much effort. We try to simplify that versus giving people the technical terms to help them understand how everyday movement functions.

Reed: When you strengthen the core, you’re increasing the ability to sit up properly for an extended period of time, and that is a huge milestone.

For someone who has never done core work either pre- or post-injury, how do you get them to understand how to activate those muscles?

Rachel: The simplest way for clients who have an SCI is to have them sit against a wall with their legs out straight and a box or stool at their feet. Then, we tell them to try to drive their legs into the floor and push their upper body into the wall. By doing that, they’re utilizing their entire body, including their core. The client gets the feeling of how to activate those muscles to help them sit up taller.

This is all great for people in or near Walnut Creek, but what about everyone else? Do you have plans to expand?

Reed: As Forma Gym grows, and we’d like to expand throughout the Bay Area, we’re hoping to have a paralysis recovery center in all of our facilities. That would be the ultimate goal. It is a very special program, and it’s in demand.

If someone would like to work out at RISE but doesn’t have the financial means, what are their options?

Rachel: RISE has partnered with NorCal SCI for their Road to Recovery grant. We always recommend that our clients apply for the grant.

We also have our Forma KIDS Foundation which is Forma Gym’s nonprofit. Through that, we give out scholarships for young individuals to get into the program. By next year, we’re hoping to launch a RISE scholarship program for adults as well.

We have a big fundraising event coming up on Thanksgiving Day — the Forma Gym Turkey Trot. It’s one of the largest fun runs in all of Contra Costa County. The proceeds raised through the race go to a few different foundations, one of which is the Forma KIDS Foundation.

Editor’s Note: For more information on the Turkey Trot and Forma KIDS Foundation, visit FormaTurkeyTrot.com/FormaKidsRead NorCal SCI: Helping People Navigate Through Post-Injury Challenges for more information about the nonprofit and its grant program.

A little girl with blond hair in a pink wheelchair. The image reads, "Every time Annie is at RISE, her imagination and spirit give her the confidence to believe that she can achieve the impossible.

What is your advice for someone who is newly injured and would like to get active?

Reed: Use your resources, and don’t be afraid. Stay positive, and just keep moving in any way you can.

Rachel: Keep moving. Our bodies are designed to move, but no two people are going to be alike. The more you move, the more you’re going to see changes, whether they’re big or small. There will always be somebody out there who wants to join in when they see you’re not letting anyone stop you from improving your overall wellness.

Moving in general boosts your mood, and it’s better than staying cooped up.

You never know what you’ll find if you keep moving, and maybe you’ll attract someone who will want to help you out.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about RISE Paralysis Recovery Center and Forma Gym, visit FormaGym.com/RISE. Check out more photos and videos on social media: 

All information in this article was obtained through an interview with Rachel Galaraga and Reed Snook. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length. 

About the Author

betsy-bailey-headshot

Betsy Bailey has a diverse background that includes experience in marketing research, business operations, travel and culinary writing, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.

Betsy has been writing for Wheel:Life since January of 2017 and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. She also enjoys a good vegan brunch, practices parkour, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!

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The Benefits of Your Child Getting Active with Adaptive Bike Riding

Parents of children living with disabilities:  Take a minute to ...

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Our Top 5 Accessible Summer Vacation Destinations

It’s time to talk about summer vacation plans. If you like to have ...

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A New Book Teaches Kids About the Life of a Service Dog

Editor’s Note:  As a single mom of a 7-year-old, Amy Sherwood was ...

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Win a Trip to the Boston Abilities Expo

Have you always wanted to attend an Abilities Expo but you don’t ...

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Wheel:Life and Comfort Medical Sponsor the Paradox Sports Adaptive Ice Climbing Trip

Editor’s Note:  A little over a decade ago, a group of guys with a ...

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Norah Self-Caths in Kindergarten, Thanks to this Free Resource

It’s a given that kids who cath want to be like their friends at ...

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The Healing Powers of Grounding Therapy for Wheelchair Users

Editor’s Note:  Having grown up on a farm in rural Montana, Clint ...

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Cruising the Planet with Amputee Debra Kerper

Editor’s Note: When a bone infection complicated by lupus took ...

