Editor’s Note: A botched hernia operation during infancy left James Norris with cerebral palsy. Though he was able to get around with a walker throughout the early years of his life, the time constraints of switching classes in high school coupled with teenage laziness made using a wheelchair a necessity. Fast forward to adulthood, Norris moved across the country to take a job in radio only to find himself unemployed a few months later. This led to a short bout of depression in which he gained a significant amount of weight. One day, while struggling with his usual method of crawling up the stairs to his home, it hit him — he was overweight and out of shape. So, at 28 years old, he joined a gym and soon after started Handi Capable Fitness.
I had absolutely no experience in fitness. At the gym, I was just throwing things against the wall to see if they would stick. A personal trainer saw me and said he’d show me some things, so we began working together. Once I started seeing the weight come off through exercise, I completely changed how I ate as well. Instead of pizza and sugary snacks, I began eating healthy foods and paying attention to portion size. I’ve lost 50 to 60 pounds over the past year and a half.
Working Toward Walking
When my original trainer left the gym, another guy offered to work with me. He not only focused on building up my strength, but he also took a physical therapy approach. One week we’d do typical weight training exercises that you’d see at a normal gym and the next week we would focus on balance and building up strength in my legs.
As time went on and I lost weight, I started to see the possibilities of what could be done if I was determined enough.
My trainer reintroduced the physical therapy exercises that I was too lazy to do as a teenager and got me focused on the possibility of being able to walk if I took it seriously.
I eventually switched gyms to work with another trainer who is helping me work toward my goal of walking again. I recently got some leg braces, and I’m getting a walker soon. One of my goals is to do a 5K in 2018! I always knew walking was a possibility, although maybe a long shot, but it was something that I had in the back of my mind. Now, that’s all coming into the picture.
Handi Capable Fitness
As I would reach different weightlifting goals, I would post videos on my personal Instagram account. I got a lot of positive feedback from friends and family who encouraged me to continue posting with the hopes that it would inspire other people. So, I decided to create Handi Capable Fitness, starting with an Instagram account and then a Facebook page. Also, with the help of a friend of mine who is a video editor, I launched a YouTube channel.
My goal and vision with Handi Capable Fitness is to not only document my own journey but to also showcase other people who are facing challenges and doing extraordinary things.
I have people messaging me from all over the world to share their stories and tell me that seeing what I’m doing is inspiring and gives them hope. That’s just absolutely crazy and awesome! I’m really hoping that by doing what I’m doing, I’m also helping other people. The icing on the cake is that I’m also helping myself.
I will be taking a Certified Functional Strength Coach (CFSC) course soon at Mike Boyle’s Strength and Conditioning gym. Although I won’t be able to become officially certified since I can’t physically perform all of the exercises, I will acquire valuable knowledge that I can use in order to help people with disabilities or for able-bodied people as well. Eventually, I also want to get my National Academy of Sports Medicine certification along with a Precision Nutrition certification to tie everything together. I’m really looking forward to taking on this challenge!
Fitness gives people a sense of self-confidence. I have more confidence now because of what I can do and what I’ve been able to achieve. That confidence isn’t just in the gym; it carries over to my relationships with people, my mental health, and feeling great overall.
When you’re confident, all of the sudden that wheelchair you’re sitting in doesn’t define you.
When you meet somebody new, instead of them noticing the wheelchair first, they might think, “Wow, this person’s got some huge muscles!” and that’s going to be the topic of conversation. It’s going to push the wheelchair into the background a little bit.
People often write me saying they wish they could do what I do in my videos. I tell them it’s not about being as strong as me or being able to do what I or somebody else can do. The things I’m able to do now weren’t the things I was able to do two years ago. The most important thing is to do whatever you can do. Just move and get going. Over time, if you stay dedicated, show up every day, and do the best you can, you’ll be bettering yourself both mentally and physically.
The biggest thing I want to get out there is that Handi Capable Fitness isn’t about me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m into fitness to benefit myself and reap those benefits, but I’m not looking to make money off of people. I just want to help anyone I can, whether they’re physically or mentally disabled, or able-bodied. There are so many negative things going on in the world today, and we really need some good positivity. For me, Handi Capable Fitness is a way to give back. So many people have given to me – my parents, teachers, trainers — and I’m at this point in life now because of them. If Handi Capable Fitness benefits somebody in a positive way, then that’s what it’s all about.
Editor’s Note: Team Handi Capable Fitness will also be giving back this holiday season by helping feed hungry families at the Greater Boston Food Bank.
Betsy Bailey has a diverse background including experience in marketing research at American Express, business operations and client relations with 601am, travel and culinary writing with VegDining, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.
Betsy is excited to get back into writing, something she’s adored since childhood, and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. On top of her work with Wheel:Life, she also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!