“At the Fitness Center, people come with very different abilities, and the staff is welcoming to everybody,” says Berkeley resident Julie Twichell. Photos: Rachel Trachten

By Rachel Trachten

This week, the BORP Fitness Center at the Ed Roberts Campus celebrated its one-year birthday. The center, which offers yoga and movement classes for people of all abilities, is just one example of the wealth of activities at the one-year-old campus which is a national model for disability rights and universal access.

“We integrate people with and without disabilities in our classes,” says Program Director and Fitness Coordinator Reba Knickerbocker. “Our instructors are happy to modify for any ability level. Just tell the instructor what you’re there to do.” In a typical week, choices might incluce Kripalu Yoga, Gentle Yoga, Core Conditioning, Feldenkrais, Tai Chi/Qi Gong, Zumba, and more.

On a recent Monday morning, ten women gathered at the Center for an hour of stretching, strengthening, and even a bit of salsa dancing. This is the Arthritis Foundation Exercise Class, where participants start with gentle movements and light weights, then move into more active stepping to improve balance, hand-eye coordination, and cardiac fitness. Tunes like ’S Wonderful sung by Diana Krall keep things lively. Instructor Lela Davia reminds everyone to work at their own level and to use a chair or hold the barre as needed.

People with and without disabilities are integrated into classes

Berkeley resident Robin Wright is a fan of the high-energy workout and Latin rhythms at the Zumba class. By going twice weekly, she says, “I’ve actually lost weight by having fun!”

Beth Weinberger from Oakland has been taking this class since it began a year ago. “It’s a good way to keep all of my joints mobile,” she says, adding that she feels supported to work more or less strenuously, depending on how she feels that day.

“My emphasis,” says Davia, who has arthritis herself, “is on feeling free in your body and not focusing on the pain.”

Class fees are just $8 per class for seniors and $11 for others. First-timers can sample any class for free, and, in celebration of the center’s first birthday, anyone who brings a new participant pays half price during the month of November. In addition, the arthritis class is free of charge thanks to sponsorship by the Arthritis Foundation, and community yoga is offered twice weekly on a donation basis. The center has some yoga mats, but participants are encouraged to bring their own if they can.

Julie Twichell, who lives in the neighborhood of the ERC, which is opposite Ashby BART, has had both a knee and hip replacement in the past year. She started taking the Upper Body Strengthening class after her surgeries and has continued as she’s recovered her mobility. Twichell appreciates the way that instructor Katie Mayers checks in with every new student to see what that person needs.

“In a class in a gym people are often expected to do the same thing, and if you can’t do it there’s something wrong with you,” says Twichell. “At the Fitness Center, people come with very different abilities, and the staff is welcoming to every body.”

Pioneering disability center opens its Berkeley campus [11.19.10]
Ed Roberts Day decreed for California [07.21.10]

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