Being prepared for college is one thing, being prepared for college dating is another!
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The Online Dating Experience for the Disabled

Dating is hard. Dating is really hard. If you have a disability, ...

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Inclusion, Adventure, and Therapy with Freedom Concepts

Editor’s Note: In 2014, Michigan residents Caroline Booth and Matt ...

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Where Do You Want to Go?

Have you always dreamt of seeing the Aurora Borealis in Alaska? Or ...

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TerrainHopper USA: Bringing Adventure and Freedom to People with Disabilities

Editor’s Note:  Born with osteogenesis imperfecta, Todd Lemay ...

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Breaking Down Broadcasting Barriers with Paul Amadeus Lane

Editor’s Note: Growing up in Long Beach, California, Paul Amadeus ...

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Zebreda Dunham Powers Through Challenges on the Pitch and in Life

Editor’s Note:  Born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, ...

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Adaptive Aerial Yoga Allows Wheelchair Users to Fly

  Editor’s Note: Texas native Sara Schaffer has been ...

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Sex, Love, and Disability:  Ben Duffy’s New Documentary Exposes It All

Filmmaker Ben Duffy and Ajani “AJ” Murray met while working on a ...

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Amputee Bob Clausen Says If You Want Something Bad Enough, You Will Do It

Editor’s Note:  Widower and Navy veteran Rober “Bob” ...

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The Ms. Wheelchair California Pageant: A Life-Changing Experience

As the Ms. Wheelchair California Leadership Institute, formerly known ...

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Comfort Conversations: Support Systems Are Key After a Life-Altering Tragedy

Having key support systems after a life-altering injury is crucial. ...

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Sheri Melander-Smith on Living Your Best Life

Editor’s Note:  Sheri Melander-Smith was born with a vascular ...

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5 Extreme Activities to Add to Your Bucket List

Have you already tried all of the typical adaptive sports available ...

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Reflections and Lessons Learned in 2017

We hope your 2017 was as enlightening and empowering as ours was here ...

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Living with MS: One Family’s Solution to Enjoying Life Events Again

Dave was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999 and for the first ...

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4 Tips to Help Teach Your Child About Self-Catheterization

At a certain age, kids will be the first to tell you that they want ...

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Winter Weather Preparedness Tips for Wheelchair Users

Are you dreading this winter season? Dealing with slushy, icy, snowy, ...

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Making Adaptive Climbing More Accessible with Arthur Torrey

Editor’s Note: When a tree-cutting accident in 2010 led to broken ...

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Barbara Cramer – 75 Years of Defying Stereotypes

Editor’s Note:  An earlier version of this post may have left the ...

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Serving the Spina Bifida Community with the SBAGNE

I serve as the executive director of the SBAGNE. One of my primary ...

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Comfort Medical is Helping People to Achieve a Healthier and Happier Lifestyle

If you’re an avid Wheel:Life reader, you may remember that we ...

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Advocating for Disability Rights with Stephanie Woodward and CDR

Editor’s Note: During a summer internship at the Center for ...

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Building Strength and Confidence with Handi Capable Fitness

Editor’s Note: A botched hernia operation during infancy left James ...

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Comfort Medical Sponsors Freedom Concepts to Help You Win An Adaptive Bike

Have you always dreamt of gliding down the street with the wind in ...

women in wheelchairs dancing at Abilities Expo
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Experience It All At the Abilities Expo!

Days are becoming shorter, nights longer, and the holiday season is ...

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ParaSportsLive: Bringing Adaptive Sports Coverage to the World

Editor’s Note:  When wheelchair user Tony Jackson’s original ...

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Introducing the New Cure Ultra Coude Intermittent Catheter for Men

Cure Medical has unveiled the new 16-inch Cure Ultra® Coude ...

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Get Ready for Rolling With Me’s Each By Name Conference

Wheel:Life, Comfort Medical, and Rolling With Me is excited to ...

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Smooth Sailing with David Gaston

Editor’s Note:  A Texas coast native, David Gaston has been in and ...

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Gain Traction This Fall with National Ramp

Summer is officially over and dreary winter weather is on its way. ...

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Wheelchair Dancers Organization Says Everybody Can Dance!

