During the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio we were impressed with the ability of the athletes to overcome disabilities and perform amazing feats. It inspires us.
But we don’t need elite, Olympic-level achievements for inspiration, when we have down-to-earth examples in our own community.
Meet Kenyon Shaw. He’s a 32-year-old guy who needs to keep in shape and keep his weight down. I’m his personal fitness trainer. We work out at the Iron Warehouse in Parksville, BC.
I’ve learned that Kenyon is both typical and unique, as well as inspiring.
“Kenyon, why do you exercise?”
“Ah, I do the training. I’m gonna be a pro wrestler and they’ll put me in the newspaper.”
“You want to be a professional wrestler and be in the newspaper?”
Kenyon was born with Down Syndrome.
Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by an extra chromosome. The extra chromosome occurs due to pure chance and has nothing to do with the genetics of the parents. The result is mild to moderate intellectual disability, characteristic facial features, and delays in physical growth. About one in 1,000 babies will have Down Syndrome.
Kenyon’s childhood and adolescence were challenging. As an adult, he still needs assistance from family and home-care workers. But he has dreams like we all do.
Like he said, he wants to be a professional wrestler.
“Okay Kenyon, what’s your favourite wrestling move?”
“Oh, hmm… Sledgehammer.”
“And what happens with that? Can you describe it?”
“Ah, okay. Well, you have to, ah, use a steel chair. Upside down.”
“Do you hit somebody with the steel chair?”
“What do you do with it?”
“Sit down on it.”
“You sit down on the chair?”
“On top of somebody?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“Does it hurt the other person?”
Kenyon enjoys friendly competition, but never wants to hurt anyone, not even imaginary wrestling rivals.
When we work out at the gym, he always shows up on time. He does the work and enjoys it. He tries to lift a little heavier each time and he knows it’s good for him. He has me as a trainer so he does things correctly. And like many people, Kenyon will occasionally embellish his achievements in the gym.
“Kenyon, what is your favourite exercise?”
“Okay, I can do…600 pound, ah, squats.”
“You can do 600 pound squats?”
“Have you done that recently?”
“Yes, I did, yes.”
“When was that?”
“Um, with my old trainer.”
“Your old trainer? You did 600 pound squats?”
“Yes, I did.”
“With your old trainer. Hm.”
“Were they the same kind of squats that we do?”
“Well, you haven’t been doing 600 pounds with me!”
“Uh, one day.”
A 600 pound squat is powerlifting elite, so Kenyon was either exaggerating or has been holding out on me. But he has been squatting 185 pounds and that’s still more than most people.
“Okay, do you have any other favourite exercises?”
“Um, my favourite one is, uh, 700, uh, leg press.”
“700 pound leg press?”
“Okay, what else?”
“Umm, same thing, um,…try 800 and sit ups.”
“800 sit ups?”
Well, he can actually leg press about 315 pounds. And he hates sit-ups after ten repetitions — who doesn’t? But he dead-lifts 225 pounds and one-arm shoulder presses 90 pounds. He’s strong. And he’s strong because he works at it. Other gym members look at him with respect and admire his hard work.
While we’re working out, Kenyon and I also chat about other things. He makes me grin with his simple, honest responses.
“So Kenyon, where do you work?”
“And you like it?”
“What’s the best thing about it?”
“Pick up dishes.”
“So what do you do there?”
Kenyon is a busy guy. He has worked at A&W for 5 years. He works out at the gym twice a week (once with me, once on his own). He’s involved with baseball, swimming and curling teams. But that’s not all.
“Kenyon, I think you told me you picked up garbage outside? Is that right?”
“Ah, yes I did.”
“Long time ago I did.”
“Long time ago?”
“Was it your garbage?”
“Ah, no, it was litter.”
“Litter? Somebody else’s garbage?”
“Oh. It’s good to pick that up!”
“I had to pick up every week.”
“Was that a job?”
“Nice. That’s a good job.”
“Oh yeah. And I do soup kitchen volunteer.”
“You work in the soup kitchen?”
“Do you work anywhere else?”
“That’s a good job, too.”
“Yeah, and I do food bank help on Wednesday.”
“Food bank, soup kitchen, the SOS, and you pick up garbage.”
“That’s pretty amazing.”
Kenyon is always friendly and polite with a playful, smart-aleck sense of humour. Working with him, I’ve learned he has an honest, tender heart and truly cares about others. We’ve had heart-wrenching chats about losing loved ones.
He may have a disability, but he takes good care of himself. He eats like an adult, avoiding candy and junk food, and knows to stay away from drugs and alcohol. And he keeps himself strong. Strength training builds the best overall health and fitness.
But he’s also strong to be useful, so he can work and give back to the community that takes care of him. At the food bank, the soup kitchen and the SOS, Kenyon helps others less fortunate than himself.
So while the Paralympics showed us how much can be achieved by the international elite, we shouldn’t overlook the day-to-day inspiration that may be found in the strong people in our own community.
Keep it up, Kenyon!
Author David Salmon is a personal fitness trainer in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area.