James Norris - Seeing Beyond Life’s Challenges as a Handi Capable Athlete

James Norris - Seeing Beyond Life’s Challenges as a Handi Capable Athlete

Fitness For All Podcast: Episode 19

Welcome to another edition of Fitness for All with Cam Jenkins, sponsored by Lebert Fitness.

In this episode, Cam talks with James Norris, founder of Handi Capable Fitness. Handi Capable Fitness (HCF), was born from the inspiration of James Norris and his trainer, Joe. Joe realized that the journey James was on—from enthusiastic, but not-so physically fit to hosting the annual HCF Walk—had the potential to encourage others to take on the same challenge. James created an Instagram account to share both his successes and failures with other Handi Capable athletes. After just the first few video posts of James working out, the positive feedback was overwhelming. There was clearly a need for an or organization like HCF.

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Show Notes - Episode 19

Welcome to another edition of the Fitness for All podcast and it is sponsored by Lebert Fitness. I'm your host Cam Jenkins. On today's show, we have James Norris, who is the founder of Handi Capable Fitness. James, welcome to the show.

Cam, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

 Handi Capable Fitness (HCF) was born from the inspiration of founder James Norris

Now James, first and foremost, I noticed on your website, you talk about your journey to a healthier lifestyle and part of that was walking a 5k.  Can you tell me a little bit about that experience?

Sure.  To dial it back just a little bit how my fitness journey began, and then I'll get into that because it'll feed right into it. 

I worked in radio for six years, took a job out in California and shortly after getting out to California I was laid off, fell into a depression, gained a bunch of weight, started to eat unhealthy; the whole nine yards. Moved back to Boston after the year lease was up and I realized I needed to do something. So I just joined a local gym and fell in love with fitness and I've lost 65 pounds since then. But, I then started to go to another gym, Mike Boyles Strength and Conditioning, and there, we worked more on my walking. I woke up one day and I said, you know what, it would be cool to do a 5k. So, I went into the gym, told my trainer, and that's what we started to train for. Unfortunately, I fell a little short of the 5k, but in spirit of Handi Capable Fitness, I still wanted to do the walk and show people what's possible when you push yourself a little bit.

I know that you have Cerebral Palsy. Do you want to let the listeners know a little bit about Cerebral Palsy and how it affects you?

Cerebral palsy is traditionally caused at birth. For me it was about the age of about two and a half that I was diagnosed, there abouts. How it all started was I went in for a hernia operation and it was during that operation that the mass came off my face and my brain was without air for five and a half minutes. So, for me it affects my leg strength and predominantly my left side.

I know that you now host a HCF walk. Can you explain to the listeners why you chose this fundraiser?

For me, as, as I alluded to before, the whole purpose of me exercising or taking on this role was to start walking so I could walk better with a walker, and I said, you know what, if I'm doing this, we might as well bring some other people into it as well. Other handi-capable athletes, able-bodied individuals, whoever really wanted to take part. We gave the proceeds to Boston children's hospital because growing up that's where I had my surgeries, and they really played a huge role in getting me to where I am today.

 James Norris - Handi Capable Fitness

Can you talk a little bit about Handi Capable Fitness and how this came to be and where you have it moving forward?

Sure. So, alluding back to how I said that I joined a gym and just kind of fell in love with fitness, originally, everything I was doing in the gym was new and growing up in Boston, sports is kind of ingrained in our blood.  I played challenger T-ball and challenger basketball, but it never really scratched that competitive itch for me. So, when I got into fitness, I knew I was never going to be the biggest or the fastest guy, but like I said, everything I was doing was new and I was finally able to get those competitive juices out. So, my trainer and I started to just document my own journey through Instagram, to show my friends and family across the U.S all the different things I was doing. And he said, you know what, James? He says if you're doing this, there has to be other people that you may inspire. So, that's how Handi Capable Fitness was started. I just began to document my own journey, but then I also started to see other handi-capable athletes that were doing amazing things and I wanted to give them a little bit of the spotlight and to show other people that, hey, just because you have a challenge, that doesn't mean that you are defined by said challenge. I took it a step further and in July started the Handi Capable Fitness, nonprofit, and the goal of that is to connect individuals with challenges to services and equipment so that they can live a fit and healthy lifestyle. 

Can you talk about that and how you get that out to the masses or to people that follow you?


Basically, our goal, like I said, is to raise funds and, you know hopefully get grants here in the future so that we can help provide equipment, so people with challenges can live a fit and healthy lifestyle, whether that be a special wheelchair that they need, workout equipment, entry fees into a race, like a Spartan race, or anything like that that’s going to get them up, get them active and get them moving,

Get them moving, which is very important to do especially for handi-capable athletes and people, because from what I've seen and from my experiences some of them don't get out quite as much as they should, including myself, and leading an active lifestyle.

