You can get just about anything in Los Angeles, from globe-spanning cuisine to world-class entertainment to year-round blue skies, but after being paralyzed in 2007, Brett St. James couldn’t find an accessible place to work out nearyby. For some, the lack of an accessible gym would have provided an easy excuse, but for St. James, a former college athlete, it was a source of frustration, and eventually motivation.
Initially St. James, a T7 para, took to the streets, trying to stay in shape by wheeling around LA’s sidewalks. But too many cracks and unkempt walkways forced him into the actual streets. The smoother surfaces were a welcome change, but the honks and yells of impatient drivers forced him to accept that the situation was untenable.
“I really needed a place to go work out,” he recalls. “When I started looking for one in the area, I didn’t find any adaptive fitness centers. I just kept doing more research and looking into building something and everyone was like, ‘That’s a great idea,’ so I kept going for it and started the foundation.”
“The foundation” is the St. James Foundation. Using the savvy and skills he learned while earning his business degree at Cal-State Northridge, he launched the foundation in 2010 with the goal of providing accessible recreational activities for people with spinal cord injuries. At the heart of his vision is an adaptive fitness center for the thousands of area residents like himself – with and without disabilities. And though there is such a center in Northridge now (C.O.R.E. Center), there is nothing for L.A.-area residents who live too far from the Valley to make regular workouts feasible.
“I want it to be a low cost alternative,” St. James adds. “I know that a lot of people don’t have funds to spare when they become disabled. I want it to be a social outlet where they can mingle and get involved.”
St. James has put together an architectural rendering and some interior images of the center he envisions, but knows erecting the actual building will be a much more difficult — and more expensive — task. He is currently trying to raise funds to host a charity concert at the Forum, which he believes will generate enough money to move the center much closer to reality.
He has partnered with NSCIA to launch the Los Angeles chapter and unite the local SCI community behind his vision. As far as fundraising, he held the first annual “Defy Limitations” golf tournament last year and is already planning its sequel this September. He is also working on a gala dinner event this Nov. 13 at the Taglyan Complex.
St. James is proud of the progress he has made so far, but admits it has been a learning process and hasn’t always proceeded as quickly as he had hoped. “I’ve learned a lot from everything I’ve been through and I feel like it is all preparation for the overall campaign and the eventual establishment of the fitness center,” he says. “I just want to promote a healthy city lifestyle. It makes me feel better every day, and I know it can do the same for others.”