Staying Active with a Disability
How maintaining an active lifestyle promotes mental and physical well-being
Sergio Robelto had always led a very active life. Growing up in Colombia, he participated in extreme sports, ranging from BMX to skateboarding to motocross. But when he moved to Florida with his family as an 18-year-old, sports took a back-burner to the pressures of living in the US. “My life kind of changed, I guess because of society here,” Sergio said. “I started focusing on my career, and I kind of stopped doing sports and stuff. I started working, just building my career.”
But when a motorcycle accident in his mid-twenties left Sergio paralyzed from the chest down, he was forced to reimagine his life once again. While getting back into sports with a spinal cord injury might not seem like the most obvious choice for many, for Sergio, it was exactly what helped him move on.
“I just thought that the best thing for my life was to go back to my roots. Because I always was good, I always was okay,” he explained. “The way society works in the states, it’s just so weird, so I just felt like going back to my roots, sports are something that’s going to work for this new lifestyle.”
While doctors initially wanted him to get an electric wheelchair and resign himself to his fate, Sergio decided instead to use all of his remaining capacity to focus on regaining as much mobility as he could. “I was just like, if you guys give me a motorized wheelchair I’m not going to be an active person,” he recalled. “I just decided, this is not going to be forever.”
He was referred to a gym called Neurofit 360, a physical therapy center which specifically caters to people with neurological injuries, where he underwent intensive physical therapy that focuses on neuroplasticity-based rehabilitation. “I have been able to recover to the point that I can stand. I don’t know how to explain it,” he said. “Some days my legs are connected very well, I’m able to stand and I’m able to take some steps, but that’s all I can do. The connection is there, it’s just very vague.”
While Sergio uses his Alinker daily to practice stands and stretches, he spends most of his time in a manual wheelchair, and has refocused his energy on sports. “I’m doing wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis,” he said. “ I can’t do skateboarding, but I’m still on wheels.” He also has a handcycle, which he uses to participate in running events through the (what) foundation, and in February 2022, after a year of training, he participated in the Miami Marathon.
“Sports are the one thing that’s helped most, probably mentally and physically, is sticking to sports.”