A hundred percent agree with that, and I don't know about you, but I know for me personally, and other people that I've spoken with within the community, it almost becomes more of a mental strengthening as well, because, it just provides another outlet for us to feel better about ourselves, build confidence, that sort of thing.

For the handi-capable athletes, do you train them yourself or do they watch your videos, and you get them to do some exercises that way? Or, do you set them up with trainers?

No, I don't train them myself. Eventually, I do want to get certified so that I’m able to do that. The goal of Handi-Capable Fitness is to just kind of give people ideas; we tell them, hey, you want to make sure that you check with your doctor first, then it's more of an inspiration. Then as the funding comes in through the nonprofit, one of our goals is to connect them with trainers, physical therapists, nutritionists, whatever's going to help them lead that healthy lifestyle.

That's great. A little bit earlier in the podcast you had mentioned Spartan racing.  You did a bit of that as I understand, as well as rock wall climbing.  Do you want to talk about those experiences and how it may be different for a CP athlete compared to an able-bodied athlete?

Oh, 110%. It was an amazing, amazing experience, and it was kind of something that was almost like my awakening into the handi-capable realm of all these different athletes and that sort of thing. 

How the Spartan race came to be, I think it was two years ago now they did their first ever pair of Spartan race in Laughlin, Nevada and it was a team of, I believe it was five and they had athletes of all different abilities. You could have somebody with CP, you could have somebody that was an amputee, spina bifida, whatever the case may be. And they formed a team, did the obstacles, and it was you did all the obstacles with the help of your teammates and that's it. So it was a three-and-a-half mile course. I want to say it was 21 different obstacles and it was absolutely amazing!

Do you know whether or not the Para Spartan racing is becoming a big thing or is that just something in its infinite stages of coming out?

I believe that they intended it to be a big thing because they've now done two. Then with COVID they had to push it off obviously this year, but I do believe it's something that they want to continue to pursue and continue to do, because they've had a huge turnout for each of the two that they've done. Each of them have been on ESPN and have really drummed up some big noise in this community. So, I definitely see them going forward with it in the future. I would have to say. But I don't know that a hundred percent certain.

What about the rock climbing for you? 

I just saw rock climbing through the adaptive climbing group, and I was like, you know what you know, mean I'm into fitness, but I'm always into challenging myself and pushing myself and doing things that I never thought was possible before I adopted this lifestyle. I said, you know what, let me just give it a shot and let me tell you it was awesome, but it was definitely, definitely challenging, but I would highly recommend it.

What part was challenging for you for the rock climbing wall? I know you said on your left side, and I have numerous friends with CP and their left side is the harder side for them.  I'm just really interested on how you were able to do it in the challenges.

I had the help of my trainer actually, we went together, and we were tethered together, and I would use his leg to step up on or he would get on my left side to give me a little bit more support, you know, and we just kind of talked through, okay, well we want to go over here. Oh no, we can't go over here. Try this. It was very much a team building activity and it was challenging in the sense that, I go to the gym every day and I consider myself to be in pretty decent shape, but rock climbing, it's a totally different animal and it's a totally different kind of in shape, but I absolutely loved it.

 James Norris

That's amazing.  I also wanted to touch on that you’re motivational speaker and you've traveled around the U.S as I understand as well. What's the main message that you speak about during your motivational speeches?

You know, I mostly speak to kids in the handi-capable community, and I want people to realize, you know, that, hey, we all come up against adversity, you know, but it's that adversity that really propelled us forward. For me growing up, all I wanted to do was work in sports radio. That was it. I never saw this nonprofit world or motivational speaking in my future, but I firmly believe it was those obstacles that got me to where I am today, and it's given my life a purpose. I want people to realize that, hey, you know what, adversity can really be a good thing because it can open our eyes to something else that we never saw coming. I want people to know that just because they have a challenge that doesn't define who they are and that they can go out and they can live their dreams and just inspire other people along the way. 

Just that word inspire, I know within the disability community it can either be a good thing or some people take it as a bad thing for lack of a better way to say it. What are your thoughts on the word inspiring as it pertains to people with disabilities?

You know what? I can definitely see how people can take it either one way or the other. And I can only speak for me personally.  For me, I don’t mind it when people say that I'm inspiring because you know what, whether you have a challenge or you're an able-bodied person, we all struggle with things. So, if somebody sees me working out or somebody sees me rock climbing or playing sled hockey, and they get motivated to go after their dreams, that to me is what it's all about. I want you to take the motivation and the inspiration that you see from me and turn it into something that helps you chase your dreams. 

