It’s been seven years since a motorcycle accident took the use of his legs and suspended a promising athletic future, but Ben Johnson of Minot is still making the world rock in various ways.
The 25-year-old recently spearheaded an effort to install a pair of total access exercise machines at the Minot Family YMCA. A multifunction strength system and Krankcycle aerobic machine were purchased with funding from the Trinity Health Foundation. They are accessible to any Y member who has a physical impairment, including someone in a wheelchair.
Russell Gust, MS, CSCS, manager of Trinity Health’s Exercise Physiology Department, said the new equipment is the result of a team effort that serves as a model for how things can get done in a community. “This is a perfect example of how community partners can come together to meet the needs of the community,” Gust said. “You had Ben and his family bringing a great idea forward, Trinity Health Foundation providing the funding, and the YMCA making the space available.”
“It’s exactly what we envisioned when this partnership was created over 20 years ago,” said Roger Mazurek, the Y’s Executive Director. “We knew we could do more together than either of us could do on our own. It is safe to say that the quality of life in our community is positively impacted through our partnership with Trinity Health, along with the support of the Trinity Foundation.”
Johnson once lived in Minot where his father, Rev. Nathan Johnson, was a pastor at Assembly of God Church. He moved to Grand Forks with his parents and completed high school there. He was 18 when he lost control of his motorcycle on a curve in Grand Forks. The accident severed his spinal cord, paralyzing him below mid-chest. For Johnson, it was time for a gut check. “Seeing my parents and how devastated they were, I decided I had to get motivated and push myself to start living again and make the most of my situation,” he said.
He spent two months at Craig Hospital in Denver, a world-renowned rehabilitation hospital that specializes in spinal cord injuries. He continued his rehab in Grand Forks. Since then he’s been blessed – marrying his wife, Brooke, and moving back to Minot where they’re making their life together.
But sports and athleticism were always part of Johnson’s identity. “When I had the accident, I lost a part of what defined me,” he said. He wasn’t about to give up on that part of himself.
For the past year and a half, he’s been working with Tanya Gillen, ACE, a certified personal trainer with Trinity Health’s Exercise Physiology program at the Y and at the Cardiopulmonary Rehab Center. She developed an individualized exercise program tailored to Ben’s needs. But physical barriers couldn’t help but get in the way. “I could never reach the (lat) pulldown,” he said. “Most of machines meant transferring in and out of my chair, which puts stress on my shoulders.”
He and Gillen batted around ideas about accessible machines that would make his workouts easier and more effective. “He always talked about the equipment he had used in Denver and Grand Forks,” Gillen said. “He wanted to do similar stuff here, but there wasn’t any place in Minot that had the equipment. His mother-in-law, Becky Beechie, is a go-getter. She made some phone calls and got the ball rolling.”
The question was what to get. Tia Klein, the Y’s Physical Director, researched the matter and looked at various machines. Then there was the matter of how to fund the purchase. Gust submitted a grant request to the Trinity Health Foundation, and the board responded favorably.
Now, with the new multifunction strength system, Johnson can work his entire upper body without leaving his chair. With the arm crank bicycle, he can wheel his chair up to the equipment and perform a workout that gets his heart rate going to improve his cardiovascular endurance. “Being able to work out on my own independently is really nice,” he said. “I can do what I want.”
Johnson hasn’t given up on sports either. He plays adaptive golf and has played sled hockey with Prairie Grit, an adaptive sports program that gives youth and adults with disabilities the chance to experience sports competition.
Gillen, meanwhile, thinks he might be destined for even greater pursuits, like training to become a contender in the Paralympics. “When you work with someone like Ben, you learn that anything is possible,” she said.