Sarah's Pilates Journey
A pre-Christmas Gift
A special gift was presented to me just before Xmas 2018. It was October 24th when I received a call from a young woman named Sarah inquiring about private Pilates sessions. After the usual screening questions over the phone, she informed me that she was a multiple amputee.
I had worked with many clients over the years that have had physical conditions that required special attention but I had never worked with anyone quite like Sarah before.
This wasn’t a case of a leg or arm amputee, this was much more. Sarah contracted meningococcal when she was 19yrs old.
How am I going to do this? What can I do for her? I’m not a therapist of any kind, but I am a Pilates teacher with over 40 years of experience in movement, fitness and Pilates under my belt and after all, Pilates is for everyone right?
Questions raced through my mind at staggering speed as she continued to share the details of her condition over the phone:
“My left arm is amputated below the elbow but I have normal use of the elbow joint. I have use of my right thumb, no fingers past the MCP joints, but have normal use of wrist joint. I have lost my left leg below the knee, and right leg through the knee with complete loss of patella, impairment of quadriceps strength due to the loss of patella tendon”.
There was much more information forthcoming but what really astounded me was her final comment. “I may be a multiple amputee but it’s not as bad as it sounds”.
That was the clincher! I realised this young woman was sent to me for a reason.
Getting to know each other
The first few sessions were about Sarah and I getting to know each other. She needed to trust me and I needed to use my imagination to adapt springs and straps to match her capabilities and then carefully challenge her. While there were many weaknesses and imbalances in her body Sarah was extremely coordinated which of course was a blessing.
She told me during those first sessions that in her 20’s, after recovery, she had trained with the Paralympics Swimming team. Sarah’s training consisted of mostly upper body work with a focus on shoulder strength. There was little to no focus on the powerhouse and she said there were constant issues with neck and shoulder pain.
The training was taxing on the body and while Sarah loved to swim, it was time for her to move on and enter the workforce. Sarah began working full time with little time for anything apart from occasional gym training unsupervised until she was referred to The Authentic Pilates Studio by her Doctor.
There was a lot of work to do to get Sarah’s body connected. And work she did.
Over a period of the first 10 weeks, two sessions per week, the focus was on her posture, increasing abdominal and glute strength, pelvic stability and balance. We worked together trying out different strap configurations, spring tensions and rigging. I knew I had a winner here, but I had no idea just how far Sarah would come in a mere 20 sessions.
Fun, Laughter… and Results
The sessions are of course hard work but there is also lots of fun shared during our sessions. Sarah remembers one specific moment that caused great laughter!
Sarah recalls, “One session we were finishing up on the Baby Chair doing some arm work when we heard a little humming sound. “Oh no!” I muttered quietly. Seeing the expression on my face, Olga asked me what was wrong. “My battery has died” I said “can you try to help my pry my fingers open so I can release the handle” As we both worked on trying to release the fingers of my prosthetic hand, we burst into fits of laughter. It wasn’t going to happen. Olga unclipped the handle and off I went.
When I arrived home my husband looked at me strangely and said “Ah…. I suppose you know you have a handle in your hand?” “Yep….. just came home to recharge my battery and take the handle back to the studio”.
During the early days of our training, Sarah revealed she had been snowboarding the year before and was keen to improve her strength to master the required manoeuvres in readiness for her trip to Canada in a few months’ time.
The video of her previous snowboarding adventure showed signs of lack of pelvis stability, glute and powerhouse strength so the manoeuvres were primarily driven by the shoulders.
How thrilled do you think I was when she returned from her snowboarding adventure to see a clip of the manoeuvres now driven by her glutes, abdominals, obliques and of course the strength and stability of the pelvis was evident. It made her moves so smooth and effortless.
In the early stages of Sarah’s Pilates journey, she walked head down, transferring weight from side to side. Sarah now walks with her head high and focus forward not down. Due to her new-found balance and control, small heels are now the norm fitted onto her prosthetics for those special occasions.
I’m extremely impressed to say the least with Sarah’s commitment to creating a well-balanced body with a great deal of focus on strength, balance and control. To see how far she has come is remarkable.
Sarah says “There has been an obvious shift in my muscular control. So much so that I am in control of my prosthetics as opposed to the prosthetics just being an extension of my limbs. It’s been fun experimenting and finding endless options that are delivering amazing results and I’m looking forward to more ”.
Thank you, Sarah, for trusting me and working your butt off!!
Your attitude, commitment and goal setting skills are awe inspiring!
I am your teacher and you are mine!
Founder and Principal Trainer, Authentic Pilates Education International.