Editor’s Note: When wheelchair users Yannick Benjamin, Alex Elegudin and George Gallego met, they discussed an impossible dream. They dreamed of a place where all could work out in a gym big enough, so that other people with disabilities could exercise, meet, get to know each other and participate in classes designed specifically for people with disabilities. Their dream also included having a physical therapist on staff who could design an individual program for each person who came to the gym. The gym would become more than just a workout center. It would be a place to hold job fairs and discuss issues that people with all types of disabilities had. It would provide support groups and staff to help facilitate solving problems for people with disabilities.
The Axis Project, a 7500-square-foot multidisciplinary center close to Central Park in New York City, is the fulfillment of that dream. Besides exercise classes, today the Axis Project offers an assistive technology/computer program, an advocacy desk for people with questions about employment benefits, as well as social gatherings, community meals, and other outings. Below, Yannick shares with us how his dream became a reality.
The Axis Project Aims to Serve
The Axis Project is a wellness and fitness center that’s designed for people with physical disabilities. We provide services for people in New York City and the Tri State area (New York state, New Jersey and Connecticut).
We have an adaptive spin class that I lead.
We incorporate the spin class with hand spinning machines, jumping jacks, jogging in place and using 10 hand cranks. Each class lasts from 30 to 45 minutes. Our spin classes are the same type of spin classes that you see other people participating in everywhere. But instead of using their legs to spin, our students use their upper bodies. We saw a need for a program like this not only in New York City, but also in the Tri State area, and no one was filling that need.
People with disabilities often have a hard time getting to a gym and finding a gym with equipment that’s planned specifically to help them. If they get to a gym, they may or may not know any of the gym staff who can help them develop routines designed particularly for them to strengthen their bodies. To get to that personal level, we have personal trainers who work with each person to create individual workouts for him/her.
Our trainers also help the people who come to our gym get onto and off the various types of equipment that we have available.
We’ve also found that people like us who have disabilities enjoy participating in classes and getting to know other people with disabilities similar to theirs. So, our gym offers adaptive yoga, adaptive martial arts and adaptive boxing.
See all the Axis Project Has to Offer Here:
How the Axis Project Started
Alex Elegudin, the president of Wheeling Forward, a nonprofit organization, always wanted to develop a place here in New York City where people with disabilities could come together, either in a recreation center type of setting and/or a gym kind of setting, and work out with their peers.
I was the co-founder of Wheeling Forward with Alex. Together, we did a lot of fundraising to help raise the money to build and maintain the Axis Project.
We wanted to create a place where a multitude of services could be provided for people with disabilities here in the New York City metro area.
George is a tri-athlete, who felt that an intricate part of Wheeling Forward, the Axis Project, should provide a place where people with disabilities could exercise and also train for wheelchair sports. George is a very strong believer that people with disabilities can have better lives by exercising and keeping their bodies in shape.
So, the three of us, all having various types of paralysis, wanted to have a place where we could exercise, and where others with disabilities like ours could exercise and train, get peer support and attend classes and workshops expressly planned to meet their needs. We were willing to be the wheels on the ground to do the fundraising to make this big dream come true.
After two years of fundraising, we decided to try and find a place to open up this gym and recreation center where all people like us and with disabilities different from us could come together and get what they needed.
How the Axis Project Works
We have a partnership with a managed care group called ICS (Independence Care System), one of the largest managed care groups for people with disabilities in New York City. They help us spread the word about the Axis Project throughout the community with disabilities.
Right now, the Axis Project is serving about 700 people with disabilities each month.
Remember that people with disabilities are the largest minority group in the United States and the largest minority group in New York. New York City has a population of 10 million people, including people with all types of disabilities.
Although we’re serving 700 people, we feel that we should be serving many more. We serve people with Parkinson’s disease, individuals who are blind and/or deaf, people with spinal cord injuries and amputees to name a few. We decided early on that we didn’t want to service just one segment of the community with disabilities.
Our goal always was to serve everyone with each type of disability and to help improve their quality of life.
We have one of the best physical therapists in New York City, Lawrence Harding, working with us. He’s extremely talented in working with people with spinal cord injuries, and he’s one of the most creative and innovative individuals I’ve ever met. We feel really fortunate to have him as a part of the Axis Project.
Three different types of people come to the Axis Project:
- Some individuals know the types of exercises they want to do, and they come in and work out on their own.
- Other people want one of our personal trainers to help them develop their routines to accomplish what they want to achieve.
- The third group of people wants to participate in some of the exercise classes that we offer.
We’ve only had the Axis Project’s doors open for 1-1/2 years, and we feel really blessed to have grown to around 700 participants. We’ve only been able to do this because of the support we’ve received from the people of New York City and the Tri State area.
I work in the wine industry, and one of our big fundraisers is our wine tasting events. We have one really big wine tasting event in April, but we usually have one wine tasting each month to help raise money.
Our biggest event is called Wine on Wheels. This past April, we had more than 500 people who came and participated. We also hold a silent auction at this April event that’s another of our biggest fundraisers.
We’re on social media too and do promotions through the community of people with disabilities to let them know that if they want to improve their quality of life, the Axis Project is a place they can come and participate in programs and exercise with other people like them.
Each person usually comes two to three times per week, and generally two to three staff people work each shift. We’re open Mondays through Saturdays from 1:00 to 6:00 pm, and Wednesdays and Fridays until 9:00 pm. Besides our hand crank machines, we have about seven, standing frame machines and many other machines. We also have CrossFit classes, and they’ve been very successful.
What Happens Next with the Axis Project: Employment Options + More
Our bigger dream is to have an Axis Project in every major population area where there’s a high concentration of people with disabilities.
We also have parties and different types of gatherings at our facility. For instance, we’re having a job fair this year where people can come and meet people who are hiring individuals with disabilities. We have a men’s peer group and a women’s peer group that meets at our facility.
We do seminars on sexuality and other problems that people with disabilities are interested in and also provide financial advisors to come in to teach our people how to make money and how to save money.
Our first job fair that comes up in September is our attempt to stimulate the job market for people with disabilities and aid our people in finding meaningful, satisfying and rewarding jobs.
One of the biggest problems we’ve identified that people with disabilities often have is an inability to find work.
George, Alex and I have some connections with quite a few large companies. Some of them are Fortune 500 companies that we feel would benefit by meeting, getting to know and possibly employing people with disabilities. We’re also trying to advocate with people in the hospitality industry who have employment needs to consider hiring people with disabilities to fill those needs.
The Axis Project is not just a program and a gym that we’ve started. It’s a dynamic, ever evolving entity that we’re working hard to grow, improve and make better to serve all people with disabilities.
We want to meet as many needs and solve as many problems as we can for those individuals with disabilities. The day the Axis Project stops evolving, improving and becoming better is the day I think we need to close our doors. So, the Axis Project is far more than just a gym. We hope to be able to open up more Axis Project facilities here in New York City and many other states in the future.
To learn more about the Axis Project, you can to go our website www.wheelingforward.org and the Axis Project page on Facebook. All the phone numbers and information about who we are and what we do will be on that page too along with pictures and videos of our events.
About the Author:
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.