From the moment you meet him, Paul O'Lone impresses you with his sense of purpose. When he was 13 years old, the bodybuilder and former Mr. North America was given a box of bodybuilding magazines. From that moment he says he knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
He participated in his first bodybuilding show at 15 and was winning titles by the time he was 18.
In 1997 the 29 year old O'Lone's life took another, equally sharp turn. Just as he was training for bigger competitions and ready to qualify as a professional bodybuilder, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
Pioneering Adaptive Fitness
After his diagnosis, O'Lone soon found himself in a wheelchair and declining rapidly. "I was sedentary, and that was one of the main reasons I ended up in a wheelchair," he says. He decided to do something about it and get back into the gym.
When he ventured out to the gyms again, he found out that they were not accessible to a person in a wheelchair. O'Lone's "eureka" moment came one day as he tried to reach dumbbells on a rack. "I realized how inaccessible they were for a person in a wheelchair."
For O'Lone, the obvious solution was to create a wheelchair accessible gym. In doing so, he became a pioneer in the field of adaptive fitness, opening the Bay Area's first wheelchair accessible gym.
He began by sharing space in a Santa Clara Chiropractic facility, funding the operation by borrowing money against his home. Active networking with organizations like the Silicon Valley MS Society, Cerebral Palsy, and Santa Clara Valley Medical Hospital.
By 2004, Accessible Fitness had outgrown its space and moved to a new location on Scott Boulevard. On Saturday, August 14, O'Lone will welcome visitors to the grand opening of Accessible Fitness' new Santa Clara location.
The event will feature information about adaptive fitness, tours of the new facility, talks by longtime clients, and an award presentation by state assemblywoman Rebecca Cohn.
Results Speak for Themselves
O'Lone developed a self-taught rehabilitation program that helped him regain the full use of his legs and overall body strength. Months of work - work that included walking a treadmill every night until he dropped into bed exhausted - helped him literally get back on his feet. "People said, 'You're overdoing it.' But every day I got up and I felt my legs come back, stronger and stronger."
Today he walks without a cane and spends his days helping people with a variety of disabilities to gain and maintain physical fitness. And his vocation now is sharing what he has learned.
He works with clients both at the gym and at home. He gives workshops on adaptive fitness for several support groups. He keeps fees as low as possible to make the gym available to clients on limited incomes. And most of all he emphasizes that believing in the possibilities is key.
For O'Lone, the support and encouragement of his wife and business partner Judy O'Lone - herself a personal trainer - played a central role. "She was by my side every step of the way," he says. "She wasn't feeling sorry for me, she told me to get up and do something about it." She told me you have a friend, and helped me to believe in myself again.
Recognition of these unique achievements has not been slow in coming. Two years ago the Multiple Sclerosis Society awarded him the 2002 MS Achievement Award. At the August 14 event, Assemblywoman Cohn will recognize O'Lone's achievements helping physically challenged people.
"Paul is an inspiration to me," says Cohn. "He has used his personal experience and struggles to help others overcome physical limitations while emphasizing the importance of exercise as a part of disability management."
Justifiably proud of his own achievements, O'Lone is nevertheless quick to spotlight his clients' achievements. "I am inspired by them," he says.
Curtis Carrell, 43, has a spinal cord injury. He is a mentor to many spinal cord injury clients at Accessible Fitness. This September, the electrical engineer will compete in the Wheelchair division of the South Bay Bodybuilding Competition. Another client Jackie Cimino received the Outstanding Female Athlete of the Year award from the International Tennis Federation. Cimino plays competitive tennis in a wheelchair.
Jim Dahl, who has had MS for 22 years and a cancer survivor, took second place in the over-50 division of the Mr. Santa Cruz bodybuilding competition.
Finally, Lou Ciabattoni and Marty Corcoran, two clients with MS, were able to complete the MS walk after training with Accessible Fitness. Lou now volunteers his time as Marketing Director for Accessible Fitness.
Head trainer Angelo Cortopassi, who has had MS for 34 years is an inspiration to Paul and all of his clients. "He never gives up and that's how I want to be", says Paul.
Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow
Notwithstanding all these accomplishments, O'Lone isn't standing still. He continues to educate himself about adaptive fitness. Currently he works with Karl Knopf, an Ed. D. who teaches classes on adaptive fitness at Foothill College. Three of the personal trainers who work with O'Lone are also taking Dr. Knopf's class to become more familiar with the unique needs of their clients.
And O'Lone has his eye on a second location in the North Bay. His hope is that someday there will be an Accessible Fitness facility in every major U.S. city.
While the future can't be predicted, one thing is certain: Paul O'Lone's imagination and optimism will continue to give people with disabilities the guidance and encouragement to live more active, more able lives. Or as he often says, "My job is to help people to enhance their abilities through fitness."
It's a familiar saying - if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And few people have made better lemonade from life's lemons than Paul O'Lone.
Reference: Accessible Fitness is located at 2936 Scott Boulevard in Santa Clara. For more information, call 408-986-1419 or visit www.accessiblefitness.com
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