Financial assistance is available for those wanting to join the Y

Dover-area residents whose physical limitations may prevent them from getting regular exercise now have a new way to take part in fitness programs.

Following up on a successful effort at its Bear-Glasgow center, the Dover YMCA last week unveiled its “Y for All” adaptive fitness equipment. It’s an idea hatched and developed at the University of Delaware that can give a new sense of freedom for those who otherwise would be unable to exercise.

“It’s to encourage more people to come into the YMCA and to create access to everything we do here,” YMCA Delaware President and CEO Deborah Bagatta-Bowles said before a short unveiling ceremony. “This system eliminates a lot of the physical barriers that people face in trying to get into a community setting to do some exercise.”

The system is an adjustable harness device that’s securely connected to an overhead support device, Bagatta-Bowles said. It supports the wearer’s weight while they’re walking on a treadmill or using other types of fitness equipment.

“You can even use it in the context of a zumba class or a ballet class,” Bagatta-Bowles said.

In addition to the Bear-Glasgow and Dover centers, the system is in use at the Y’s Newark building.

“We eventually will scale it to the entire state,” she said.

And while the adaptive fitness equipment is great for encouraging those with limitations to start exercising, it serves another function: confidence building.

“It certainly gets you out of the house, so there’s a whole social aspect to it as well,” she said. “The whole family can come to the Y and now someone who uses a cane or a walker or a wheelchair can come, too.”
One must be a YMCA member to use the adaptive fitness equipment, but the organization has scholarship and other programs to reduce or eliminate that cost, Bagatta-Bowles said.

“There are no financial barriers,” she said. “We make that go away, too.”

The adaptive fitness system has been good news for 73-year-old Bob Seaberg of Dover. Seaberg has survived a series of four strokes that affected the left side of his body; it’s impacted his eyesight, hearing, arm movement and ability to walk unaided. As such, he must use a cane to get around.

The harness system, connected to a newly-installed ceiling support beam, supports his weight while he spends about 11 minutes on the treadmill.

The system helps relieve his concerns about falling and getting hurt, and has helped restore his sense of his independence, Seaberg said.

“It gives you a lot of confidence to use the treadmill and go about your business,” he said. “It helps with your breathing. It helps with your stamina. It helps with everything.”

Jim Kelly, chief operating officer for YMCA of Delaware, said the Y eventually hopes to expand the system so it may be used in the pool.

Right now the adaptive fitness equipment is new enough the Y hasn’t seen a need to set appointment times to use it, Kelly said. There’s no additional cost for members who need to use it, he said.

Emmanuel Jenkins of Harrington, who has cerebral palsy, has used the system and likes it.

“Just the feeling to be able to get up and to stand and to bear weight starts to help you mentally, physically and also spiritually because now you have done something that you haven’t done in X-amount of years,” he said. “So the ability to just stand on your own two feet, it gives you the freedom to feel like you’re making progress toward your ultimate goal.”