Mike Steward is among the disabled veterans who spend their mornings working out at Perez Gym on Fort Jackson.

FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- The Perez Fitness Center has quietly become a place where disabled veterans can keep their minds and bodies fit, but there's also something else taking place there, and it is probably something that all of us should notice -- I certainly have. Even when my son Brandon visited Fort Jackson, he commented on diversity of the patrons -- young and old.

Donna Madl, the Perez Fitness Center facility manager, considers it magical.

"A lot of the young Soldiers who come in here can see these veterans, that they're disabled and are working out. I think it lets them know that there is life after ... that people live with disabilites and can prosper."

The fitness center doesn't have any specialized programs for people with disabilities. Yet because of the attitudes of the staff and the facility's willingness to create an environment that is adaptable for people of different needs, it has slowly become a hub of activity for disabled veterans.

You can find groups meeting unofficially in the mornings throughout the week and I've noticed that when patrons haven't been there for a day or so, they're questioned upon their return.

Veterans make up a large part of the customer base there. They are in their 30s and 40s, and some are even into their 80s. A lot of them use physical fitness as a stress reliever. It's an integral part of their lives, and something they have carried on since their military days. It's a family-type environment at the gym, so people go there to work out, but they also go there to shoot the breeze and socialize. You can find me there many mornings, but, of course, I go there to work out. LoL...I also enjoy shooting the breeze from time to time with the "distinguished" men and women who are faithfully there. They are always harassing each other about something -- very often it's Army-, Navy-, Air Force- or Marine-related... and they do drag me into it.

The equipment is arranged so that frequently-used items are easily accessible. Things are spaced appropriately and machines that are used regularly are near the ends and corners.

The staff members are always willing to lend a helping hand as well. Staff members help them put on their gloves, assist them with the equipment ... any kind of help they need, the staff provides it.

Recently, we renovated the fitness center to make it more accessible to people with differing abilities. A handicapped stall has been added to the men's bathroom, and handicapped, seated shower stalls are now located in the men's and women's locker rooms.

As I said when I got here, "People -- All People are what make Fort Jackson strong!"

Madl refers to one longtime patron as her hero. She said, "he comes in here all the time and works out no matter how he feels. I think that's huge, and if it affects me that way, it certainly has to affect other people that way."

The spirit and determination of all of the veterans I see in Perez Gym have an impact on me as well.

America is obligated to make good on its promise to those who served. While we sometimes get sidetracked with the legislation of that commitment, it's important not to lose track of those small moments of compassion that make the Fort Jackson community so special. Thanks, thanks to all the People who make "our" community so special. It is indeed "the great place."

Victory Starts Here! Victory 6

Page last updated Thu June 21st, 2012 at 10:45