Teacher with multiple sclerosis hopes to inspire others to exercise
Richelle Whiteside remembers the day she climbed 300 stories on a StairMaster at Gold’s Gym in Grand Junction.
The achievement was particularly sweet because just a few months earlier she had troubling climbing five steps at her house.
Whiteside, 49, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 15 years ago. The chronic disease attacks the central nervous system and can affect people in a variety of ways, from numbness in their arms and legs to blindness and paralysis.
Whiteside’s symptoms included trouble with balance, exhaustion and pain in her limbs. She dreaded the walk to her car every afternoon after teaching second grade at Thunder Mountain Elementary School.
She worked with six different physical therapists but didn’t see the results she wanted. She wanted to regain her strength, so she decided to join a gym.
She enrolled at Gold’s Gym in November. She started slow with 10-minute workouts on a stationary bike. She had belonged to gyms before but stuck mostly to biking and weight training.
Her first few months at Gold’s she watched others use a variety of “goofy machines” until she felt confident enough to try them out herself, often when few people were around.
In January, Whiteside decided to take on the gym’s 12-week challenge. The challenge is about body transformation and allows Gold’s Gym members to check their weight, body fat percentage and measurements before and after three months of working out.
Whiteside wanted to lose a few pounds, but mostly she wanted to get fit, she said. Her work at the gym already was helping her feel and move better, and she wanted to challenge her body even more.
Seventy-one days into the challenge, she said she is feeling better, thanks to her goal of working out every single day, a goal she has met through sheer determination. She started working with a trainer at Gold’s Gym, Shawn Grant, in early February and can now work out for one to two hours a day with 30-minute intervals on the treadmill, the StairMaster, an elliptical machine or a bike. Grant also helps her mix in interval training.
Grant said he has trained other people with MS, and each person is different. He tries to make sure his clients with MS don’t get their core temperature too high, because it can contribute to numbness in the limbs.
Grant said Whiteside has improved her core strength and balance with her workouts.
“Her body has balanced really well to it,” he said.
Whiteside said she wants her progress to inspire other people with MS or other conditions that may cause them to fear working out or wonder if they can do it at all.
She teared up when she recalled a time a month ago when she was walking her Great Dane. The dog wanted to go faster, so she started running. It was the first time she was able to run since her MS diagnosis.
“You can start somewhere, even if it’s very small,” Whiteside said.
Grant said anyone who feels discouraged about working out can come to the gym for a free meeting with a trainer who can help them devise an exercise plan.
Certain people may feel different, but Grant said they have more in common with others at the gym than they may realize.
“Everyone comes to the gym for the same reason: to improve health and improve themselves through exercise,” he said.
Whiteside may not come to the gym every single day after the challenge ends April 16.
But she said coming to the gym has become a lifestyle for her.
She hopes to run and walk a 3K someday, a goal she never could have imagined back when those five steps were so challenging.