Two years on from when we first introduced everyone to Dr. Georg Herdt, he's back and talking about the importance of community in sport.
Why does one exercise? For me, as a person with a significant and life-threatening condition, the benefits of doing sport are obvious. But here, for once, I don’t want to write about why I think sport is increasing my physical independence, what’s left of it anyway, but rather on the community that is behind the facilities of a sports centre.
A gym is much more than a mere housing of gym equipment and for someone faced with the societal isolation that comes with a disability, just entering an environment that is warm and welcoming is a key factor to my quality of life.
The gym for me is the community that is enclosed within it. Much more than just friendly staff. Much more than other gym members that use the facilities at the same time. Of course, part of gym life, in general, is giving advice on machines, exercises or movements, spotting each other during lifting heavy to prevent possible injuries, but for me as a regular gym goer, to counter my degenerating condition, it is much more. It is the friends that I made over the years. The environment that enables me to thrive, and to be – happy.
Being accepted for who you are is a big part of our wellbeing. But for people, who once were strangers to you, to not just follow your path with you but actively walk beside you, to encourage you, to assist you when needed, is not only a motivational boost to carry on, it is something else. It reflects where we stand as a society.
Being disabled comes with many negatives, most of them are discriminatory, that’s part of the package, I don’t like it – but who does? – it happens a lot, and as I cannot choose to not be disabled, I just have to accept it. At Brookes, I don’t feel disabled, I feel part of something, part of a community that is based around sports – sure, that’s the common interest, but it certainly is a feeling of coming home.
This is what makes Brookes Sport so special to me, and I don’t mean the institutional entity but the accumulation of individual people. I have made friends at this place, some half my age. Friends I enjoy having around me, that make me want to be there. Not to train - but for them, to talk to them, to laugh with, be silly around and feel human.
When I do cardio exercises that are exhausting and keep me quiet and focused for a long period of time, I know there are people around me I can talk to once I finish. People that genuinely care how I am doing, and what is going on in the madness that is my life. As I mentioned in other posts, I don’t really like sport, I am too old to aim for an Olympic level of fitness. I miss my old life and if I could, I’d go back to the world of academia in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, I cannot as I fear my heart would literally stop if I’d stop exercising, most certainly the degenerative progression encoded in my genetics would receive free reign and I’d lose more of my physical independence.
That’s why I chose this constant physical strain on my body, to keep the condition at bay. Having a caring environment around you makes the duty of exercise manageable. I am aware of the side-effect my disabled body went through with my almost daily routine of hours of different exercises, and I am sure, my body looks athletic.
For someone with Friedreich’s Ataxia, I probably am extraordinarily fit, but that is only possible because of the community that surrounds me. That inspires me - that keeps me going. A positive mindset is a big part of sport, not necessarily against other people but against my own body’s programming to destroy itself, has to be mind-numbingly repetitive.
Motivation is scarce and many times I ask myself what I am doing this for. But then, it is not about motivation. It is simply about doing it. And during the breaks and pauses in between sets or machines, I am surrounded by friends, friends that are a reason to be there in the first place, and once you are there, the exercise almost does itself. In this sense Brookes Sport is part of my family, it’s the people of Brookes Sport that are my family.
You can follow along with Georg's story through his Instagram.