How to Work Out Like This Paralympic Champion with Transverse Myelitis

Amanda McGrory’s teammates nicknamed her work out “The Stairway to Hell.” Depending on how you feel about intense work outs, that could make you want to run away screaming, or sound like a promising routine.

It’s a form of the stair climb. I, along with many others, have a pretty complicated relationship with this classic piece of exercise equipment. Sure, it guarantees a solid work out that combines strength and cardio. On the other hand, I find it it wildly painful. Basically, until we develop the technology that will let me to hire a spirit to possess my body, take it to the gym, and stair climb on my behalf, it’s hard for me to give it my full endorsement.

Amanda’s version has a twist though. She does the stair climb on her hands.
Amanda lost the ability to work suddenly, when she was only five years old. After a long journey through various hospitals, a doctor finally diagnosed her with transverse myelitis (TM). Transverse myelitis happens when the spinal cord is inflamed, and the insulation that protects nerve cell fibers is damaged. This leads to muscle weakness, pain, and in some cases, paralysis. It isn’t hereditary or contagious, and treatment only helps manage symptoms. To learn more about this rare disorder, click here.

The transition was incredibly difficult for Amanda. She retreated away from activities she used to enjoy. At one point, she stopped eating. Things started looking up one summer, after her worried parents found a program that transformed her life. They enrolled her in the, Variety Club of Philadelphia, which is a camp for kids who struggle with physical challenges. Amanda was finally able to connect with other kids who dealt with similar challenges. She also discovered her talent for wheelchair sports.

Amanda had a real skill, that extended beyond sleep-away camp. She has an impressive list of athletic accomplishments: an athletic scholarship in college, seven medals from Paraplegic games, 25 marathons completed. She played for a wheelchair basketball team, and raced in track. Recently, she was less than a second away from snagging first place in a marathon, and next, she’ll be racing in New York.

All this goes to say that when Amanda shares her work out with you, take note of it.

Here’s how it works. She starts by attaching her ankles to a cable, which is attached to the track. This lifts her legs and suspends her lower body in the air. She starts at the bottom, and climbs up and down the stairs as quickly as she can, for a pre-determined length of time. She does it in circuits, like 30 seconds on, followed by a minute of rest. Sometimes she changes it up. Who doesn’t get a little bored of climbing up the stairs using only hands, while suspended in mid air? Then she’ll do a push up at each step, as, you know, we all do.

She usually does this work out while she’s training for strength during her winter off-season. She says it’s a good change of pace from competitive racing. Since the “stairway to hell” builds so much upper body strength, it’s helps build skills that make her a better racer.


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