Some folks will probably make a New Year’s resolution about fitness, and many will end up breaking it. That’s why Calvin Cooley doesn’t believe in them. The YMCA certified personal trainer who is also a paraplegic, feels that, “New Year’s resolutions are very ineffective, because people will make a resolution to get into shape, but if it doesn’t happen three months ago, they give up.” Due to his own disability, Cooley, 44, knows firsthand how challenging maintaining a fitness program can be. He has been lifting weights for more than twenty years believing that fitness is a lifelong commitment.
Calvin first moved to rural Shelby County from Columbus when he was only eight. His inspirational story begins on August 10, 1988, when the then 19-year-old was riding his motorcycle. “I went into a corner too fast and got into the gravel and overcorrected.”
Cooley ended up in a field, but first he, “Clipped a fence post, and hit my back….that’s what caused my spinal cord injury,” he said. He was careflighted to Miami Valley Hospital and spent the next three months recuperating there. He soon realized that he would never walk again.
Today, the dark-haired Cooley is one of those consistent people you can count on to see the bright side in every situation. He works with individuals of all ages and fitness levels in his job as a personal trainer at the Sidney Shelby County YMCA.
“But, back then I was up and down emotionally. I had a very brief [suicidal] thought,” he recalled, “It was so brief it almost didn’t count, I just felt if I would do something so selfish as suicide…I would have cheated my family and friends out of an opportunity to spend time together.”
While he was at Miami Valley Hospital he received a visit from another paraplegic named Timothy Witten. Cooley had never met the West Milton man before. Witten had been injured in an automobile accident the year prior, and his visit was a great encouragement.
Calvin had been diagnosed with a T4 spinal cord injury being paralyzed from the nipple line down, and needed to learn how to live as a paraplegic. “It requires a tremendous amount of discipline to take care of yourself,” he said. There was also the emotional component to deal with.
“In May of 1989 I woke up one day very depressed, it was a beautiful day out…” Cooley asked himself, “Why should I continue to feel this way? I changed everything. I made a choice not to be depressed.”
Part of his path of overcoming occurred in 1991 when he began lifting weights with his friend, the late Karl Jonas. Normally, the two enjoyed playing Frisbee in Sidney’s Tawawa Park together, but that day Jonas invited Calvin to his gym.
Then another buddy, Dwight Meyer gave him his first membership to the now defunct Pump-You-Up Gym. Lee Sprague served as his original trainer and mentor. “My goal was to be able to get from the floor into the wheelchair in case I should fall,” explained Cooley. It remains an important goal, and “the most difficult thing for me to do.”
Calvin not only lifted weights but he also gained experience as an employee at a couple local gyms including Sidney’s Power Station Fitness. Then in 2002, He started going to the Sidney Shelby County YMCA. The YMCA blessed him with a membership, and Calvin felt one way of paying them back was to assist members using his weight lifting expertise. He was also volunteering in the fitness center training youth.
Before long, he was hired by the Y, but obtaining his personal trainer certification wasn’t as easy. The tenacious Cooley even visited the YMCA USA national headquarters in Chicago to convince the organization of his ability, since they had never certified a paraplegic to be a trainer before.
On October 4, 2004, history was made when Calvin Franklin Cooley became the first personal trainer to receive the YMCA USA certification. Besides, helping YMCA members with their fitness programs, once a month you will find Calvin attending a support group of Spinal Cord Injury survivors at Dodd Hall/ OSU Medical Center in Columbus.
Just like his friend, Tim Witten who once came to offer support and answer his questions about life as a paraplegic, Cooley attends meetings primarily to assist others. He tries to, “Pay it forward.”
One would have to look pretty far to find anybody more inspirational than this bigger than life fitness trainer who has definitely triumphed over tragedy along his own road less traveled. Until next time, for all of you who made fitness resolutions, keep pumping that iron.
Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. The article first appeared in the Sidney Daily News.