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Keeping Healthy and Well at the PEAK Center

September 30, 2021

Jo Donlin has always been active – she grew up swimming and playing other team sports.

When she was injured in a diving accident in 1990 that resulted in a complete C-6 spinal cord injury, she came to Craig for SCI rehabilitation for four months.

Jo says she didn’t really exercise for the first 23 years after her injury, because, at the time, there weren’t a lot of options for a woman with quadriplegia to maintain fitness and good health. After leaving Craig, she moved back to her hometown of Casper, Wyoming, where resources were very limited. She eventually moved back to Denver and was able to participate in a few wheelchair aerobics classes to keep herself healthy.

Fast forward to today, and Jo, now age 53, has been a regular at Craig Hospital’s PEAK Center for nearly eight years.

“When the PEAK Center first opened, I heard about it, but it was for inpatients only, so I wasn’t able to go,” says Jo. “I was also a little intimidated – not knowing if there would be options for someone living with quadriplegia to be able to use the facility.”

When the PEAK Center opened to the public, Jo got medical clearance and went to check it out. The first time she went, the staff were there to help her try different exercises. She says she got on the Krankcycle (a stationary cycle that uses hand pedals) and could pedal for only 30 seconds to start out. “It was just like I remembered – when you’re out of shape and you try something new, it’s tough to get started!”

After getting into a routine, she started boxing and then lifting weights as well. Little by little, she was able to increase her workouts both in length and intensity.

At first, Jo says she felt very shy about going to the PEAK Center, as she had to stop on her way home from work. Since she is not able to change her clothes on her own, she had to adjust her work wardrobe on her workout days to something she was comfortable wearing to exercise in as well. “This was a big barrier for me,” she says. “I had the old-school mindset that I needed to change all my clothes in order to work out. But now I’ve got it down.”

Jo says she works out to maintain good general health, keep her lungs healthy, build strength, watch her weight and to manage stress, and she loves the feeling that she’s able to get a workout in just like everyone else. “We need to change our mindsets and recognize that health and wellness is for everyone,” Jo says. “Inside, our hearts and brains work in the same way as people who are able-bodied. We all like the effects of natural endorphins on our minds and bodies. If I can get into the PEAK three times a week to cycle and lift weights, I’m a better person. There needs to be more of this available for people with disabilities. I love that the PEAK is open to people with all types of neurological diseases or injuries. I’ve met people from all over the Denver area. We encourage each other, share ideas and become friends.”

For Jo, the PEAK Center was a life-changer, not only changing her perspective on health and wellness, but also giving her a new community. “There’s no place like it. I feel safe and there are people there who offer the right amount of assistance but not more than I need.” Jo feels blessed to live near Craig and to be able to take advantage of the PEAK Center. “This is definitely a privilege, but I wish it were the norm.”