Meet the Virgin Active team member helping gym goers with disabilities

After hearing about the difference one of our Virgin Active fitness instructors in Cape Town had made for blind gym member Kenny van Aardt, we wanted to find out more. It turns out Bright Zulu’s work has only just begun...

Tell us how you became part of Virgin Active.

I started with work experience while I was at school in Durban. I loved working with the clients, so I asked if I could carry on working there and they said I could shadow the staff until I was qualified.

Then I got a part time job where I did four hours after school every day – eventually I got a full-time job, and moved here to Cape Town where I’m a fitness instructor.

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How did you get to know Kenny van Aardt?

Because Kenny has lost his sight, he’d ask for guidance up the stairs to the spin studio – he did a lot of spin classes. So I got to know him and noticed that he always suffered discomfort in his shoulder after the class – it was a result of muscle tension caused by using his cane. I started doing a little bit of massage on it once a week and it made a big difference for him.

How did the training programme come about?

When I needed a client to use as a case study for my personal training course, I said I wanted to work with Kenny. I was studying special needs and disability as part of the programme so I was able to do that.

When we first started, he had very little muscle strength, so we worked on that. We set some goals and made real progress in balancing out his body and using dff erent equipment in the gym.

This created quite a lot of interest, didn’t it?

Yes, people were curious about why I was helping him. I work for the gym and I’m there to help everyone – that’s why. I think they found it hard to understand that I wasn’t being paid for it, but I’m just doing it because I want to help.

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What happened when you had finished the course?

I didn’t want to stop working with Kenny because we’d laid some good foundations, both with him and at the gym. I realised that what I wanted was to help more people with disabilities and special needs, to make it possible for them to feel confident about coming to Virgin Active – to know that they can do rehabilitation or keep fit with us and there are people who will help them.

What’s your aim now?

There’s more to be done and I’d like eventually to work in head office to deal with this more strategically, to implement policies that will help those with disabilities and special needs to use our gyms. It’s something I feel really passionate about.

Finally, you’ve been described as one of Virgin Active’s rising stars. What advice would you give those starting out?

Do the personal training course that Virgin offers staff! It’s a great opportunity to broaden your career and it’s worthwhile making the effort to apply for it. The course can be challenging at times – especially the anatomy – but stick with it, it’s really worth it.

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And here's what Kenny had to say about working with Bright...

“I was just using a small part of the gym, where there weren’t too many people but when Bright started doing some training with me, I began to use much more of it. His work has raised awareness of the benefi ts of doing this, and more people are interested now. It was a very positive experience and I think more of the disabled community would love to come and use the gym if they knew there was somebody there who would give them a bit of help. It would be a great opportunity for Virgin Active to differentiate itself, and it doesn’t necessarily need a lot of time, just assistance in familiarising disabled people with the layout and equipment, or helping them to move between different machines. Bright’s got the right empathy – he’s really good.”

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