TRAILS program keeps spinal-cord injury patients active

By By Michael Olson, Staff Writer

By Michael Olson, Staff Writer

One of David Gillespie’s favorite pastimes used to be riding his bike, but after he suffered a broken back on Christmas Eve last year, he wasn’t sure he would ever ride again.

Gillespie, a molecular biology researcher at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, was a patient at the U hospital when he was told about a handcycling classat the U.

“I really like biking,” Gillespie said, “So this is really good for me.”

The class is a part of Therapeutic Recreation and Independent Lifestyles or TRAILS, a program at the Rehabilitation Center in the School of Medicine that seeks to fill a void in the lives of recovering spinal-cord injury patients.

Officially organized in 2005, TRAILS is a nonprofit organization that helps people with spinal-cord injuries or diseases have active lifestyles through specialized bike riding and other forms of exercise.

Lynette Ballard, a licensed clinical social worker who works with TRAILS, and TRAILS director Tanja Kari saw that spinal-cord injury patients often fall into a gap in the medical system.

When patients are first discharged from the hospital, there is often a period of adjustment as the person comes to terms with their new condition, causing the person to stay inactive and depressed.

“Those of us who work in health care realized there was a gap,” Ballard said. “There are only a few smatterings of programs out there.”

Through TRAILS, Ballard hopes to keep spinal-cord patients active and positive.

“What we’ve found is that people would go home and stay home,” she said.

This inactivity can lead to secondary health conditions such as pneumonia, skin breakdown and infection.

Participants of TRAILS only pay $5 for activities thanks to grants from the Craig H. Neilson Foundation. The U’s Outdoor Recreation Program also helps by subsidizing fees and providing equipment for cycling classes. Scholarships are granted to those unable to pay.

Handcycling classes are usually held at Liberty Park on Tuesday and Thursday evenings during fall and spring, and inside the rehabilitation clinic during summer months. TRAILS participants use specialized handcycles rented from the Outdoor Recreation Program and have professional cycling instructors. The average class size is 15.

Danielle Northrup from 24 Hour Fitness is one of the cycling instructors for the program. Northrup said she spends her Sunday nights putting together a variety of songs to pump up her classes.

TRAILS members pedal in time with the music, moving at a slow, relaxed pace to the mellow songs and pick up the pace for a Billy Idol song, Northrup said.

Stephen Bettwieser, a business alumnus who is finishing his pre-medical requirements at the U, usually volunteers with TRAILS every Tuesday to help participants into and out of the handcycles, and with any technical problems that may arise.

“I’ve put a few chains back on the handcycles,” he said.
Some members of the class are planning a 50-mile bike ride in Park City.

“I love (TRAILS) because it gets me out of the house,” said longtime participant Allan Walton. “I like it because it gets me doing something good for me. It’s changed my life.”

Along with keeping TRAILS members physically active, Kari also hopes to educate them about their conditions. TRAILS members participate in group discussions to share experiences.

“Some of the best learning takes place in the group discussions,” Kari said.

The idea is that people with an injury of this magnitude learn better from others who have been through similar injuries, she said.
For more information on TRAILS activities, contact Tanja Kari at [email protected].

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Thien Sok

The School of Medicines Rehab Center has created a Therapeutic Recreation and Independent Lifestyles (TRAILS) program for patients who have suffered from spinal-cord injuries. The program helps patients keep an active life after their injuries.