BRIDG­ING THE GAP: COACH CHRIS KELLY

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - MARKETPLACE - BY THERESA WAL­LACE

Well­ness and in­clu­siv­ity: these are the two themes in Chris Kelly’s life, and in his work.

Kelly’s main job is at Cause­way Work Cen­tre, which helps young peo­ple and oth­ers with men­tal and phys­i­cal chal­lenges find jobs. Ten years ago, when ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Don Palmer re­al­ized there was a gap in ser­vices at Cause­way, he used his triathlon knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence to es­tab­lish a gym for the cen­tre’s clients, then hired a per­sonal trainer, Kelly, to run this gym, the first of its kind in Ot­tawa.

“Be­cause of my in­volve­ment in triathlon and men­tal health, I knew the value of ex­er­cise in mit­i­gat­ing de­pres­sion and other men­tal health chal­lenges. You can­not have a healthy mind with­out a healthy body,” Palmer says. “Most of the folks we work with live be­low the poverty line and many are likely to find jobs in phys­i­cally de­mand­ing oc­cu­pa­tions, but when they came to us they couldn’t stay on their feet for more than half an hour with­out hav­ing to sit down.”

Kelly adds that peo­ple who have sig­nif­i­cant men­tal health or ad­dic­tion is­sues or other forms of dis­abil­ity, whether men­tal or phys­i­cal, aren’t usu­ally com­fort­able go­ing to a reg­u­lar gym, but un­less they’re hos­pi­tal­ized, they have no ob­vi­ous ac­cess to a re­cre­ation pro­gram.

In Cause­way’s state-of-the-art gym, goals are bro­ken down into small steps, there are no fees, no penal­ties for missed ap­point­ments, no judg­ments. “Just coming through the door is a vic­tory,” says Kelly. “I treat these clients just like I would any­body else be­cause there’s a stigma at­tached to men­tal ill­ness and my ob­jec­tive is to be in­clu­sive. But some­one who is manic de­pres­sive or bipo­lar has bad days when it’s im­pos­si­ble to get to the gym. Then, I need a lot of pa­tience. No mat­ter how long they dis­ap­pear for, I keep their work­outs in a file folder ready for them when they come back.”

Kelly trains a team of Cause­way clients called the well­ness war­riors to do a lo­cal 5 km run/walk each year. Their fam­i­lies come out to cheer. “For them, it’s like do­ing an Iron­man,” he says. “Fin­ish­ing is a huge con­fi­dence booster.”

His su­per­vi­sor at Cause­way, Sharon Lewis, says client re­ten­tion and suc­cess have im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly be­cause of Kelly.

Kelly also coaches a Peak Cen­tre ear­ly­morn­ing triathlon swim pro­gram in Ot­tawa’s west end. Alex Stewart, man­ager of the cen­tre, has no­ticed higher re­ten­tion rates in this pro­gram since Kelly be­came the coach last year. “We’ve al­ways known triath­letes like a pro­gram with a so­cial side,” Alex says, “but Chris has gone much fur­ther and cre­ated an in­cred­i­ble club at­mos­phere.” Stewart, who trains with the group, says Kelly achieves this while em­pha­siz­ing the needs and goals of each in­di­vid­ual. “At his first 6 a.m. prac­tice, he told ev­ery­one to jump in the wa­ter and swim for an hour. No work­out – he just watched us, got to know each of us and our strengths and weak­nesses, then next prac­tice as­signed us to lanes. Chris takes an in­no­va­tive ap­proach to coach­ing.”

Kelly teaches spin­ning at the Ot­tawa Ath­letic Club, and if you want to be in one of his pop­u­lar week­end classes there, you have to sign up early. He has pro­vided per­sonal train­ing to a vis­ually im­paired triath­lete and many oth­ers with spe­cial needs, and he makes house calls. Be­cause he works so closely with such dif­fer­ent groups of peo­ple and in­di­vid­u­als all over Ot­tawa, he sees first-hand the great di­vide be­tween those who are un­touched by or able to cope with men­tal and phys­i­cal chal­lenges and those who are marginal­ized by them.

“Even though Clara Hughes and oth­ers are do­ing a great job speak­ing out, many of us still don’t have a clue what dif­fi­cul­ties or­di­nary peo­ple with men­tal ill­nesses or other se­ri­ous men­tal or phys­i­cal prob­lems face ev­ery day,” says Kelly. “I know this per­son­ally be­cause of­ten when I say I have at­ten­tion deficit dis­or­der and suf­fer from a form of de­pres­sion called dys­thymia, peo­ple don’t be­lieve me, or they have a hard time un­der­stand­ing.”

Fifty-year-old Chris Kelly grew up in North York, Ont. When he was young, his mother died of complications re­lated to mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis. He dropped out of high school. A decade ago he moved to Ot­tawa, where he com­pleted his ed­u­ca­tion and be­came a cer­ti­fied triathlon coach and per­sonal trainer.

“Some­times get­ting out of bed in the morn­ing is hard when I’m work­ing through a rough patch, but swim­ming, bik­ing and run­ning re­ally help. Ex­er­cise is my Ri­talin, and it’s how I fight my de­pres­sion.”

Theresa Wal­lace is an Ot­tawa free­lance writer.

Chris Kelly (right) at the Ot­tawa Race Week­end 5K

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