Editor’s Note: Cynthia Templeton is the founder and president of Push to Walk, a non-profit organization that provides specialized exercise, workout programs and resources to people with spinal cord injuries, brain injuries and any other neurological conditions that result in paralysis. Her hope, like many, is that in the very near future someone will find a cure for spinal cord injury. In preparation for that day, Push to Walk encourages people with paralysis to stay as strong and as healthy as possible to take advantage of any advancements made in the medical and scientific communities.
How and Why Push to Walk Began
According to Templeton, “Push to Walk came about when my 18 year old son Darren sustained a spinal cord injury in July, 2004, after diving into shallow water off our family boat and breaking his neck at the C5 level. As with any catastrophic injury or illness, all our lives were turned upside down. To give Darren the best chance possible for recovery and to help him become as mobile as possible, our family took him to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. We stayed there for 3-1/2 months while he had his inpatient rehabilitation.
“We felt as though the whole world around us had stopped functioning, because we were so focused on what Darren and our family were going through, since we had so much to learn about spinal cord injuries and paralysis.
When a person has a spinal cord injury, that injury doesn’t just affect just that one individual.
The injury affects the family, the friends of the patient and the community where he or she lives. The impact of spinal cord injury is far reaching, and often we fail to realize what the effects of that injury are to people we may have never known.
“After Darren left the Shepherd Center, we returned to New Jersey, and Darren started occupational therapy and physical therapy at the Kessler Institute in West Orange, New Jersey. This therapy continued until early 2005 when Darren was discharged, due to his improvement plateauing and insurance companies deciding they wouldn’t cover continued therapy. Since Darren had been an athlete all his life, he knew that the more he could do for himself and increase his strength and function would all be to his benefit.
“Darren started researching online and talking with other people who had spinal cord injuries and discovered a place in California called Project Walk. Project Walk was and is an extensive exercise based program uniquely designed for people with spinal cord injuries and other types of paralysis. While Darren continued his research and learned more about Project Walk, he started working with a personal trainer at home. Due to that success, Darren visited Project Walk to learn about the program.”
The Impossible Can Be Reached
Many may ask, “Why doesn’t someone do something to help me?” But Darren Templeton and his mother Cynthia put a different spin on that question. They said, “Why can’t we do something to help us and also the other people in our community who have some type of paralysis.” The Templetons began to dream a big dream and went to work to make that dream become a reality. As when other people have answered the call, “Why not me, why not now?” amazing and even unbelievable things can happen. The Templeton family is a classic example of what can happen when people start to create the impossible.
When Darren went to Project Walk in Carlsbad, California, he went there not only as a patient but also as a student to learn all he could about the program. Darren had been a snow ski racer and a hockey and a tennis player – heavily involved in sports and exercise. On Darren’s first trip to Project Walk, he stayed one week. He was so impressed with the program that over 2 years, he made four additional trips there, each lasting from one week to one month. Darren learned that there were things he could do – both exercise related and life related – to improve his condition.
Darren was impressed that Project Walk focused on getting individuals out of their wheelchairs, having them exercise on mats with one-on-one exercise programs and doing exercises similar to the way he had trained as an athlete before his injury.
“This program focused on numbers of repetitive types of exercise, and the mental and emotional aspects of maximizing the exercises to try and become all Darren could be,” Cynthia Templeton explains. “He liked the mental discipline as much as he did the physical discipline. Over time, Darren was able to strengthen his core and build up his shoulder and arm movement, which aided him throughout his everyday life. He got an overall strengthening of his body from the program, he gained more confidence, and he was stronger emotionally. Whether you’re able-bodied or someone with physical challenges, any time you can stand up exercising and achieve positive goals, your entire being becomes better.”
After Darren Templeton’s third visit to Project Walk, his family began to think about and discuss the possibility of setting up a program similar to Project Walk in New Jersey. Darren believed and knew that the benefits he had received from Project Walk had helped him become stronger and healthier and have a better attitude about his injury. Too, then people on the East Coast who couldn’t fly out to California could participate in something similar to Project Walk. “So, Darren and I started putting our ideas together,” Cynthia Templeton recalls. “We tried to determine what we could do to start a facility and a program like Project Walk in New Jersey where we live. We planned, dreamed and networked with people until our dreams became a reality. Push to Walk opened its doors on January 15, 2007.”
How Push to Walk Went from 3 Clients to 52 Clients Per Week – and Still Is Growing
To start Push to Walk, the Templetons had so much to learn. They had to determine what was required to start a non-profit organization in the State of New Jersey and be eligible for a 501c3 status. “We didn’t want to make money from helping Darren and other people like Darren,” Cynthia Templeton emphasizes. “We knew there were other people who could benefit from a similar type program to the one in which Darren had participated. So, learning how to organize Push to Walk as a nonprofit organization was the first piece of the puzzle we needed to solve to get our big dream moving in the right direction. We learned that to have a 501c3 we had to have at least three people on the board of directors, and we set that up with a very close friend of ours, our accountant and our lawyer as our first board of directors. We wrote the application for the 501c3 and started thinking about the equipment we needed, where and how to find staffing, and where to locate space to put and use the equipment for Push to Walk. Instead of just dreaming about a nonprofit named Push to Walk, we put into motion everything required to make this a reality.”
