St. Catharines Standard

St. Catharines Standard | Wheels in motion for accessible gym

You would never guess Christine Rougoor is a wheelchair rookie from the way she breezes through a pylon obstacle course.

Until recently, the 23-year-old Brock University student did most of her wheeling around on a dirt bike, even competing in motocross competitions.

It was at one of those races in Florida, during a December 2008 exam break, that Rougoor’s life switched gears.

“I went headfirst over the handlebars,” said Rougoor, taking a break from the Rick Hansen Wheels in Motion event Sunday in support of people living with spinal cord injuries. “I’d fallen 100 times harder before, but it was just the way I landed.”

Rougoor’s helmet came off in the fall, requiring her to undergo a full facial reconstruction. She also severed her spinal cord, which has forced her to adjust to life with a new set of wheels.

The injury hasn’t slowed her down, however.

A grinning, whooping Rougoor put on a clinic at Brock University Sunday where more than 100 people gathered to test-drive wheelchairs and sledges to get a sense of what it’s like to navigate life with a spinal cord injury.

“I was a healthy, active, energetic person before (the accident) and I just wanted to keep that up,” said the Niagara-on-the- Lake native, who amazed doctors with the speed of her recovery.

Rougoor spent three weeks in a coma after her motocross accident and was told she would need years of physiotherapy before returning to school. Instead, she’s starting the final year of her concurrent education degree this fall.

“People say I make it look easy,” she said with a laugh, watching wheelchair newbies career through pylons and bump into tables. “But honestly, every day is a challenge.”

That’s why Rougoor is particularly excited about the local edition of the Wheels in Motion event, which was also held across the country Sunday.

About 80% of funds raised will go to a new wheelchair-accessible gym at Brock University, said professor Dave Ditor, a kinesiologist who specialized in spinal cord research.

The money is targeted for gym equipment that can be used by someone in a wheelchair, like a treadmill with a harness that supports the user’s body weight, he said.

“It will be a facility for people with spinal cord injuries, but also for anyone who feels they can’t effectively exercise in a regular gym,” Ditor said. “We’ll use it for research, but it’s also there for community use.”

With two years of event funds and potential grant money, Ditor is hoping to have a working gym in a year and a half.

Rougoor can’t wait.

“Right now, I’m shy to go into a regular gym,” she said. “The equipment isn’t set up for me; I take up more room…. If I want to go to a fully accessible gym now, I have to go to McMaster in Hamilton.

“It will be nice to have something closer to home. Right now, going to work out for an hour means committing an entire day.”

View the complete St. Catharines Standard article here.