29 Oct How Personal Trainer Clayton Rice Helps Kids With Cerebral Palsy
If you ask personal trainer Clayton Rice how he got into working with kids with cerebral palsy, he’ll tell you, simply, “fate.”
Rice started college with the intent of studying physical therapy, but changed his mind. Instead, he earned two bachelor’s degrees tailored towards nutrition and exercise/biomechanics — and began personal training on the side while working in airport operations at FedEx Express.
He enjoyed personal training and working with people so much, he took over a commercial gym and became the personal training manager of two health clubs in Springfield, Mo.
In 2016, a 5-year-old girl with CP and her family came to Rice with the goal of helping the toddler move more freely. Within two years, she went from using a walker, to canes, to being able to walk semi-independently.
Her success fueled Rice to help more kids with CP gain better mobility. He now has “clients” with CP ranging from 3–15 years old. “I never would have dreamed of teaching kids to walk,” Rice said. “This does not feel like a job. I wake up, and I do good. It means a lot to me. I feel it has given me a purpose.”
Rice sees general population clients as well, who come to him for weight loss, muscle building, and other health and physique goals. But his approach to working with kids with CP is focused solely on addressing muscular imbalances. Rice teaches exercises that build strength, compared to physical therapy that mostly involves stretching.
“Physical therapy wasn’t getting them to where they needed to be,” Rice said of his clients with CP. “You’re limited in what you can do [as a physical therapist], and there’s not that element of really pushing the threshold of what they’re capable of. I believe strength training makes all the difference.”
Rice makes a point to push his kids, as he calls them, which takes a lot of engagement, encouragement and, sometimes, bribery in the form of candy. “They’re doing something none of their peers are doing,” he said. “They have to exercise, and I ask them to do difficult things sometimes … you’re responsible for getting them to see long term, which is really difficult to get a 7-year-old to think that way.”
Determining which exercises will be most beneficial for each kid is also challenging. “There’s no content out there” that’s specific to working with kids with CP — Rice has done his research. He’s attended several seminars on CP to help him better understand the disability and reached out to doctors, trainers and other resources to get feedback on his programs. He’s also working toward becoming Postural Restoration Certified. Currently, there are only three individual providers and one center in Missouri with this certification. “I care about this enough to do this,” Rice said. “If it helps me even 1 percent, that’s worth it to me.”
To keep his workouts effective as his clients grow (literally and figuratively), Rice has to get creative. It’s not unusual to see his kids doing somersaults, which is a surprisingly great exercise as it activates the core, one area of weakness Rice concentrates on. “It’s always, ‘How do we strengthen that?’” while balancing mobility, he said.
At the end of every session, he has his kids walk without mobility aids, even if that means starting on their hands and knees and gradually working up to their feet. Independent walking, as much as possible, is the ultimate goal, and their work doesn’t stop in the gym. Rice teaches parents how to help their kids safely exercise and walk at home, and he spends time with the families — going to the movies and McDonald’s — to continue to build their relationship.
“It’s a special thing to see your influence on [these kids],” Rice said. “They’ve made a big difference for me, too — I’m more patient, more tolerant. It’s forcing me to be a better trainer for my general population clients as well.”
Do You or a Loved One Have CP?
We hope you will take a few moments to learn more about the M+D Crutch. Like Rice, we want to help people experience greater mobility, with more versatility and less pain. Our ergonomic design cradles the forearm and elbow to evenly distribute body weight and keep users balanced in an upright position, while eliminating unnecessary pressure on the hands, wrists and shoulders. Browse our website for more information and to order the M+D Crutch online.