Thursday, May 25, 2023

IWA service user Tommy White trying out tthe tricycle at the official opening of the Portlaoise Accessible Gym, pictured with LSP head of sports Caroline Myers, IWA Portlaoise coordinator Sylvia Rouget, LSP staff and Laois Co Council officials. Photos: Michael Scully

A WHEELCHAIR accessible gym that opened in Portlaoise this week will be an invaluable asset for people with disabilities throughout Laois and surrounding counties.

The Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) Portlaoise Accessible Gym, a sports and physical activity hub, will be used five days a week by people from as far afield as Tipperary.

IWA Portlaoise service user Tommy White said: “The gym is more than just a gym, it is a place where we can comfortably transfer from our wheelchairs amongst peers without feeling different.”

The gym was developed after IWA service users enjoyed a period of training in the Laois GAA Centre of Excellence gym, organised by Laois Sports Partnership (LSP) disability officer Catriona Slattery and IWA Portlaoise coordinator Sylvia Rouget.

Thrilled to have access to a training facility, service users said they would love to have their own gym equipment at the IWA facility in St Fintan’s Hospital, Portlaoise.

Less than six months later, the IWA gym was officially opened by Laois County Council cathaoirleach Cllr Thomasina Connell on Tuesday 23 May, with funding from the Sport Ireland Dormant Account Capital Project.

LSP head of sport Caroline Myers said: “It goes to show what can be achieved in a short amount of time. Not only will this be a fantastic facility for the service users but for the wider community, which is what inclusion is all about.

“It will assist in increasing awareness of stigmas while breaking down barriers for people with disabilities to live active and healthy lives.”

The gym includes a rowing machine, a motorped, an easy stand glider, a handcycling machine, a multipurpose weight machine and two sets of dumbbell free weights ranging from 1kg – 10kg, allowing people with disabilities to complete a full body workout. Other activities include table tennis, scooch and boccia.

According to the IWA, the easy stand glider is particularly impressive, as it allows wheelchair users to be placed in a standing position. They sit into the equipment like a chair and, with the press of a button, are elevated into a standing position. They can then use their arms to propel their legs, as on a traditional cross trainer, which brings endless benefits such as improved circulation and blood flow to their lower body and improved breathing.

Paul Cullen, a member of Laois Lions Wheelchair Rugby Club and IWA Portlaoise service user, explained: “Being able to use the easy stand glider is a massive benefit for wheelchair users. It improves our bone density, our lung capacity, our bowels and our joints.”

During a tour of the gym at the official opening, Laois County Council director of services Donal Brennan bravely took on IWA members in a game of wheelchair table tennis.

Sylvia Rouget observed: “This is what inclusion is all about. Working in isolation is not conducive to inclusion, we should all open the doors to our services and share not only our facilities but our expertise, learning, time and efforts. It is easier all around, it saves money, it saves time and it leads to better outcomes.”

She added that none of it would be possible without the partnerships IWA Portlaoise has with the LOETB, County Council, HSE, Laois Partnership and LSP, which all have a huge commitment to meeting the needs of IWA members and consulting with them on an ongoing basis.

Meanwhile, other inclusive physical activity equipment purchased by LSP includes three accessible bikes, a motor-assisted bike, a tandem bike and a tricycle. These have been a wonderful success and are regularly used along the Blueway in Vicarstown, allowing those of all abilities to take part in a cycle.

Adam Somers of Active Disability Ireland also presented the IWA Gym with six bags of active hands kits. These are gripping aids ideal for people with cerebral palsy, tetraplegics/quadriplegics, those in stroke recovery or people with any disability that affects hand function.

More information on the new accessible gym is available by email to  [email protected].

See our two-page spread of photos from the opening in the next edition of the Laois Nationalist, in shops from Tuesday 30 May or in our online edition here.

Cathaoirleach Cllr Thomasina Connell cuts the ribbon at the Portlaoise Accessible Gym, with LSP head of sports Caroline Myers, IWA Portlaoise coordinator Sylvia Rouget, LSP staff and Laois Co Council officials

IWA service user Tommy White takes on Laois Co Council director of services Donal Brennan (right) in a game of table tennis



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