When life-long dancer Beverly Weurding was diagnosed with limb-girdle ...

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Pursuing Health and Happiness with Malaise Wheelchair Fitness

Editor’s Note: Justin Malaise grew up in small-town Wisconsin as a ...

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Former Ms. Wheelchair Illinois Continues to be a Voice for the Community

Editor’s Note: Born with spina bifida, Kim Brown has been a ...

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Dare to Discover the World of Accessible Travel With Handiscover

Editor’s Note: Sebastien Archambeaud has always loved traveling, so ...

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Made for Kids! The Pediatric Hydrophilic Cure Catheter + Free Backpack Program

Parents only want what’s best for their children and keeping them ...

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Wheeling, Driving, Bowling, Preaching, Parenting…Johnny Hudson Does It All Hands-free!

Editor’s Note: Johnny Hudson was born in 1977 with unforeseen ...

Pat Dougherty explains FreeWheel to a new fan at a recent Abilities Expo.
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The Abilities Expo is Coming To Boston!

Boston awaits with open arms. This September 8–10, head over to the ...

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Comfort Conversations: Change Starts with You – Becoming an Advocate

Join us every other month for Comfort Conversations, a discussion ...

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WheelchairTravel.org: Blazing the Trail Towards an Accessible World  

Editor’s Note: After sustaining severe burns during a car accident ...

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The Artfully Gifted Foundation – Serving Entrepreneurs with Disabilities

Editor’s Note: The Artfully Gifted Foundation (a non-profit) was ...

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How the SCRS-IL Can Help You Live Independently

Editor’s Note: When triple degree holder Jose Gonzalez returned ...

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Peter Arballo Never Gave Up on Himself — Neither Should You

Editor’s Note: Peter Arballo was born in Southern California to ...

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Full Speed Ahead with Endurance Racer Michael Johnson

Editor’s Note: Michael Johnson of Lansing, Michigan, started racing ...

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The Extraordinary Life of Triple Amputee Monica Vickers

Editor’s Note: Monica Vickers was born in 1954 missing both legs ...

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Rick Hayden Rolls on Capitol Hill for Your Rights

When Rick Hayden visited the US Capitol last week, he went with your ...

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Gear Up for Abilities Expo Chicago

Calling all Midwesterners — Abilities Expo is coming to Chicago! As ...

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Run, Jump, and Throw Stuff with Angel City Sports

Editor’s Note: Clayton Frech is the CEO and founder of Los ...

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Sled Hockey with Coach Koz

Editor’s Note: Sled hockey (also known as sledge hockey) is almost ...

Summer Solutions with STYLEDWEL
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Summer Solutions with STYLEDWEL

Editor’s Note: Mary Marshall, founder of STYLEDWEL, created ...

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Following Your Inner Guidance with Kristina Rhoades and How National Ramp is Helping Her Do It

Editor’s Note: Kristina Rhoades is a mom, wife, speaker, writer, ...

men who use wheelchairs
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Comfort Conversations: Finding Encouragement Through Peer Support Groups

Join us every other month for Comfort Conversations, a discussion ...

wheellife1
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Allen Beauchamp on Life, Love and Hockey

My name is Allen Beauchamp, and I’m 43 years old. I live in a ...

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Yoocan Get Empowered!

Editor’s Note: Inspired by a family member with disabilities, Moshe ...

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Introducing the Cure Ultra: Ready to Use Catheter for Men

Cure Medical has unveiled the new 16-inch Cure Ultra™ Intermittent ...

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Refuel and Rejuvenate At Abilities Expo New York Metro

East coasters, or anyone within striking distance, gear up for ...

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Criptaedo: Breaking Boards and Barriers

Editor’s note: Paul Brailer, aka Criptaedo, was born with spina ...

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Rolling Forward with Amputee Advocate Stella Sieber

I’m currently 63 years old and live in Durham, North Carolina. ...

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Stroke by Stroke: Moving Forward with Mallory Weggemann

Editor’s Note: At 18 years old, Mallory Weggemann walked into the ...

Margarita Cover Photo
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Comfort Conversations: Finding Your New Normal After a Spinal Cord Injury

Join us every other month for Comfort Conversations, a discussion ...

