A Stratford fitness instructor is proving that disability is no barrier to achieving success after completing his first six months at Stratford Leisure Centre. Gary Puddifoot, 32, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) ten years ago, a condition affecting the central nervous system with symptoms such as vision loss, stiffness and difficulty balancing.
Prior to his diagnosis Gary played sport almost every day, was on the path to a promising footballing carer and had been accepted into the prison service.
As Gary’s symptoms became worse he was forced to give up both jobs, leaving a big void in his life.
Determined to move forward Gary joined a scheme called InstructAbility launched by spinal injury charity Aspire and YMCAfit, which supports disabled people and engages them in the fitness sector.
With encouragement from his family and friends, Gary was accepted onto its seven-week training course. He was awarded a CYQ Level 2 Certificate in Gym Instructing and a Level 3 Exercise & Disability qualification after successfully graduating.
He landed a 12-week placement with Everyone Active, which co-manages the leisure centre with Stratford District Council.
Having impressed customers and co-workers so much, was offered a full-time position as a fitness instructor.
Gary said: “At first, I thought people wouldn’t listen to me because of my impairment but through the training and the support I received from Everyone Active, my confidence as an instructor grew. I found I could relate to people better because I understood the challenges that they were facing.
“I started the programme not knowing a thing about health and fitness, but my colleagues and mentors inspired me to keep at it, and I’ve developed a real passion for encouraging people to improve their lives through exercise. Helping people to reach their goals is a great feeling.”
Gary added: “I absolutely love my job at Everyone Active. I understand the challenges that people face when they think about coming to a gym, especially if they have an impairment. I make it my goal to support them, whether that’s with their work outs or just being a friendly face when they walk through the door.
“I have a particular desire to get those with impairments or health conditions involved with fitness, and my story goes to prove that a condition does not dictate what you can and can’t do in life. I am a gym instructor who happens to have a disability.”
Gareth Wagg, general manager at Stratford Leisure Centre, said: “Gary settled in very quickly to his InstructAbility placement, and started to build relationships with both customers and colleagues with ease. A lot of customers have noticed his passion and knowledge in recent months, and we were delighted to offer him a permanent position at Everyone Active.”
Gary has now passed his Level 3 Certificate in Gym Instructing and wants to continue to gain experience and qualifications. He is also eager to use his experience to raise money and awareness of MS through