Exercising Optimism

A Ferndale gym for the disabled emerged from the determination of a paralyzed woman who sought to make ‘false hope’ true
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Photo by Marvin Shaouni

For Erica Nader, a paralyzing car accident set her on the path toward becoming a role model for physical fitness.

In 2001, Nader, a metro Detroit native, was critically injured in a car accident during a visit home from L.A. Doctors said she suffered a C6 spinal cord injury, which meant she was paralyzed from the shoulder down. I had “no movement in my hands,” she says. “I could eat and do some minor hygiene care with assistance devices.” With limited upper-body strength, Nader started therapy, which she calls a “crash course” in her new life.

The problem, she explains, is if you don’t show early signs of recovery, you’re not given much hope. “My injury was so severe, it was two or three months before I showed any signs of improvement,” she says. “People in my condition are given a zero to 3-percent chance of recovering or ever walking again,” she says, and if you want something beyond that, you’re “forced to go beyond the medical community.” And that’s what she did.

In her quest for better treatment, Nader moved to California and encountered people “doing amazing things in pursuit of their recovery.” People were selling or re-mortgaging their houses, and in the medical community this was regarded as “false hope.” That’s such an “oxymoron” she says. To her, the idea didn’t make sense.

Having felt she’d run out of options, Nader traveled the world seeking innovative medical procedures. She became the first American to travel to Portugal for experimental surgery for spinal cord injury. Though she showed signs of improvement, the surgery still wasn’t enough. “I felt like there had to be more,” she says, and that’s where the dream for an exercise-based recovery program began.

In 2007, she founded a gym in Ferndale, which she named Walk The Line. It was a business idea that she and her family had been discussing for some time. Nader wanted an environment that was motivating and empowering — a place that didn’t categorize what you could and couldn’t do.

Bringing together “the best of the best,” Nader created a physician-directed program that consists of three-hour training sessions three or four days a week. Clients who have come from around the United States work with trainers in individually designed programs to activate muscles and nerves below the level of injury.

Nader wants her clients to “push the limits,” and defy their original medical prognoses. She has the same dreams for herself, vowing, “Who says I can’t make a full recovery?”

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