Walking is a movement taken for granted by many. But for most of the clients at The Claremont Club’s Project Walk, it’s an ability they strive for.
It was in 2007 when the reality of spinal cord injuries first impacted Mike Alpert, the president and chief executive officer of The Claremont Club in Claremont, California. His daughter was to leave for college that fall with her friend Hal. However, in July, Alpert got a call from his daughter who was crying.
On route to deliver handicap-accessible equipment to a client of his father, Hal swerved in the large truck he had been driving to avoid a tire in the road. “It flipped four times and crushed his skull, and he was left with a C5-C6 complete spinal cord injury,” explained Alpert.
It was during a visit to Hal at the hospital that one could say Alpert’s life changed direction. Hal and his parents were members of The Claremont Club. “I said when [Hal] gets done with his transitional living care here at the hospital, let’s get him out of a medical environment and out of a clinical environment, and let’s get him back over to the club and in an environment that’s more electric and exciting … and let’s work with him and let’s try to help him at the club,” said Alpert.
However, after the conversation, Alpert got into the car with his wife and asked her what he had just said. The Claremont Club currently had no place nor experienced trainers to cater to a spinal cord injured patient. It took a lot of thought, tons of prayer and a small fib to his board of directors — later he confessed the second Pilates studio he said he needed was in fact a ploy to make space for the spinal cord patient — but nearly seven years later, Project Walk’s first franchise in the world at The Claremont Club is growing exponentially.
The Project Walk Claremont is now comprised of 48 full-time spinal cord clients, including a 9-year-old who has had a stroke and brain cancer, and another client with ALS. Two, and soon to be three, of the clients also work at the club. “There’s not one of those people that are not 1,400 percent better physically, emotionally and spiritually than the day they came in,” said Alpert.
Most of the clients at Project Walk Claremont were told they would never walk again. With the help of trainers trained by Project Walk in Carlsbad, California, and various practicing family physicians coming into The Claremont Club, six to seven of them are now able to walk, including one client named Jason. His goal? To be able to hug his own son.
Jason spends about three hours a week reading to children in the childcare center. “The kids love him,” said Alpert. “And now the parents are coming to us, and they’re saying, ‘Thank you,’ and we’re saying, ‘For what?’ Their answer is always the same: They’re telling me that their five year old son or daughter is learning about tolerance and empathy and acceptance through Jason, and they’re not learning it at school: They’re learning it at The Claremont Club.”
It’s impacts like these, teaching kids and adults about citizenship, on top of changing lives, that leaves Alpert at a loss for words. “It’s hard to explain in an interview or when I talk, how these things have changed my life,” he said. “It’s just difficult to explain.”
He isn’t the only one. It seems the entirety of The Claremont Club’s 241 staff, 13 managers and 10,685 members have been touched. “All of these medical fitness, medical wellness programs are just amazing. They’re so needed,” said Alpert. “It’s changed everybody’s life in a way that is just incredible.”
By Heather Hartmann