The Irish Wheelchair Association Portlaoise Accessible Gym was officially opened this week.
This project, which was funded by Sport Ireland Dormant Account Capital Project, is located on the grounds of St Fintan’s Hospital in Portlaoise.
It is an outstanding achievement and a fantastic new addition, not only to Laois but surrounding Counties.
The need was identified through the partnership workings of Laois Sports Partnership disability officer Catriona Slattery with Sylvia Rouget and the service users in the IWA following a period of training in the Laois GAA Centre of Excellence Gym.
Service users were thrilled to have access to a training facility and expressed interest in having their own gym equipment at the IWA facility in St. Fintan’s Hospital, Portlaoise.
Caroline Myers, of Laois Sports Partnership, said: “It goes to show what can be achieved in a short amount of time.
“Less than 6 months after been funded we are here today to launch this accessible gym creating a sports and physical activity hub for all service users and people with disabilities in Laois supported by the IWA who are the host site.”
The additions to the gym include 6 pieces of training equipment which are; a rowing machine, a motorped, an easy stand glider, a handcycling machine, a multipurpose weight machine and 2 sets of dumbbell free weights ranging from 1kg – 10kg.
All of these provide the users with the necessary tools to complete a full body workout, however one piece stands out as being particularly impressive, the easy stand glider.
This piece of equipment allows wheelchair users to be placed in a standing position. Users sit into the equipment like a chair and with the press of a button are elevated into a standing position.
Once in a standing position, the machine resembles a cross trainer. The user then uses their arms to propel their legs as you would on a traditional cross trainer. This provides users with and endless number of benefits.
As well as completing an upper body workout, by using this machine, users will improve circulation and blood flow to their lower body.
Other benefits include improved breathing as in an upright position, users can allow their lungs to fully expand and reduce stress on internal organs.
Paul Cullen, a service user of IWA Portlaoise and member of Laois Lions Wheelchair Rugby Club, said: “Being able to use the easy stand glider is a massive benefit for wheelchair user.
“It improves our bone density, our lung capacity, our bowels and our joints.”
The opening consisted of more than just showing visitors the new equipment, those in attendance were greeted with addresses from Sylvia Rouget (Co-ordinator IWA Portlaoise), Caroline Myers (Head of Sport, Laois Sports Partnership), Paul Cullen (IWA Service User) and Tommy White (IWA Service User) before entering the facility to view a number of different of activities in action (Table Tennis, Scooch and Boccia).
This gave visitors an insight as to what IWA users can experience on a day-to-day basis and what sort of atmosphere is present in the centre.
Donal Brennan, Director of Services in Laois County Council bravely took on off the IWA members in a game of wheelchair table tennis.
Sylvia Rouget of the IWA expressed the importance of collaboration and working in partnership with local agencies.
She said: “This facility has also widened the range of service users coming through our doors from near and far and from other services.
“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. None of what we do would be possible without the partnerships we have with the LOETB, County Council, HSE, Laois Partnership and of course, Laois Sports Partnership, all of which have showed huge commitments to meeting the needs of our members and consulting with them on an ongoing basis.”
The gym which will now be used 5 days per week by users from as far as Tipperary, is much more then just as a bunch of weights.
Tommy White, a service user in the IWA Portlaoise 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 will allow users to not only gain strength but gain confidence.”
Laois Sports Partnership and The IWA Portlaoise are proud to officially open the new accessible gym and look forward to supporting users for many years to come.
Caroline Myers added: “Not only will this be a fantastic facility for the service users but the wider community which is what inclusion is all about and it will assist in increasing awareness of stigmas whilst breaking down barriers for people with disabilities to live active and healthy lives within an inclusive environment for physical and mental rehabilitation and participation.”
The new equipment adds to other inclusive physical activity equipment purchased by Laois Sports Partnership.
In 2022, three accessible bikes were purchased; a motor assisted bike, a tandem bike, and a tricycle. These have been a massive success and are regularly used along the Blueway in Vicarstown, allowing those of all abilities to take part in a cycle.
Finally, Adam Somers of Active Disability Ireland presented the IWA Gym with 6 bags of Active Hands Kits.
These are gripping aids that are ideal for tetraplegic/quadriplegics, those with Cerebral Palsy, stroke recovery or any disability that affects hand function.
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