Judith Caunter, from Farlington, has recently qualified as a fitness instructor through the multi-award winning InstructAbility Programme. Judith is one of many newly qualified disabled fitness instructors who are proving that disability is no barrier to a career in the fitness industry.

In 1987, at the age of 23, Judith was diagnosed with Tranverse Myelitis (a condition with eatures in common with Multiple Sclerosis) which caused nervous system problems and weakness from the waist down. This diagnosis was changed in 2008 when an MRI scan detected a cavernoma (cavernomas are clusters of abnormal blood vessels mainly found in the brain and spinal cord) at T8 in Judith’s spinal cord, and it was recommended that she undergo surgery to have it removed.

After being told that losing weight would increase the odds of her having a successful surgery, Jude lost six stone in weight, helped along by the support of Weight Watchers and the purchase of a home cross trainer. But the surgery didn’t have the result Judith was hoping for and after a tense six months she had to come to terms with the fact that far from increasing her level of mobility, the operation had actually reduced it significantly.

Now more reliant on a wheelchair and not one to be beaten, Judith turned her attention to the world of parasport and became a member of a local sitting volleyball team. Now she is an active member of City of Portsmouth Athletics Club (where she takes part in seated throwing events and the newly created Wheelchair Racing Club) and she works out regularly at Britannia CrossFit, Farlington.

Not sure which direction to turn after redundancy she started to volunteer at Mary Rose Academy to see if she could make herself useful there, that's when she came across the InstructAbility programme and realised it would be an ideal opportunity to embark on a career in fitness and help disabled people at the same time. The project was created by Aspire, the spinal injury charity and YMCAFit, the leading fitness training provider, to enable unemployed, disabled people to train as gym instructors. The newly qualified instructors then work to engage more people in fitness sessions. Judith said,

“When I was large I always thought that I couldn't exercise because I was disabled but when I bought the cross trainer I realised that there were forms of exercise that I could do. Now, because I thoroughly enjoy exercise and it makes me feel so much better about myself I would like to encourage others to join me in finding out what they can do with and have some fun too.”

Since qualifying Judith has recently begun her industry work placement at the John Pounds Centre in Portsea, Portsmouth as part of the programme.

Healthy Living Manager, Tracy Griffiths, at John Pounds Centre said,

“We are really looking forward to working with Judith and the InstructAbility programme. Judith will help us achieve our aim of making our fitness suite and classes even more accessible and making our clients happier and healthier.

InstructAbility Regional Project Coordinator, Candice Bryan said,

“Jude has a friendly disposition and natural ability to light up the room with a smile that is lovely and welcoming. I know that this beautiful characteristic along with her own experiences will encourage disabled clients in particular to get active with Jude!”