Home Community/Human Interest How This NJ YMCA’s Disability Program Is Changing Lives

How This NJ YMCA’s Disability Program Is Changing Lives

by James Barrett
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In a world of Peloton, Soul Cycle, Equinox and Mirror, how and where you workout is changing. While many find ways to stay in shape without even stepping foot into a gym, it’s hard to replicate routines and the environment at home. Members of the Randolph YMCA were forced to find alternatives during the seven months that the gym was closed in 2020 during the height of the pandemic. They reopened their doors in September of the same year with online reservations, temperature checks and a mask mandate. 

When you enter the lower level of the Randolph YMCA, an entire floor of updated weight machines, free weights, a spin room and an indoor track, for some, it’s more than just a place to get a workout in. Health and Wellness Director, Mina Rofael, leads and creates individualized training regimens for disabled members. Disabilities range from spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, autism, down syndrome, OCD and bipolar disorder.

“The body achieves what the mind believes. All of my clients have the mindset to get better and they are my heroes. But most importantly, their will makes all the difference on what they can accomplish,” he tells me.

As a Randolph resident myself for more than 25 years, the Randolph YMCA is a place my entire family has grown up in. My workout partner today is still my 70-year-old father. I met Tibby Posillico about a year ago just from bumping into each other at the gym, talking about our weekends and what our workouts for the day entailed. It’s the type of place where you meet people that maybe you wouldn’t have otherwise–and I’m glad I did. She’s been training with Rofael since January 2021. At age 70, she lives in Chester, New Jersey with her husband, has two children in their 30s and is currently CEO of a biotech company with a PHD in cell biology. 

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Tibby Posillico and Mina Rofael at Randolph YMCA l Photography by James Barrett

Before her accident, she loved to exercise and be outside including activities such as horseback riding, hiking, road biking, cross country skiing and tennis. Posillico was very passionate about riding horses and unfortunately, about three years ago, her horse stopped at a fence during a competition in Florida. She was thrown onto the ground and suffered a spinal cord injury, limiting her physically. 

For the last three years, I’ve had to spend a lot of time in a wheelchair. My arms are pretty good, my hands aren’t that great but I can hold a glass. It’s mostly my legs but I’m fortunate that with help I can walk in a walker so I’m luckier than most,” she says. 

Posillico came across the disability program by coincidence. After taking physical therapy, she joined the YMCA to use the warm water pool and one day went down to the lower level to see the gym facilities. “When I met Mina, he was working with another person in a wheelchair and I thought this is great – this is somebody who is comfortable working with me. I was very impressed with all of the various machines and working with a trainer I really can optimize my time,” she explains.

Since January 2021, Posillico has been taking two sessions a week at the Randolph YMCA. She tells me, “In the past year this program has really helped me, given me more ability to stand up, build a stronger core so I can hold myself up better even in a chair which has enhanced my posture.” 

Tibby Posillico and a Randolph YMCA member l Photography by James Barrett

Aside from making strides physically, coming to a regular gym has been unexpectedly uplifting. “The one thing I like about the Y is that there’s a wide range of different types of people, age groups, and it’s just a welcoming place with someone like me with an injury. It’s motivational for me to be around other people that are working hard and come routinely. I say to myself ‘if they can do it, I can do it,’ and it helps me push myself to try to stay strong,” she says. 

With the support from this program, Posillico continues to work with Rofael as she sees improvement from all of her hard work. “I’m very focused on trying to walk and I have to remind myself that I need to do upper body strengthening as well as lower back. With an injury like mine the improvements come but it takes a while…at glacial speed. The real goal is to walk in a walker by myself,” she tells me.

Posillico is one of eight individuals to benefit from this program. The Randolph YMCA also works with the Roxbury High School special needs department for training in their facilities as well. She leaves me with this: “I’m so grateful that I’ve found this particular Y because it’s really helped me and I’ve been pushed in ways I didn’t think I could again.”  

Main image by James Barrett

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