My name is Alanna Flax-Clark. When I was 13, I woke up one morning and could not move or walk on my right foot. I had always been healthy, so this came as a shock. I was finally diagnosed with a chronic neurological disease associated with dysregulation of the central nervous system and autonomic nervous system that results in multiple functional loss in the bones, muscles, nerves, skin, and blood vessels.
I spent the next few years in and out of different hospitals undergoing daily therapies, invasive treatments, and surgeries. With the support of my family, friends, and teachers, I was able to keep up with my school work and returned to high school my senior year. I managed to graduate on time and went away to college in Memphis and then to graduate school in Boston. Starting around late 2007, my health started to decline as my immune system seemed to get extremely weak.
Finally, I became extremely ill with a terrible infection and ended up very suddenly in the ER with a spiking fever. My blood pressure was dangerously low and heart rate dangerously high. My immune system had attacked my nerves and was spreading quickly. I was exhibiting signs of quadriplegia. After years of working so hard with my recovery in my teens, and resuming a more “normal” life, I was once more struggling and frustrated. Physically it seemed like I would never gain my independence.
I was seen at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where I started with rehab. One of the pieces of equipment I was introduced to was the NuStep. I was still trying to gain control over the various parts of my body. With the help of my Physical Therapist, I was able to tailor my workouts each day for my needs. The rotating seat made transferring easy, and there were many ways to stabilize my hands and feet.
When I stopped going to the Mayo Clinic, the NuStep was the one piece of equipment I decided would be helpful to have at home. I wasn’t driving at that point, so it was going to be more difficult to get to physical therapy on a more consistent basis.
I could tell that the NuStep provided a smooth, natural motion that delivered an inclusive, total-body cardiovascular and strengthening workout. I was able to get the benefits of both upper and lower body movements since everything was connected. As I moved my arms the NuStep naturally moved my legs. If I had it at home, there could be no excuse for me to not use it throughout the week!
Now, NuStep provides me with so much more than therapy. Once I got home, I decided to pursue a form of therapy called hippotherapy. Interestingly, the movement and sensory input from the horse can be used to address things such as posture, balance, sensory integration, coordination and mobility, in people with disabilities. Once I started, I saw so many changes emotionally and physically, and I wanted to be challenged every day.
As I continued to build up more strength working with my physical therapist through hippotherapy and using the NuStep at home, I learned about the competitive sport of Para Dressage. I knew it was something I wanted to pursue.
Many might think the word “para” in para-equestrian or para-dressage may mean paralyzed. However, para-equestrians are made up of people of all sorts of disabilities. “Para” literally means parallel and as riders, we go through the same exact training, rules and regulations as any other person would. Para refers to the sport of dressage, so that we are able to show and compete alongside our peers no matter our physical disabilities.
I train with Lehua Custer at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. She is gracious enough to let me ride her Swedish Warmblood, Ramazotti 75. The relationship between horse and rider is very important as the sport is all about communication between the two. For me, it holds even more meaning. Zotti, as I most often call him, is a very gentle horse. From day one he’s been very aware of my needs and is always very protective of me. He has a very calm, mellow personality which allows me to mount directly from my wheelchair, yet his character shines bright in the arena.
When I’m atop Zotti you can’t tell that I roll around in a wheelchair. It’s a time of freedom and empowerment where I’m physically and mentally challenged. I’m viewed as any other rider and Lehua pushes and treats me like anyone else, so I can be the best competitive rider possible. I am training to make it to Nationals this year, and the Paralympics in 2020. Training is intense.
Not only does Zotti have to learn the various cues and aids that I use as a para rider, but I have to learn how to teach him the best way possible. I also have to keep up my stamina and endurance as a rider on and off the horse. The NuStep has been very helpful in my training. I’m trying to increase the days I ride, but on my off days I always get in a workout on my NuStep.
Even if it’s just for 30 minutes/ 3 days a week, it gives me a goal to focus on with stretching before and after. NuStep workouts have helped with my stamina, strength, endurance and focus during the day. Just keeping my body moving, without putting a lot of stress on my joints is such a positive thing, especially as I look at my training and future as a successful athlete.
NuStep Disclaimer: Results may vary for individual users. We encourage our customers to share their success stories with us. Alanna has no affiliation with NuStep and is not a paid endorser. We could not be happier to be a part of Alanna’s training and we wish her the best of luck for Paralympics 2020.