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mark hymes and service dog bogeyThe weather is beautiful these days, and it’s the perfect time to get moving, have some fun, and improve your wellbeing. While exercising can seem intimidating for many people with and without disabilities, here at the CIL we want to show you that there are ways to explore health and exercise while staying safe.

This spring, we’ve launched Spirit Fitness, an online class encouraging physical movement no matter your abilities or disabilities. Online sessions are free and take place every Monday 3-4 pm and Wednesdays 4-5 pm. You don’t need any equipment. All you need is a computer or mobile device to login and check it out. Sessions span cardio fitness, strength, balance, and flexibility, along with things like Zumba and yoga. For the full schedule, click here.

Mark Hymes, CIL staffer coordinating this program, wants to show everyone that physical movement is fun and doesn’t have to be scary.

Mark recently ran in the University of Michigan’s Big House 5K race, raising funds for the CIL and other local charities. Mark has retinitis pigmentosa and is visually impaired. How did he run a 5K race, you ask? Well he wants to show you how, and he wants to show you that you can do it, too.

Overcoming a Slump

Mark says these days running does not come easily to him. While he used to run as a kid, over the past few years, he says fitness has taken a back burner to everything else in life. And he admits, when he started thinking about running in the Big House 5K race, he was completely out of shape.

When gyms reopened in Michigan this past January, Mark says he used that as his motivation to get started. He found a gym near his house that was low cost and started going a few times a week when he felt like braving the cold. “It wasn’t easy getting out of the house, but I forced myself to do it,” he says.

Starting Small

Mark started exploring the elliptical machine at the gym and worked his way up to 30 minutes at a time. After a few weeks, he says he started adding some strength training. “I just did some light things to get the muscles moving. I never pushed myself too hard and kept it easy and enjoyable,” he says. “Strength training was really important to me personally in working towards my goal of being more fit.”

When he first started going to the gym, he asked a trainer to orient him to the machines. After that, he said he and his service dog Bogey have navigated the equipment just fine on their own. He uses the magnification feature on his phone to view settings on equipment, and when that doesn’t work he asks trainers on-site to get him going.

Picking Up the Pace

About a couple months before the race, Mark started running, but admittedly he found running outside difficult with his disability. “Most routes had various hazards. I found it more comfortable and safer to run indoors, so I found tracks that I could use,” he says. “It was really hard to get myself out the door each time, but every time I did it I was really proud of myself for doing it.”

Mark enlisted his guide dog Bogey, an almost 6-year-old golden retriever, to join him running. Bogey was accustomed to short walks with Mark but not long runs. “He quickly got used to the running and started to get excited every time we went, about twice a week,” Mark says. Mark gradually increased the length of his runs to build up stamina, and Bogey kept up with him.

With the training going well, Mark finalized his plans to run in U-M’s Big House 5K race. “I knew it would be hard to do a race that long, but I just decided that I could do it and I wanted to make it happen,” he says. Mark steadily worked his way up from five minutes of jogging at a time to more than 15 minutes.

Running for Impact

A week before the Big House race, Mark found a route at Hudson Mills Metro Park in Dexter that he thought would be suitable for the race. It was paved, well-marked, smooth without potholes and uneven footing, and wide enough for two runners to run side-by-side. He enlisted a family member, Jenna, to serve as his guide, and the two first walked the trail carefully to note curves, changes in elevation, bridges and other landmarks. For the event, he had Jenna run in front of him to inform him about the path and provide companionship.

“The day of the event I was anxious but excited,” Mark says. “Even though it was a virtual race it was still really neat to be a part of such a big event. Almost 4,000 people were doing this across Southeast Michigan, even if socially distanced.” When he started the run that day, Mark says he reflected how far he’d come in training. “Just a few months prior I had been out of shape, and it had been years since I’d done anything like this. It was exhilarating to do this race.”

“It was definitely a challenge for me, but after I got going I was in the zone,” he says. “Halfway through I started to slow down, but towards the end I got a second wind. My feet started to get blisters because my running shoes were old, but I pushed through the pain to finish strong! My final time was 33 minutes and 8 seconds. I think Bogey and I are both still recovering!”

From Race Day to Long Term Fitness

Two weeks after the race, Mark says he’s still running. “The race was a great reason to start running again. I want to make sure I keep doing it and make it a lifestyle. The pandemic especially has put a damper on my physical activity, and it has been great getting more fit again.”

Mark says he encourages everyone to be part of the Spirit Fitness program. “You don’t have to have a big goal like I did. Just starting small can be everything,” he says. “Our aim is to provide a safe, non-intimidating, and easy way for you to get some exercise amidst the pandemic. Having a disability and being socially distanced is not easy, and this program is organized just so that everyone, no matter how isolated you are or how many barriers you have, can explore getting active safely.”

For more info on the Spirit Fitness program, click here or visit our calendar for the latest program times.

mark hymes shaking hands