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Adaptive Spin Classes to Reach Rural Utah Communities


Adaptive Spin Classes to Reach Rural Utah Communities

Melissa Zahl, PhD, receives grant from the prestigious Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation

By Sarah Shebek

Melissa Zahl
Melissa Zahl, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Occupational and Recreational Therapies

Just keep spinning, just keep spinning, just keep spinning, spinning, spinning.

That can be tough to do with paralysis or other complex disabilities. In fact, research indicates 50% of people with paralysis don’t take part in any leisure-time physical activity, including spin cycling. It can be hard to find adaptive equipment, especially if you don’t live in a major city.

Melissa L. Zahl, PhD, MTRS, CTRS, an associate professor in the Department of Occupational and Recreational Therapies, wants to change that. She’s received a Quality of Life grant from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation to bring free rental adaptive cycles and virtual spin classes to rural communities.

While Zahl completed her doctoral training through the College of Health, she worked as a graduate research assistant to implement TRAILS: Technology, Recreation, Access, Independence, Lifestyle, Sports. It’s an adaptive outreach program of the Craig H. Neilsen Rehabilitation Hospital at University of Utah Health for those with complex disabilities.

“Since then, I’ve always been affiliated with the TRAILS program,” she said. “Providing a spin program that’s offered through a rehab center is going to benefit individuals with paralysis, particularly those who live in rural communities and don’t always have the access to adaptive recreation.”

To achieve this, Zahl applied for a Quality of Life Grant through the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, which isn’t easy to get. It’s been more than 10 years since the last time a University of Utah faculty or staff member received a grant from the Reeve Foundation. The funds support people with paralysis and include extensive criteria for outputs and outcomes.

Zahl focused the grant on access to a specific type of adaptive bike, called a KrankCycle. The cycle is wheelchair accessible and hand-powered. It enables individuals with limited mobility to participate in a shared program and tap into the positive energy of a group fitness class.

The resulting project will create a loan program to distribute the KrankCycles and virtual spinning classes to individuals with paralysis who live in rural communities. The goal is to improve quality of life and contribute knowledge on the impact of participation in recreation for the individuals.

“Most people, while they love the staff at Neilsen Rehab, don’t want to go to the center because it’s an extra obstacle to navigate,” she said. “Our program takes a step away and says you can’t use that as an excuse. We will get it to you.” 

People Krankcycling
The Krankcycle is completely wheelchair accessible, and spinning can be performed in a seated or standing position. Photo credit:

"Providing a spin program that’s offered through a rehab center is going to benefit individuals with paralysis, particularly those who live in rural communities who don’t always have the access to adaptive recreation."

Research shows that regular participation in recreation prevents health problems and loss of function. And regular recreation makes it easier to be part of a larger community. For example, adaptive spinning builds endurance, which makes it easier to go shopping or to dinner with a friend.

“Since TRAILS started in 2006, they have offered adaptive spinning classes,” Zahl said. “They want to expand their program offerings and bring them to people outside of Salt Lake. This grant is going to help do that.”

The grant brings together a strong team of researchers and clinicians:

  • Alexandra L. Terrill, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Occupational and Recreational Therapies, will serve as project support.
  • Jeffrey P. Rosenbluth, MD, director of Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Service and associate professor (clinical), will help recruit individuals for this program.
  • A member of the TRAILS team will coordinate the delivery of the cycles, as well as the training and education.

After participants are recruited, they’ll go through an extensive intake and safety check. Then they’ll meet with a TRAILS team member, who will show them how to use the equipment and fit it for their specific needs.

Once they’re set, they’ll be able to join a virtual adaptive spin cycle class in tandem with a live adaptive class. It will occur at least three times a week through a protected Zoom session.

Over the next 18 months, Zahl’s goal is to establish an effective virtual spinning program that will inform best practice for other adaptive recreation and rehabilitation facilities. The program will demonstrate how to increase quality of life and improve health for individuals with paralysis.

“This grant aligns with my recreational therapy heart,” she said. “It’s all about getting resources to people with disabilities and giving people access to adaptive recreation. I’m excited to see what these bikes and this program can do.”