When Toronto resident Jessica Silver was born she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. It’s a condition that affects a person’s ability to move. Jessica’s parents were also told their daughter may be blind and may never be able to speak, but since birth Jessica has defied the odds. She can see perfectly and just cannot stop talking.
Cerebral palsy also affects a person’s muscle control, movement, coordination, reflex, posture and balance. Although Jessica’s motor skills are limited, in her eyes there are no limitations. Her life, in fact, is all about moving and the words “I can’t” are just not in her vocabulary.
“With all the challenges and adversity that I faced, I feel that it motivates me to work harder and to do that much more. I’m a go-getter and I never stop at doing anything and everything that I aspire to,” Silver told Global News.
It was that motivation that inspired her to develop an awareness campaign called Flex For Access that focused on helping those with physical challenges get moving. Silver started the campaign two years ago to promote accessibility and fitness promotion in gyms across Toronto. It originally was meant to be just a social media awareness hub to not only educate people about cerebral palsy, but to get people talking about the disease and the challenges they face.
Silver said she also saw the campaign as an opportunity to break the barriers many people with physical disabilities face, especially when they try to access a gym.
“It’s really designed to bring awareness to CP and more so people understand that everyone regardless of limitation or injury should and can engage in physical activity,” she said, adding it took a while for her alone to be able to find a gym that would be willing to allow her to exercise there.
Silver finally found a gym and for the past six years she has been working with a trainer who has put together specific exercises to help her strengthen her motor skills and try to reduce the stiffness caused by cerebral palsy.
“It’s very rewarding to see how much she has progressed over the years and what she is able to do which are movements most able body individuals can do or some cannot do,” Daniel Cecchino, a kinesiologist and Silver’s trainer, said.
But Silver’s fight goes well beyond they gym. According to the Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy, there are an estimated 60,000 Canadians who have cerebral palsy. Silver said she wants to help those people and break the stigma and stereotypes that come with the disease. She said physical activity is perhaps one way to do it and that the workouts have made the world of difference for her.
“We need to be doing something to open the doors to allow people to access fitness and be engaged in physical activity regardless of their limitations,” Silver said.
She said she continues to work hard to breakdown her own limitations. Silver works out around five days a week. Her ultimate goal is to be able to get out of her wheelchair and walk on her own.
“I’m inspired to walk on my own and I think I can do it because of all the negative attention that has been placed on me that gives me more motivation to do it,” Silver said.