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Glenn Moscoso: Wheelchair Daddy

Editor’s note:  Glenn Moscoso is a husband and father living with ...

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Avoiding Slippery Slopes with Garth Walker and National Ramp

Editor’s Note: After selling his prior business, Garth Walker went ...

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The National Sports Center for the Disabled: Finding Self-Confidence through Personal Challenge

Editor’s Note: The National Sports Center for the Disabled, founded ...

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Wheeling around the World with Susie Twydell

Editor’s Note: Based in England, Susie Twydell, an avid traveler ...

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Amplitude Media Group: Closing the Information Gap

Wheel:Life is thrilled to announce their newest community partner, ...

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Accessible Hiking, Camping and Fishing? WOW!  

Editor’s Note: Wilderness on Wheels (WOW) is a foundation and a ...

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Comfort Conversations: Events, Free Packs, and More with James “Woody” Beckham

Editor’s Note: The Woody Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit ...

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Jenn Sexton Shares Her Secret for Independence: An Extra Long Cure Catheter

Jenn Sexton was five weeks pregnant when she and her husband, Thomas, ...

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Glen Schlotterbeck: Reinvent Yourself!

Editors note: As a graduate of the US Air Force Academy, Glen ...

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Educate, Energize, and Enlighten at Abilities Expo Los Angeles

The Abilities Expo is back in Los Angeles and gearing up to show you ...

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Juan Sebastian Betancourt: Changing the Way Businesses Serve People with Disabilities

Editor’s Note: Juan Betancourt is on a path to change the world for ...

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AccessibleIndonesia: Making Travel Accessible in a Non-Accessible Country

Editor’s note: Kerstin Beise, a German physiotherapist, who also ...

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A Lesson on Living Life to the Fullest with Hydred Makabali

Editor’s note: Hydred Makabali, born and raised in England and now ...

Up/Down Team Champions (Top L to R) Shane Hayden, Harold Collins (Seated L to R) Gary Bowling, Kenneth Hill, and Don Law
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Knocking Down The Pins of Life with Wheelchair Bowling Champion Kenneth Hill

Editor’s Note: Fifty-year-old Kenneth Hill from Plainfield, ...

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Take Your Wings and Fly with Denise Horn

Editor’s Note: Fifty-six-year-old Denise Horn of Janesville, ...

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Ashley Hutson Wilson Beat a Small Chance of Survival to Live a Full Life

Editor’s Note: Thirty-one year old Ashley Hutson Wilson from Kyle, ...

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Jam with Mel Bergman: Creator of Wheely Guitars

Editor’s Note: Mel Bergman of Camarillo, California, is the ...

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Gary “Tiger” Balletto: Champion Prize Fighter Who Rolls with the Punches

Editor’s Note: You can capture a ferocious wild tiger and put him ...

9 Robby Heisner
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Meet Robby Heisner: Creative Entrepreneur on Wheels

Editor’s Note: Robby Heisner of Smyrna, Georgia ...

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The National Rifle Association’s Adaptive Shooting Program with Dr. Joseph Logar

Dr. Joseph Logar Editor’s Note: Dr. Joseph Logar has his doctorate ...

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The Rollettes Take On an E.P.I.C. Project to Empower Others

Editor’s Note: Chances are, you’ve seen these ladies ...

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Speak Up Now to Save Your Wheelchair: Fight Medicare Cuts

Your window is narrowing to preserve access to mobility equipment – ...

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Go Further Together with GRIT: Stories of Community Support

Our friends at GRIT, the makers of the revolutionary Freedom Chair, ...

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Paralyzed Veteran’s Mom Awarded Dream Trip by ElDorado Mobility

Editor’s Note: Serving our country as a military service member is ...

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Wheelchair Karate: Attack the Attacker with Kenneth Perry

Editor’s Note: Kenneth Perry from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ...

5 Tom Cannalonga
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Ditch Your Chair to Sit-Ski the Slopes with Tom Cannalonga 

Editor’s Note: Fifty-two-year-old Tom Cannalonga lives in Edison, ...

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Welcome to Wheel:Life

We are so glad you’re here! Wheel:Life is a global initiative ...

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