That’s a great way to look at it. You know, for me personally I'm trying to look at it that way as well. The word inspiring as it comes to people with disabilities my thoughts are that if it's something that a person with a disability is really trying hard to do, and you find that inspirational, great. But if it's just something that everyone does, and I think the example that most times is used is putting on your pants. Well, you know, to me that isn’t inspirational, or just getting out to do something isn’t inspirational, but I can certainly say without a shadow of a doubt what you're doing is certainly inspirational. That’s fantastic.

Thank you very much and likewise to you, I see your videos there and you are absolutely crushing it. So keep it up. 

Thanks. I wanted to also talk about Handi Capable Fitness, and it's designed to help achieve their goals, meaning your client's goals. Can you tell the listeners what some of those goals were and how the folks achieved them?

You know what, basically our mission, like I said, is to just empower other people and let them know that, hey, no matter, no matter what, you can live a fit and active lifestyle. Again, how we want to do that is by helping people get the equipment that they need to do so, get the services that they need to do so, and also, just really help them build their confidence and help them see that they are able to do whatever it is that they set out to do. We do that through a little bit of mentoring. I do that personally, I mentor a couple youth that are absolutely awesome that have challenges, and I've seen them come a long way. But really Handi Capable Fitness, being a nonprofit, it really relies upon donations and support from the community. So, once we get the funding in, then we can go out and really impact the world by helping those people get access to those services and the equipment needed to live the life of their dreams. 

With Handi Capable Fitness have you had to make any changes to your business model during COVID times?

Of course, I think you do to a certain extent because there was a little bit of plans to travel the country and do those things and actually meet up with some of these handi-capable athletes, but with COVID, we've had to pivot a little bit and do things through Zoom and that sort of thing, just like everybody else.  In other ways it's been a huge blessing as well, too because now we can Zoom with people around the world and that's been a tremendous experience as well. So, we've definitely had to pivot just a little bit. 

What is kind of one thing that you've learned through your experience of Handi Capable Fitness from when it started to now?

Oh man. There’s so many that could be drawn from, but it's the simple fact that I'm very fortunate in being the founder, that people have believed in me and my mission. It’s been able to make such a big impact in this community. I mean, never in a million years when I started Handi Capable Fitness, literally it was just kind of a hobby, and I didn't see it going the nonprofit route or the motivational speaking route. It’s just kind of taken on that life of its own but make no mistake, Handi Capable Fitness, hasn't gotten to where it's gotten to by itself. It's been the help of so many other people, supporters like you, supporters like Lebert Fitness. I mean everybody's been great and because of that, Handi Capable Fitness has grown and we're able to make an impact so, that I'm truly appreciative of. 

That's amazing. If someone wants to start the process of achieving their goals or would like to donate to your organization or nonprofit organization, how can they do that?

They can visit www.handicapablefitness.com and there's a donate tab right there.

Perfect. That's pretty precise and concise. That's great. Is there anything else that you want to say about Handi Capable Fitness that maybe you haven't covered so far?

You know what, I don't think so, but I do want to just let the people know again, that just because whatever challenges you may have, that doesn't define you and you can go out there and you can live a great life.  The thing is, and this goes for any anybody, handi-capable athlete, or able-bodied person, whoever, everybody was once a beginner, you know, The Rock didn't get to where he was just by waking up one morning and boom, next thing you know, he's a mega movie star and a WWE wrestler. No, it all started with him taking that first step and that's what we need to do as we head into 2021 here, 2020 taught us a lot of, I believe, great lessons and let's take those and don't wait for the new year to go after your goals, whatever it is, whether it's fitness related or something else, start today and start building those bricks, brick by brick and eventually you'll get to where you want to go. 

I could not have said that better myself, James, because yeah, you just got to take that first step and you kind of got to go from there and the building blocks to success can be long and hard and it's certainly not linear.

A hundred percent. I mean, it’s a zig-zaggy road. If you keep staying the course and keep pushing on, then, then you can achieve those goals. And you know what, at the end of the day, take the video, you know, put it out there. Even if you don't think it looks good or whatever the case may be, you never know who you could inspire. And next thing you know that person has found the courage to go after their dream because they saw you doing something.  Never be, self-conscious put it out there and look to help as many people as you can in the process. 

Well, James, I just want to thank you for being on the podcast. Once again, this was James Norris, who is the founder of Handi Capable Fitness. You’ve been listening to the Fitness for All podcast here on the Lebert Fitness, sponsored by and hosted by myself, Cam Jenkins. James, thanks very much for being on show.

Cam, thank you so much. I really look forward to touching base with you soon. 

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