Disabled people in the in the Hawke’s Bay are realising their potential and improving their quality of life with adaptive fitness classes, thanks to former personal trainer Leana Becker, who founded Adaptive Whakauru Tahi (AWT) a year ago.
Leana discovered a need for adaptable fitness for those with visible and invisible disabilities through her time as a functional-based gym owner.
It all started when a client, Regan, asked if his daughter Ayda, who has Downs Syndrome, could join a children’s CrossFit class. Without much experience supporting disabled participants, Leana called on Regan’s knowledge to help and gained insights from other families with disabled children as well.
“After speaking to their families, I realised they just wanted the same opportunity for their children that we get for a child without a disability, but access to those opportunities were limited,” explains Leana.
Leana approached Sport Hawke’s Bay for support and applied successfully for Tū Manawa funding through the regional sports trust and AWT was born.
Sport Hawke’s Bay disability and inclusion adviser Blanche Paewai-Ashcroft says AWT classes are open to the public, so participants of all abilities can connect and improve their health and wellbeing together.
“These classes provide social interaction, achievement and mental growth which all help to enrich daily lives and routines.”
A year on, five trainers work alongside Leana at AWT, including Regan. They work with schools, community groups and disability groups throughout the Hawke’s Bay, offering free classes to the community.
“We started off with six clients, one class and one trainer. Now, we have disability-specific, community, children’s and one-to-one sessions, and even home visits on Tuesdays to Fridays with 100-plus people,” says Leana.
Blind Low Vision and the region’s Disability Resource Centre both include these sessions into their weekly routines with participants regularly attending. Trainers also go into Hohepa (a disability service provider) and work with Havelock North Intermediate’s special needs unit.
Leana has also established a board comprising people with lived experience (one trustee is quad paraplegic and motivational speaker Korrin Barrett) to guide and support her. She works alongside participants as well, to ensure her classes are meeting their needs.
“We like to empower each individual not to be defined or limited by their disability and to get them to achieve small goals that give them a feeling of accomplishment with a desire to grow that further,” says Leana.
For example, one young man discovered new ways to be active because of his sessions at AWT.
“He refused to participate in PE at school. He didn't run because he thought he couldn't. And so we really broke down those walls, changing from accepting a ‘this is just how it is’ attitude to a ‘I can and I will’ kind of attitude. Now he is thriving.”
A group of disabled young people AWT supports have new-found confidence too after competing in the Harcourts Women’s Triathlon recently.
Leana had worked with organisers to ensure the event was accessible for disabled participants, ensuring they had their own transition area, guides and tandem bikes and trikes if needed.
“There were a lot of tears at the end – happy tears of accomplishment and disbelief. That day, the community saw people with disabilities out there winning at life.”
Next steps for Leana are to find a permanent home for her business rather than working out of two gyms and a community hall as she is currently. She also wants to expand Adaptive Whakauru Tahi into Napier and bring sponsors on board.
“At the end of the day, AWT is about the people. We want to improve their quality of life, bring the disabled and non-disabled communities together and show that people with disabilities also have goals, dreams and desires.”