In 2006 Stour Centre gym member Derek noticed a pain in his neck which quickly progressed to a loss of sensation in his fingers, before quickly moving down his legs. Employed in a manual job this meant that it wasn’t long before he was struggling to pick things up and perform his role effectively. After a visit to his GP he was referred to an MS consultant at Canterbury hospital where he was treated for rheumatoid arthritis for four weeks.

However this treatment and the subsequent consultations that followed failed to get to the bottom of the problem and for a while it was believed Derek was suffering from a tumour on the spine. MRI scans fortunately revealed that this was not the case, but it would be two years before doctors diagnosed Derek with the vary rare condition – Devics disease.

Devics disease - which typically only appears in individuals for the first time once they are over the age of forty - attacks the spinal cord and results in paralysis and loss of sensation in the legs or arms. It is only known to affect 5 people in the UK and less than 800 in the USA. Currently there is no cure. In July 2008 Derek was recommended by his Physios to join Ashford Leisure Trust’s Exercise on Referral programme where his exercise programme could be developed and closely monitored by the team of professionally and medically qualified instructors.

Prior to starting the programme Derek was already unable to walked unaided and used a four wheel walker, but within 12 months he had progressed to being able to move using only crutches, despite being forced to leave his workplace of 15 years. After completing the initial 4 month programme, Derek decided to continue with his membership at the Stour Centre – heeding advice that if he were to stop exercising the chances were his overall mobility would rapidly diminish. He has also been able to bring his weight down from a peak of 105kg to his current level of around 85kg.

John Deeble from the Trust’s specialist Exercise on Referral team soon recommended Derek to try working out on the indoor rowing machines since they provide a holistic workout on a single piece of equipment – both at a strength building and cardio-vascular level.

Derek started by rowing for only 5 minutes on each of his two sessions a week, but has now progressed to rowing for 2 hours on each his visits – during which time he covers an average of 25km. His record is a staggering 62kms in 5 hours, based upon an average pace of 2.3kms every 10 minutes – a feat he took on to ensure he achieved the Trust’s summer gym challenge, to row across the Amazon river basin.

Derek is indebted to the gym team at the Stour Centre – all of whom have helped him over the years with advice on technique and personal challenges. He is convinced that had he not taken the decision himself to maintain a regular exercise regime he would today be confined to a wheelchair. Derek’s father John accompanies him on every visit and provides ongoing support, encouragement and company during his 2 hour workouts.

Summing up his experience at the Stour Centre, Derek says he loves the friendly, atmosphere of the gym and sense of community amongst its members. In particular he appreciates the fact that membership encompasses individuals at all of the different stages of their respective fitness journeys – from beginner to elite athlete.

Derek has also received comments from members saying that seeing him working out week in and week out, despite the physical challenges he faces, has inspired them to train more regularly.

Derek has even invested in a Concept 2 rower at his home, ensuring that he maintains his workouts even when bad weather may prevent him from getting to the gym, and using the machine’s Smartcard capability, is able to record all of his workouts.

Read other inspirational stories here.