‘Facilitating people’s ability to live a life’

Stephanie Bermudez

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During land-based therapeutic exercise, trainers, like Adrianna Hermosillo, 21, provide individualized exercise programs for community members. Photo Credit: Angelica Bonomo / Senior Photographer

It was Donal McGraw’s desire to help people live a happy life that triggered him to choose a career in adapted physical activity, but it’s the friends and memories he’s made at CSUN’s Center of Achievement (COA) in the past three years that has made him forever believe that life is accessible.

“By working in the COA I have achieved knowledge, experience, confidence and friendship,” said McGraw, 29, kinesiology grad student. “As hard as it is at times to balance all of the work that the staff can be bombarded with, it is overcome everyday by getting to work with the clientele we have.”

CSUN’s COA has provided internationally recognized adapted fitness programs for people with special needs for almost 40 years while training many students to become health and fitness professionals.

“The center offers one of the most comprehensive clinical exercise programs by providing both aquatic and land-based therapeutic exercise interventions,” said Taeyou Jung, land-based director of the COA. “The center is dedicated to promoting quality of life and functional independence of people with disabilities or chronic medical conditions by improving their health and wellness.”

Jung said maximizing strength, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, balance and functional motor skills through adapted physical activity helps achieve this.

The COA houses two main state-of-the-art program areas, said Jung. The Abbott & Linda Brown Aquatic Therapy Center, including four distinctively designed therapy pools with many aquatic exercise equipment, and the Land-based Therapeutic Exercise Center, which has more than 80 unique adapted exercise machines and a large expansion room for group activity.

The COA is housed in the College of Health and Human Development in the Kinesiology Department.

“Dr. (Sam) Britten is the founding director of the COA,” said Carol Bennett, coordinator of the COA. “The land based program has been in existence for over 40 years and the Abbott and Linda Brown Western Center for Adapted Aquatic Therapy opened in the spring of 2003.”

Mai Jara, lecturer and director of the aquatics program, said the center works closely with CSUN students who have a physical disability so they can have an active daily lifestyle.

“We also work with community members, people who have arthritis, strokes, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, you name it,” Jara said.

“I really feel like we’re taking our daily life for granted,” Jara said. “These people teach us the value of each day. People don’t realize it takes hours and hours for them to get here just for a 50-minute exercise session and I think it is important to know what we have is a blessing.”

Students with disabilities can enroll in Kin 115 for the land program  where clients participate in adapted yoga and adapted tai chi, and Kin 117 for the aquatic program, where the clients do water exercises. Students that enroll in Kin 311 for land based and Kin 313 for the aquatic program learn how to modify exercises for students with disabilities.

Students taking Kin 311 get paired up with a client and work with that client throughout the semester, Jara said. This gives the clients the opportunity to help students understand what they go through and what kind of help they need, she added.

“It’s a give-and-take relationship between students and clients,” Jara said.

McGraw is also a teaching assistant for the COA.

“I have received unbelievable hands-on experience working with multiple types of physical disabilities that could never be attained by taking a class or reading in a book,” McGraw said. “I truly feel that I have received 10 years of experience in three quick years.”

McGraw said he chose a career in Adapted Physical Activity because he wanted to work with people with a desire to return or maintain their functional abilities.

“I want to be a person that can help facilitate people’s ability to live a life that makes them happy,” McGraw said.

Ryoate Nishiyori, 25, is also a graduate kinesiology student involved in the land-based and aquatic program.

“I participate because it feels good to help people,” Nishiyori said.

Nishiyori said people with disabilities do not get the same advantages other people do.

“They go somewhere and it’s extremely inaccessible so we want to make things as close to normal as possible,” he said.

Jara said safety is the main priority when classes take place at the center. Student interns who take internships from the kinesiology department and students who have already taken 311 and/or 313 are hired as student staff or as assistants, she said.

“The COA is leaving me with a burning desire to make sure anyone can access exercise, no matter what the ‘special need’ may be,” McGraw said. “I have become a lifelong and vocal proponent of Adapted Physical Activity and the idea that life is accessible. This truly is a magical place.”