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Leeper working to bring more inclusivity to the fitness community – Kingsport Times News

Posted: October 5, 2021 at 6:12 pm

Kingsport native Blake Leeper, an eight-time Paralympic track and field medalist, has teamed up with Degree deodorant to try to bring more diversity and inclusivity for the disabled community in the fitness industry.

A majority component of the program is Trainers for Hire campaign to show the need to hire more people within the disabled and adaptive community. Research from the Lakeshore Foundation, a nonprofit organization specializing in sports science for athletes with disabilities, found that 81% of people with disabilities dont feel welcome in fitness spaces.

Leeper, 32, who broke the Paralympic world record in the 400 meters by running 45.25 seconds at the 2017 U.S. Championships, is currently living in Los Angeles and training under former Tennessee All-America wide receiver, Super Bowl champion and Olympic gold medalist Willie Gault.

Born without legs from the knees down, Leeper is hoping to run in 2024 Paris Olympics following a ruling that his prothetic legs and blades gave him an unfair advantage to race in the Tokyo Olympics.

Leeper who attended Dobyns-Bennett and played basketball but never ran track for the Indians has overcome obstacles his whole life.

As part of his partnership with Degree, Leeper recently led a spin class in New York City that included riders with and without disabilities. He also toured the office of major fitness institutions like Peloton and Soul Cycle.

He discussed some of the issues behind the program.

Its just a misunderstanding of a disabled individual or athlete. A lot of people think to make these accommodations its going to take a lot of work, be a hassle and not worth it. Thats totally not true.

One, I would say its worth it creating a space for everybody. Its not that much work. I always tell people, Walk a mile in my shoes, in my legs. You understand what I go through as a disabled man and making these changes can make a huge impact within the disabled community.

Working with a big company and the wonderful platform that Degree has, it makes the industry take it seriously. With their support, we have the initiative and saying we need to do better. Im starting to see the conversation in the big and small areas.

A lot of gyms dont know that 81% of disabled individuals dont feel comfortable. We want them to bring in more inclusivity, more crank cycles. Were starting to see some movement across the nation. The CEO of Planet Fitness came out a few days ago and said, We want to be on the forefront of this movement.

They made a promise to get more equipment, more spaces, more inclusivity. When you see that, it makes it seem like were on the right side of this battle.

Yes, Im a Paralympic athlete and my dreams are to be the fastest man in the world. The goal for most is not to win gold medals. The goal is to move.

I think anyone with any level of disability can move. Its the definition and terms of movement. But I encourage somebody starting, that dont feel comfortable in their gym, just show up and find something that makes you happy.

One of the greatest feelings I get as a disabled athlete is going to the track, going to the gym, sweating and getting those endorphins going. Some of my best ideas, best feelings come after a workout. Thats a feeling that any individual should feel. I encourage them to go out there and try something new.

Its awesome because Ive been so focused on track and field for 80-90% of the year. When Im able to do other activities, like I was leading a spin class in downtown New York, that was, Wow.

I had so much fun, spinning and not running. I always tell people to overcome adversity, overcome your challenges, find the right mindset. It takes the same characteristics whether Im running or leading a spin class. Theres the determination, inspiration, motivation of not giving up, pushing through. Its amazing to cross over to different platforms. We have disabled individuals walking, hiking, dancing and weightlifting. All these things are possible.

Being on this journey is truly amazing, to come from Kingsport and travel the world. The day I was born, the doctors said I would never move, let alone be out there as an athlete, run and represent my country. Im able to do these amazing things and collaborate with Degree. Im so thankful and blessed with the opportunities.

Its extremely important to represent the Tri-Cities area. I want to take it as far as I can, in track and field, in Los Angeles wherever the opportunity presents itself. I want any youth in the Tri-Cities to be able to look at me and see how far Ive taken my career.

He went to Dobyns-Bennett, was here in Kingsport and played in Buck Van Huss Dome. I used to eat Pals every other day. They can relate to it and look at the challenge hes faced being born without legs, maybe I can too. Sometimes, kids just need to be shown hope.

Ive done it a little bit. Ive crossed paths with Daniel a few times. Coty and I have been best friends forever. Its not so much about sports anymore. Its all about family. Coty is a father of three and Im a brand-new father.

For me as a Paralympian and them to make it to the NFL, I feel like weve got these bodies of careers. It seemed like yesterday, I was going to UT and Coty was going to Clemson. Im truly thankful to see him and Daniel have so much success. Hopefully, we will continue to be successful on and off the field and track.

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Original post:
Leeper working to bring more inclusivity to the fitness community - Kingsport Times News

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