Ade Adepitan

Ade Adepitan on inclusive fitness

Growing up, Ade Adepitan knew he was going to have to forge his own path as a young boy with a disability. Fuelled by a passion for sport and fitness, he made it his mission to not live life differently. And he’s done just that.

The Nigerian-born British TV presenter and wheelchair basketball player was one of the first physically disabled television presenters in the UK. With a career that now spans more than 20 years, he has won both Bronze and Gold medals at the 2004 Summer Paralympics and 2005 Paralympic World Cup.

Now 51, he's spent his life fighting to stay fit in a world that he says is catered towards able-bodied people. “When people look at the concept of fitness, then look at disability, they never see them as something that works together,” says Ade.

“No one looks at a disabled person and thinks, ‘that person is fit, that person is strong’. Everything that surrounds the concept of being fit and healthy is totally at odds with society’s definition of disability.”

Starting at school

At school, Ade was determined to join in with sport. On his first day, he had to prove to the other kids that he was “good enough” to play football with them. “I used to walk on callipers,” says Ade, “I had iron rods coming out of my trouser legs and they were like, ‘woah, how is he going to play any sport?’ I knew I had to be good straight away to be accepted.” The same happened with PE: he’d push the teachers to ask if he could join in – and he was lucky that they were open-minded and willing to let him.

Ade was “football mad” at this time, and despite not being able to run fast on his callipers, he was great in goal. It was a chance meeting that led him to the beginning of his successful career with wheelchair basketball.

“If me and my mates were running long distances, we’d nick a shopping trolley and I’d jump in and race around – that’s how I could keep up with my mates,” he says. “One day I was stopped by a bus while in a trolley, and it was owned by a charity that had a wheelchair basketball team.”

The two physios who ran this group had heard about Ade from a local newspaper after he’d done a sponsored walk for his school. They wanted him to join their basketball team, but weren’t sure how to get into contact. In this moment, their worlds collided.

“I said no,” says Ade. “At the time, wheelchairs weren’t cool and there was a stigma about disability and getting in wheelchairs. I thought people would look and laugh at me.”

But the team was persistent. After 6 months, they convinced Ade to go to the wheelchair championships. “I was blown away," he says. "For the first time, I saw people with disabilities playing sports. It was amazing for me as an 11-year-old to see guys in wheelchairs with big muscles.

“I was in awe of them. They were wanting to be the best, and I’d never heard of people with disabilities wanting to be the best. I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve found my tribe, a place where I feel like I belong, and people are all like me.’ I was totally inspired, that was it, I never looked back.”

Life-affirming fitness

Ade learned from a young age that fitness with a disability is about more than just aesthetics. It’s more than simply looking good. “It’s life-changing and it’s life-affirming,” he says. “We need that independence to live in a world not built for us.

“The moment I open my front door, I face challenges: roads that are not accessible, a transport system that doesn’t work for me, people with attitudes that are working against me. Fitness is the best armoury I have to help me deal with challenges. If I’m unfit or overweight, for example, it’s harder for me to get out of my wheelchair to move into cars. I’d need more help from able-bodied people – that’s why my fitness is so important to me.”

That passion is what is driving him to inspire others in the same position. Ade has teamed up with Joe Wicks to create a series of four YouTube wheelchair workouts to inspire the millions of people with disabilities who want to get fit. “There are lots of disabled people at home who are desperate to do some exercise, but can’t find anything for them,” he says, “they haven’t been as lucky as I have, to have met people who have inspired them. I want to try and do that.”

Educating and sharing knowledge with the disabled community was something Ade started back in 2020, during lockdown, with his younger brother who works in the fitness industry.

The pair did Instagram Lives, where they’d adapt fitness moves for those who had disabilities. He hopes by sharing the workouts on The Body Coach TV, he can get into the homes of more disabled people who don’t have that confidence to start.

“Not everyone has the same sort of confidence as me,” he says. “Because of my upbringing, it’s easy for me to walk into an alien environment like a gym. But it can be so intimidating if you feel like you don't belong there – and they’re expensive!”

Wheelchair workouts for all

Alongside Joe, he wants to bring the gym into people’s homes with minimal equipment. “I want them to prove to themselves that they can be better every day. I want this to be a session that feels empowering and spreads the word, I want people to see this as the beginning of their fitness journey.”

While there are some home workouts on YouTube for people with disabilities, there aren’t enough, says Ade, and people tend to look at able-bodied workouts and adapt them. But without the knowledge on how to do this, it can be quite dangerous.

“Fitness can be inclusive; non-disabled and disabled people can do workouts together, slightly adapted,” adds Ade.

“It’s not them and us. Fitness is fitness.”

Watch Ade Adepitan’s wheelchair workouts on The Body Coach TV.

This article was written by The Body Coach content team.

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