It was May 19, 2006 and Daniel Minx was on a routine mountain bike ride with a friend in Aliso and Wood Canyons Regional Park.
And then in the blink of an eye, it wasn’t just a routine ride.
Laying on the ground, he could feel nothing from the neck down.
“Almost like my head was removed from my body,” he remembers.
In the hospital they told him his C-4 was injured; he was going to be in a chair. His abs were so weak they couldn’t even work up a decent cough.
Minx was sent to a rehab center in Santa Clara, a sort of boot camp for the newly paralyzed.
At 27, he had a resume that included sushi chef, degree in nutrition from Cal Poly San Louis Obispo. Surfer. Snowboarder. Skateboarder. Now he had to reinvent himself in a power wheelchair.
It was then that depression set in. A depression that continued after his insurance benefits were reduced, which meant less physical therapy sessions.
Then one day he went to an Abilities Expo in Anaheim and saw a Goodwill of Orange County table touting a new Fitness Center they were opening in Santa Ana for people in wheelchairs and on walkers; anyone with a physical disability or chronic illness.
“Sign me up,” Minx told Elizabeth Toumajian, who introduced herself as the manager of the place.
Several months after the doors opened in the fall of 2008, Toumajian was there to greet Minx. She’s still there. And so is he.
Minx says it has become far more than a fitness center for him.
Eighty percent of the members there don’t work because of their disabilities. For some of them, the center is their only outing.
“Getting people out of the house and building a support system in my opinion keeps people away from falling into a deep depression, what we battle with a lot,” Minx says.
Toumajian says the camaraderie that has developed among the members (currently 330) was a surprise to everyone.
“I would say it’s parallel, if not more important, than the fitness component,” she says. “And the uniting factor is the disability; you see different ages, different ethnicities, bonding over that common factor. It’s like a family.”
Membership is $30 a month. Goodwill subsidizes each member with $100 a month to make up for what it actually costs to keep the center running. Some members are on scholarship based on their income.
It’s a spacious place with lots of windows, rock and reggae pumping out of the speakers, and dozens of weight and cardio machines that are modified for people in wheelchairs. The seats, for instance, swing out. The weight stacks go lower than ones you would find at a commercial gym. One machine, donated by the Christopher Reeve Foundation, actually stands Minx up, letting him put weight on his bones, decreasing the onset of osteoporosis.
When the place first opened, Toumajian said, people showed up disbelieving.
“They said, ‘Are you sure this is for us?’ They’re used to sloppy seconds unfortunately. It was blowing my mind.”
Minx works out at the center four times a week, paying $55 an hour twice a week for a personal trainer.
“What’s really easy to do is just stay at home, in your comfortable setting, but the truth is, if you’re not exercising, you can’t count on that much recovery,” Minx says. “Staying active is even more important in a wheelchair.”
Sit in a chair all day without exercising and you risk gaining weight. Gain weight and you risk pressure sores, plus all sorts of other health woes.
Minx, now 36, says his workouts have helped him build his endurance up to keep him going at work (he puts in four hours a day as a mentor for spinal cord injury patients at a rehab hospital in Downey). They have also built up his strength.
“I can pick stuff off the floor now,” he says. “That’s a huge thing, especially when you’re by yourself.”
Minx has the use of his right arm. He also has partial use of his left bicep and sensation in his legs, although not enough to use them to walk.
Minx never tried a regular gym after his accident, finding the idea intimidating.“Seeing all these able-bodied people, you start to think, ‘Oh, where I used to be.’ The thought should be geared toward ‘What can I do?’ Not ‘What can’t I do?”
At the center, staff is familiar with whatever disability comes through the door.
“It takes a lot of stress off,” Minx says. “You’re at a place where people understand you. I can’t stress how appreciative we are; how blessed we are to have a facility like this.”
The Goodwill Fitness Center is one of the amazing programs Goodwill of Orange County provides for people facing barriers in our community.