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Huntington Beach man credits local YMCA with creating life-changing habits

Personal trainer Ashley Griswold, top, helps start paraplegic Paul Ferguson off on his workout.
Personal trainer Ashley Griswold, top, helps start paraplegic Paul Ferguson off on his workout at the Huntington Beach Family YMCA on Thursday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Paul Ferguson goes to the Huntington Beach Family YMCA three times a week for one-hour training sessions.

Ferguson, 53, works there with personal trainer Ashley Griswold. They do cable exercises for his back, then he will lift weights in the gym’s spacious weight room or work on the upper body ergometer.

The Huntington Beach resident is a T12 paraplegic, the result of a motocross accident 18 years ago. He’s in great shape and doesn’t let his disability define him.

“It definitely changed my life, for the better, believe it or not,” Ferguson said of the debilitating crash. “I appreciate life a lot more and take everything seriously. Not too seriously, but I understand that we’re here for a limited time. I know that every day above ground is a good day.”

He’s been confined to a wheelchair ever since, but he has a funny spin on that.

“I ditch out on leg day,” he said with a laugh. “I’m too lazy.”

In all seriousness, Ferguson said going to the local YMCA has made a real difference in his attitude and general outlook. He said he lost motivation to work out during the coronavirus pandemic, before passing by the YMCA on Adams Avenue last December.

The gym was doing outside activities at the time. Ferguson jumped right in and linked up with Griswold, who started doing whatever exercises she could with her client. She would link the bands to the posts of the tent outside, or throw a medicine ball with Ferguson.

His core strength is much-improved since he started training there.

“You have to have core strength,” Griswold said. “We take it for granted, but for him to be able to sit up and throw a ball back and forth and pull bands each way, he’s come a long way.”

Paul Ferguson, a t12 paraplegic who has been wheelchair-bound for 18 years, said he has transformed his life.
Paul Ferguson, a t12 paraplegic who has been wheelchair-bound for 18 years, said he has transformed his life with healthier fitness routines he practices at the Huntington Beach Family YMCA.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The Huntington Beach Family YMCA has a variety of programs for all ages, including children. With Labor Day past and children back to their busy school routines, facility officials have been working on ways to keep members and families engaged.

From Aug. 16 to Sept. 19, the branch ran a “check-in challenge.” Gym-goers had to visit the gym at least 20 times in the period, putting stickers beside their name on a big board. Those who met the challenge were entered in a raffle to receive a free month membership or two personal training sessions.

“Days that they might have blown it off, [the challenge board] motivated them,” Huntington Beach Family YMCA program manager Jimmy Lessard said. “They have that direct visual to see where they’re at. It’s fun to see them pushing each other that way.”

Emilio Sosa, operations director for the YMCA of Orange County, wants people to know that the county’s YMCA branches do offer personal trainers and a wide variety of activities from children to seniors.

He added that the YMCA takes a healthy mind, body and spirit approach to its members. It’s about developing healthy habits.

There are sports and fitness classes for children, and Group X classes for adults.

“It’s not just about being fit,” Sosa said. “You can be fit, but if you’re living in a stressful environment, you’re not eating healthy, that all gets in the way of living a very well-rounded, healthy lifestyle … We like to get to know our members. When you join the ‘Y,’ you join the ‘Y’ family.”

The colorful Ferguson has developed a fun relationship with Griswold, who often just smiles at his one-liners or comments.

But he has also gained confidence. Last month, he said he went surfing for the first time in decades on the north side of the Huntington Beach Pier through a foundation called Life Rolls On.

“I have the confidence now to say, ‘Yeah, I’ll sign up for that, and go out there and enjoy it and have a great time,’” Ferguson said. “It’s honestly been life-changing.”

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