30 Jan Pulling For Success: Class Helps Build Strength, ConfidenceJanuary 30, 2017
By: Christopher Heimerman
Amanda Jensen is getting to know a part of herself all over again.
The 21-year-old, born with spina bifida, is one of six Dixon High School students who get memberships at the Dixon Family YMCA through the Lee County Special Education Association. It’s part of a second-year class that focuses on helping disabled 18- to 22-year-olds transition from studenthood to adulthood.
As Jensen pumped with her arms on the StepOne handicapped-accessible machine Monday afternoon, her legs fired like pistons, further unlocking long-forgotten muscles.
Tears welled up in her eyes – bittersweet tears.
“It’s a mix of both – happy and sad,” she said. “I hadn’t had this feeling for so long. The last time I noticed the strength in my legs – I mean really noticed the strength – was a good 5 or 6 years ago.”
Over the years, spina bifida, a birth defect in which the membranes and backbone around the spinal cord don’t close completely, has stolen the strength and sensitivity in Jensen’s feet and lower legs. As an infant, she had to have surgery that basically severed her spinal cord. She had a walker at age 5, then went to crutches before needing to transition to a wheelchair.
“The paralysis got worse and worse through the years,” she said.
Her 30 surgeries – six of them specifically on her spinal cord – have done little to help.
“Nothing has really done any good,” she said. “I’ve made it through a lot, and my teachers know. I’ve talked a lot about it.”
Kevin Hendley, in his first year teaching the class, and the class’ second-year aide, Nancy Kane, immediately noticed a change in Jensen when she started using the StepOne, which arrived in mid-November. The Sterling-Rock Falls Y also recently got one of the machines, manufactured by SCIFIT.
Kane, who’s worked with the Lee County Special Education Association for 19 years, makes the rounds each Monday to make sure none of the students are experiencing issues.
“She told me, ‘I can feel it,’” Kane said, remembering the first time Jensen used the StepOne. “She was so excited about it.”
“Once she strapped in, she just lit up,” Hendley said.
Jensen and her classmates also use three handicapped-accessible circuit-training strength machines – for chest press, shoulder press and lat pulldown. The rest of the circuit’s machines are accessible for some, too, with wide enough gaps between them so a person can slide from a wheelchair onto each machine’s seat.
Hendley, 41, worked in Paw Paw for 5 years through the association before hearing about the transition class opportunity, which he jumped on. He’s figuring out some things as he goes, and leans heavily on Kane’s experience.
“She’s had the benefit of seeing things that worked, and things that did not work, and thinking of how to tweak them,” Hendley said.
The class is in a mock apartment, where students learn to set up a budget, grocery shop, cook, find jobs, fill out applications, all that sort of stuff.