Exercising as a visually-impaired person presents challenges beyond the normal excuses of, “I’m too tired,” or “I don’t have enough time.” For the visually-impaired, workouts often require support from another person, and it’s easier—both physically and emotionally—to skip exercising. Walt Rainieri and TRX are trying to change that.
Walt Rainieri’s Story
Visually-impaired workouts are a topic near to Walt’s heart because Walt is also blind. He lost his sight 16 years ago as the result of a degenerative eye disease. He understands the spectrum of emotions that accompany blindness because he’s personally experienced them.
“There’s this odd sense of claustrophobia that begins to envelop you when your vision fades or departs, and that crushing effect of having the walls cave in on you is a difficult feeling to shake,” Walt said. “I think sighted people can just ‘look’ the walls back, or get up and walk across the room. For visually impaired individuals, there’s a lot more involved in that: navigation, safety, ensuring against injury, things like that. And for me, what I found was the most positive way to help keep pushing the walls back—minimizing, this feeling of claustrophobia, this feeling of being isolated— was to get out and engage in some physical activity.”
When Walt lost his vision, he was a successful attorney and a former college athlete who would squeeze in late night workouts after a long day at the office. Blindness offered an opportunity for him to re-engage with sports. “With a little bit of training, I got involved in Nordic skiing, cross country skiing, rowing, tandem cycling, and sailing of all things… All of these activities helped me keep the walls from caving,” he said.
Blindness also transformed the way that Walt trained. Rather than being distracted by a TV on the wall at the gym, he was wholly-focused on his workouts. Discovering the TRX Suspension Trainer gave Walt even more freedom in his exercise routine because he could skip the gym entirely and get a full body workout anytime, anywhere.
Walt’s First TRX Experience
Walt didn’t seek out the TRX Suspension Trainer. An unusually-late snowfall brought it into his life.
“It was a complete fluke. My girlfriend and I were in Mammoth, Calif. [in] mid June. It was supposed to be perfect hiking weather, but this was one of those years of big snowfall and all the hiking trails were snowed in,” he said.
They found a fitness center that was open and offering two classes Walt had never heard of. One was a toe exercise class. The other was an introduction to TRX. Walt signed up for both.
“The TRX session was unbelievably—and I’d air quote, if I did those things—‘eye-opening’ for this blind person. It was a tremendously intense workout,” Walt said.
Unsure of what kind of tool he was even using at first, Walt had to gain a tactile understanding of the straps. “I got the concept very quickly. I was able to engage in very intense workouts in a short period of time. It was like a lightning bolt hit me. I was just struck with the ability to do so many things with such a small device.”
At the end of the class, Walt asked the instructor if he could feel what the TRX Suspension Trainer was like when it wasn’t on the wall. The instructor handed him a small bundle, about the size of a volleyball, and Walt realized that the straps could be the perfect tool for visually-impaired workouts.
Fitness Solutions for the Visually-Impaired
People with disabilities experience obesity at higher rates than the general population. Visually-impaired people are more likely to be obese than people with speech or hearing disabilities. Walt explained that visually-impaired people can push through the barriers to exercising in a traditional gym, but it’s different from the sighted gym-goer’s experience.
First, there’s the issue of transportation to and from the gym, which can present an additional expense beyond the gym fee. Once a person enters the gym, there are the actual barriers like weight racks and bars. A walking stick can help a visually-impaired person avoid hazards on the ground, but what about the bars and tools that are at eye-level? And then there’s the internal struggle with awkwardness; many visually-impaired people just want to blend in at the gym.
The TRX Suspension Trainer helps visually-impaired people avoids the obstacles to exercise. It’s affordable. It’s mobile. It’s adaptive. It’s challenging. And Walt believes the Suspension Trainer can combat those last-minute excuses for skipping a workout.
“The two most important minutes of a workout are the two minutes before you grab your TRX straps and put your shoes on. In those two minutes, you will convince yourself—for all sorts of reasons—why you can’t work out right then,” he said. “[The Suspension Trainer] eliminates a lot of the reasons of why you can’t get off your couch because it’s right there. Just stand up, go to the door, anchor it, and start. I think that’s a huge benefit for the visually impaired community.”
The TRX VIP Initiative
Recognizing that the TRX Suspension Trainer could be a game-changer for visually impaired workouts, Walt met with TRX founder and CEO Randy Hetrick to discuss ways to create more exercise opportunities for the blind community. The TRX VIP Initiative—VIP stands for visually impaired person—was born out of that meeting.
Through a group of VIP ambassadors, world-class athletes, and their supporters, the TRX VIP program is raising awareness of the value, affordability, and convenience of the TRX system in bringing fitness to the visually-impaired community. That includes outreach to schools for the blind, as well as organizations that engage in physical activities for the visually impaired, like Camp Abilities, the United States Association of Blind Athletes, and Ski for Light, an international organization involved with Nordic skiing.
Walt’s efforts with VIP extend beyond outreach. He’s worked with TRX to develop coaching standards for visually-impaired people, and he’s met individually with visually-impaired people to guide them through unboxing the Suspension Trainer, setting it up on an anchor point, and completing their first workout.
As a multi-sport athlete, Walt knows that blindness doesn’t have to be a barrier to a healthy lifestyle, and he hopes that the TRX VIP Initiative will empower the visually-impaired community to embrace fitness.
“If anything, what I would love to see is the TRX VIP initiative demonstrate how the visually impaired community can be a leader in this; can show how easy and how effective this can be,” he said. “And then we’ll see if the rest of the population can keep up with the visually impaired community.”