Kris Saunders-Stowe is a qualified fitness instructor and founder of hugely successful ‘Wheely Good Fitness’. He is also a motivational speaker, encouraging people to change the way they think about disability and fitness. This is Kris’s incredible story of resolution and dedication.
Kris Saunders-Stowe’s health began to fail in 2008 when he started having problems with his joints. Doctors diagnosed a progressive degenerative condition which left him increasingly immobile. By 2010 he was suffering from depression and barely left the house.
Kris relied on crutches, even though they could not give him the support he needed. Yet he stubbornly refused to try a wheelchair. “When anyone attempted to convince me to use one, my response was never exactly polite!” he says.
It was Kris’s partner who finally convinced him to give it a try. The results were overwhelming. Kris always thought that a wheelchair would make him dependent, but he immediately felt a sense of freedom: “It was the best thing I ever did. I could finally do the simple things I hadn’t been able to do, like going to Alton Towers with a group of friends. It was a true revelation. I just felt so liberated.”
Another milestone Kris recalls with fondness is going to a Cardiff hotel for lunch in 2012 and finding the place full of wheelchair users. The Australian Paralympic team were staying there for the 2012 games, and Kris was introduced to inspiring athletes who became his role models. “I was engrossed in their campaign from then on. I was definitely team Australia for the 2012 games”, he says.
Kris’s wheelchair gave him more possibilities in fitness, and he was soon trying out different team sports.
When his basketball coach was absent one day, Kris took charge of the training: “I remember thinking ‘I can do this’, and that maybe there was a future for me in fitness,” he says.
As a wheelchair user, Kris felt the fitness activities on offer were tame, token gestures. “People, whether able-bodied or disabled, have different levels of ability, different needs and different limitations,” he explains. “I saw a real need for dynamic, fun classes that embraced the wheelchair as wheelchair as an extension of the body rather than an obstacle'.”
Changing the status quo
It was then that Kris decided to qualify as a gym and fitness instructor. When he passed the test, he could apply fitness principles to the needs of disabled clients. He now offers a wide range of fitness classes including Wheel-Fit, Aero-Fit, Wheel-Spin and Gentle Mobility classes.
He has seen incredible physical and psychological transformations in his clients. One of his female clients was barely able to open her right hand to push her chair when she first came to him. Kris saw her strengthen and develop, defying all the odds to become one of his most faithful Wheel-Spin customers. Kris says he is privileged to be part of these people’s journeys.
While fitness classes for the disabled are not a new or ground-breaking concept, what truly sets Kris apart is his infectious personality and relentless enthusiasm. His dynamic classes are sought by fans around the world, and he responded by releasing at-home fitness DVDs.
It’s hard to believe that only a few years ago, Kris was clinging to his crutches. Now, he’s inspiring followers worldwide to embrace their wheelchairs.