Breaking Out Of The Chrysalis: What Adaptive Sports Means To Me

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.

I grew up with the parable of the butterfly that never learned to fly because it wasn’t allowed to struggle out of its chrysalis. Struggle was something that built character and the rewards would be worth it.


In 2003, a few months after I got married, I was diagnosed with a neurological condition that hit me incredibly hard. My symptoms progressed rapidly and very soon, I was that caterpillar encased in a cocoon. When I came across this parable, I remember I did not think “if I keep going I’m going to me amazing”, instead, I thought to myself, “I wonder how many caterpillars don’t make it??”


I found myself in a condo full of medical device catalogs. Wheelchairs, wheelchair ramps and ADL (activities of daily living) tools. Unbeknownst to most people, I also had printouts for euthanasia. I was by no means suicidal but I was desperate.


I had started hiding away from people. I know they were being polite but I could not cope with exclamations of “you look great!” when I knew I looked and felt like hell. At that point, if you told me I was going to be a medical fitness trainer, I would have stared at you in disbelief and burst into tears.


Just when I was about to give up, I discovered adaptive fitness. While it may have helped me to walk again, its true gift was to save my spirit.



There is nothing worse that planning to go to an exercise class advertised as “beginner” and “all levels of fitness welcome” only to get there and find out they are doing a 12 minute mile as their warm up!


You planned your meds, arranged a ride there and back, and endured a sleepless night of anxious excitement only to realize there is just no way for you to participate. You turn around, apologize profusely to the person who has driven you there, go home, eat a pint of ice cream and vow never to leave the house again.


Adaptive fitness says “Hi! Welcome! How are you feeling today? What do you think you can manage today? How can we make it happen for you?” If you arrive planning to ski but your legs cannot hold you up, no worries. Give us a moment, we’ll make it happen for you.


An adaptive trainer has done their job when their client hugs them and says, “You know, I didn’t want to come in today because (I didn’t sleep/my meds are making me sick/I felt weak etc.), but now I’m so glad I came in because I feel great.”


Adaptive fitness makes movement feel good.



I love traditional support groups. Unfortunately, for many reasons, I am not cut out for them. When I discovered adaptive fitness, it became my support group. For that hour, I didn’t have to talk about my feelings; I limped, I tried to hit things, I pretended to walk well, very often I fell over. Then at the end of the hour, we would hug it out and many times we spent another hour just talking. I went home feeling accomplished. I didn’t have to worry about what I couldn’t do.



When you have an acute incident that becomes a chronic disability, your loved ones, your caregivers, and you go into a survival mode. It is a survival mode that becomes endless. Doctors’ appointments, tests, surgeries, meds, treatments, physical therapy, occupational therapy, psychological assessments, the list goes on. Endless activities designed to teach you to live in your “new” body. You become numb, smile politely, try to keep your spirit up, and fight the urge to punch the next person who says, “You’re so brave!”


Some days you pray to make it through the week. Others you pray just to make it through the next hour. All the time feeling like you are trapped in a horrid nightmare. You feel yourself dying slowly, and watch your loved ones do the same.


Adaptive sports hit the brakes on that cycle.


For that hour or that day, you and your loved ones are free. You remember what life is. And guess what? It doesn’t just have to be that one moment that never happens again. It motivated me to go to neuro rehab, to fight to get my mobility and my independence back. I can do this thing called life. I may need help, but I will make it!



When your world has collapsed around you, and you are that caterpillar struggling to break out, adaptive sports can be the magic potion that allows to you burst through that chrysalis and restart your life as an amazing butterfly.


— Fiona

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