Atlanta, GA,
12:02 PM

Fitness and Fellowship

The Fitness Buddy program at Shepherd Center’s ProMotion Fitness Center provides support, accountability, and camaraderie.

Three days a week, usually before the sun rises, Shepherd Center Fitness Buddy volunteer Doyle Mote meets Donna Luttrell for Donna’s morning workout at Shepherd’s ProMotion Fitness Center.

Except for a break during COVID, Donna and Doyle have maintained this routine since Donna joined the gym in 2014, and for Donna, who has multiple sclerosis (MS), it’s meant a lot.

“First of all, it means I can work out, and I can try to, by working out, stave off MS’s progression. I would hate to know where I would be if I couldn’t work out. And second of all, it gives me socialization, not just with Doyle but with the exercise physiologists too, but Doyle especially because he and I are giggling all the time,” Donna laughs. “It’s good for me mentally.”

ProMotion is a community gym open to people of all abilities. The Fitness Buddy program started in 2009 to give physical and emotional support to gym members who might need assistance with their workouts. 

“We had seen a pattern with some of our members — they stopped coming because they didn't have a caregiver, friend, or family member to help them work out. So, in trying to figure out how to circumvent that, we turned to Shepherd’s Volunteer Services for help,” says Lisa Eagen, BS, ACSM-CPT, lead exercise physiologist in Shepherd Center's ProMotion Fitness Center.

When the program began, Doyle, who had retired from AT&T, signed up to help.

“Despite the fact that I was the first volunteer, they wanted to continue the program for some reason — I guess they thought they could improve from their first volunteer,” Doyle jokes.

Now one of the many options available to Shepherd volunteers is serving as a fitness buddy.

Abby Cohen, a senior at Georgia Institute of Technology majoring in neuroscience, also volunteers.

“I was trying to figure out ways to get observation hours and learn more about the different avenues of physical therapy, and Shepherd seemed like a great place to do that,” she recalls.

The program is tailored to fit each gym member’s needs.

“Our first meeting is with the gym member, the volunteer, and a staff member. We figure out an exercise program for the gym member, train the volunteer to facilitate the workout, and once they're both comfortable with it, they set their schedule.” Eagen explains.

Having a buddy boosts accountability and encourages social interaction, another key to overall wellness. And according to the volunteers, the benefits run both ways.

“Volunteers have told me that being able to give back is meaningful. And they also learn about the challenges people in the disability community may face. Some Fitness Buddies have been real advocates for gym members,” Eagan explains.

“I think I get the most out of just seeing people give it their best shot, and I'm amazed, regardless of how many times I see it, at how much grit people possess. I've gotten a lot out of just being around that over the years,” Doyle says.

Abby appreciates the sense of community the Fitness Buddy program fosters.

“I think the ‘after’ of an intense event like an injury can be overlooked, and the fact that Shepherd continues to provide a community is something really special.”

And after nearly nine years of working out at ProMotion with Doyle as her fitness buddy, Donna heartily recommends trying the program.

“It has done me a world of good, and I think it can do anybody else a world of good, just to know there’s somebody there who cares about helping you and making whatever problems you have a little less of a problem. It’s a wonderful program.”

 Written by Ruth Underwood





About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.