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Through a program called Project Walk, the Claremont Club is helping spinal cord injured clients regain mobility, and it now is working with ALS patient and fitness industry veteran Augie Nieto to help him reach his goal of walking again.
Jason S. (center in wheelchair) and Jonathan W. (boy to the far right) are two of the 30 clients currently at Project Walk in the Claremont Club. Jason also works at the club as a storyteller in the child care area. Prior to Project Walk, Jason only had movement from the neck up, but he has shown great improvement in moving his right arm. Jason’s goal is to gain enough movement in his right arm and hand to be able to feed himself and to hug his son. Photo courtesy of the Claremont Club.
The Claremont Club has a history with the Be Perfect Foundation that stems from the nonprofit’s founder, Hal Hargrave Jr. In July 2007 at the age of 18, Hargrave, a friend of Alpert’s daughter and a member of the Claremont Club, was paralyzed in a truck accident, cutting short his dream of going to Long Beach State to play baseball. As Hargrave was rehabilitating at Casa Colina Center for Rehabilitation in Pomona, CA, Alpert suggested to Hargrave and his parents, who also were members of the Claremont Club, that the club could offer Hargrave a familiar setting to continue his rehabilitation once he was done at Casa Colina.
Alpert then set about converting a racquetball court into a rehab room. As that renovation was being completed, Hargrave began rehabilitation at Project Walk’s Carlsbad, CA, location about 90 miles south of Claremont. Alpert sent two of his trainers to Project Walk to learn how to work with Hargrave’s condition. Then, in March 2008, the conversion and the training were complete, allowing Hargrave to begin rehabilitation at the Claremont Club.
During his time in Carlsbad, Hargrave founded the Be Perfect Foundation after witnessing the financial difficulties many of the other patients experienced paying for rehabilitation and other services, such as retrofitting vans and houses to accommodate their new situation.
People with spinal cord injuries can spend more than $2.5 million over their lifetime on treatments, according to the Be Perfect Foundation. Because of their paralysis, most individuals with spinal cord injuries lose their jobs, making paying these expenses difficult, especially since insurance typically picks up little after the initial rehabilitation period.
As Hargrave continued his workouts at Claremont, word got out about his progress through this program.
“I went back to Mike and said, ‘Maybe this isn’t something that could just service me. Maybe we could service people in the surrounding area,’” Hargrave says. “We went from there.”
The program added more clients until it reached what Hargrave and Alpert determined was maximum capacity at 20 full-time clients. The two knew they needed to move into a larger space. That is when Hargrave and his parents decided to become Project Walk franchisees and worked with Alpert to move the program to the 3,000 square feet within the club that a hospital group was vacating.
The Claremont Club and Be Perfect are looking to expand. Alpert is considering building a 30,000-square-foot satellite club that would include another Project Walk program that could help even more people.
“People believe in it, and we are doing some great things,” Hargrave says.
Clients who use Project Walk are not coming just to regain their ability to walk, Hargrave says.
“So many people see the name of this facility as Project Walk, and they think the end-all-be-all to all this is walking,” Hargrave says. “For me personally, it’s so many of the little gains that I see on a day-to-day basis of this in becoming independent around the house again that are probably the biggest feats of all. Being able to feed myself, brush my teeth and just do things around the house—it makes all the difference in the world in becoming myself again, becoming confident and becoming prideful again. It has transitioned out into the real world when I’m out in the public and I’m able to reach my hand out and shake someone’s hand and just do the little things that everyone takes for granted. A facility like this has put all of that into perspective for me in realizing that this is much bigger than walking. It’s all the little victories along the way that you were told you would never do again. You have to cherish every little victory, and you have to keep taking one step forward and keep taking baby steps and work toward that main goal.”