After Push to Walk outgrew its first location of less than 1,000 square feet after about 1-1/2 years, the organization moved to its present facility in Riverdale, New Jersey. “That first place we rented was within a building and only included a small office and a bathroom, but it was inexpensive. Then if our idea didn’t take off, and no one came, we hadn’t invested a lot of money.
“At our first location, we had clients arriving in their wheelchairs with their families and/or their caregivers. We had trainers and aides in a very small space. We literally were tripping all over each other. We had approximately 20 people who came 1-3 times per week the first 1-1/2 years of our operation. We could see that Push to Walk was going to continue to grow. Once we moved, we went to 3,500 square feet of space, but only about 1,500 square feet of that was gym space. We’ve been here 6-1/2 years, and we’ve gained more space by moving our offices upstairs and converting our office space to gym space. We now have about 3,000 square feet of gym space.
“Right now, Push to Walk has 15 employees – five fulltime trainers, three part-time trainers, four aides and three administrative staff, including myself. Our trainers all have undergraduate degrees in exercise science and/or related fields. Our program director has his master’s degree in exercise science. We have an exercise program designed to train our trainers to teach and work with clients with a training protocol that we’ve found to be most effective.
We also send our trainers to take specific types of courses in NeuroRecovery Network , special training which is related to local motor exercises, assisted treadmill training or continuing education exercise courses in general exercise and fitness. Then they bring that additional training back to our facility and adapt what they’ve learned for our clients. Currently, we’re serving 52 clients.
When we first opened, we had three clients – my son Darren and two other individuals. We have an ongoing growth program, because our part-time trainers still have more hours they can work with new clients who come in and want our help.”
When There’s a Will, There’s a Way
Cynthia Templeton reports that, “New clients pay $95 per hour for their one-on-one workouts. If they want to use our functional electric stem equipment, they can use that equipment either before or after their workout for no charge – a bonus we can offer that helps our clients. If clients come in and just want to use the electric stem equipment, those times are billed differently from the $95-per-hour sessions.
If someone has financial challenges, we maintain a scholarship fund, overseen by Push to Walk’s scholarship committee on the board of directors.
The committee is currently revising and updating our scholarship policy, which will make applying for a scholarship much easier than it has been in the past. We can help more people defray the cost of the exercise therapy and try to show each of our clients how to do their own fundraising. Often, their family, friends and communities will help offset the price of therapy.”
Most of Push to Walk’s clients come to the facility twice per week for about a 1-1/2 hour session. The clients are asked to also do their exercises at home – especially their standing exercises. “We encourage all our clients to have a standing frame that allows them to stand on their own at home,” Templeton says. “We believe that our client’s ability to stand on his or her own is a huge benefit. We encourage them not only to exercise at home but possibly at a private gym, if they have an aide or a caregiver who can help them. Of course, the people who do more work on their own when they go home from Push to Walk progress the fastest.
“We have a wide range of successful people at Push to Walk. Success may be as small as someone being able to sit up properly in his chair with better posture, so as not to develop any secondary problems like scoliosis or other issues resulting from poor posture. For the clients with a stronger core, success can be sitting in their chairs, and if they drop something, being strong enough to reach over and pick up what they’ve dropped without the aid of a caregiver or the risk of falling out of their chairs. Success for other patients may be the ability to stand on their own – possibly with only the assistance of a hand rail.
Yet another form of success may be a client who hasn’t been able to get out of a wheelchair when he’s first started coming to Push to Walk to being able to stand and walk with a walker. For clients who can walk with a walker, success may be improving their posture to enable them to walk safely with or without their walkers.
At Push to Walk, we see success as being different for people with various problems.
We’re not training a group of people to improve their mobility. We’re training each individual to be the best he/she can be, and to be better than they have been when they’ve first come to Push to Walk.”
Why More Space Is Needed in the Future
Cynthia Templeton says she’s often asked, “What’s in the future for Push to Walk?” “My answer is that we need more space – both gym space and walking space. More of our clients are learning to walk with various types of assisted devices, and we therefore need more space.
“We want to continue to grow our program to help more people than we are currently. We want to constantly keep our trainers up to date with the latest breakthroughs on exercise programs to strengthen individuals with spinal cord injuries and other types of paralysis. We want to continue to learn the latest and newest technology with the functional electric stem equipment we’re currently using. Also Push to Walk wants to stay abreast of new improvements being made by the scientific community that we can use to help our patients keep on improving. We want to provide the best quality of service to anyone who may need it.
“The best way to learn more about Push to Walk and the exercise therapy we use is to go to our website at www.pushtowalknj.org. We have many videos on our website and on our YouTube channel where you can see what people are working on at our facility, and what they’re accomplishing. You also can watch and hear the people who come to Push to Walk tell their own stories about the benefits they’ve received from our program. Our YouTube channel is www.youtube.com/user/pushtowalknj, so check it out. If you have any questions, please contact us at 862-200-5848.
About the Author: John E. Phillips
For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at www.johninthewild.com.