When Lola Byron, now 73, met Sickel three years ago, she looked around at all the “kids games” and thought, This is baloney. The Bethesda resident didn’t hide her skepticism. Sickel chuckles, remembering her saying something like, “How are these toys going to help me?”
“I took that as a challenge,” he says.
Byron, who calls herself “an open-minded skeptic,” began working with Sickel twice a week and quickly noticed a difference in herself. She’d been diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP) as a child, but it was a mild case and rarely affected her. In her mid-50s, while on a European vacation with her husband, she started having trouble walking. “Then I began to notice all kinds of little things,” Byron says. Her balance was shaky, her energy and endurance were lower than usual. It became hard to lift her legs, which would drag slightly. She fell a lot. She searched for someone who specialized in adults with CP—physicians, physical therapists, personal trainers—but nobody could help improve her balance and coordination. Years later, a doctor recommended Fitness for Health.
In one of Byron’s first sessions, Sickel had her walk on the trampoline. He and another staff member had to hold her, one on each side, so she wouldn’t fall. “Putting her in such an unstable environment shocks the system,” Sickel says. Byron also worked with the Trazer, walking in different directions as she followed a red dot. “What’s interesting is that the movement can be difficult, but if you are looking at a red dot in a square…you’re not really conscious of what your body is doing,” she says.
Byron soon walked the length of the trampoline without assistance. After about a year, she went up three flights of stairs at Fitness for Health without using the handrail. It had been decades since she’d walked up stairs unassisted. She increased her sessions to three days a week, working with different trainers, including Sickel. “I know I have CP; I know I’m aging,” she says. But Fitness for Health is keeping her strong and staving off severe symptoms—she’s no longer frustrated and worried about what her future holds. “I think it’s done a lot for me emotionally,” she says.