How One Woman Is Working Toward Walking on Her Own

Diagnosed with a neurological disease called hereditary spastic paraplegia, 24 Hour Fitness San Leandro Sport Gym member Debra Kerr relied heavily on her two trusty hiking poles to help her walk and get from place to place. Hereditary spastic paraplegia is a moderate disability that causes progressive stiffness and contractions of the lower limbs, which makes basic movements like walking quite challenging, often resulting in pain and discomfort.

With this kind of prognosis facing her and knowing that she needed to stay as active as possible despite her circumstance, Kerr sought out a trainer who not only understood basic physiology and movement but also was an expert in functional fitness and mobility training. Lucky for Kerr, she found her personal trainer Steve Rice to be exactly the person she was seeking.

After a lengthy career as a physical therapist at hospitals, clinics and nursing homes, spanning in a wide scope of everything from sports medicine, orthopedics, spinal cord injuries and spina bifida, Rice has always wanted to help people. After all, he knew he wanted to be in the medical field since he was in high school. So he embarked on his next chapter as a personal trainer at 24 Hour Fitness in San Leandro, California, hoping to use his specialized knowledge to help future clients. Enter Kerr—and the two immediately hit it off.

“As a person living with moderate disability due to a neurological disease, I needed the comprehensive skills of someone like Steve,” she says. “Steve developed a workout program that I could trust to provide a path to improvement, without risking making things worse.”

Since consistently working with Rice, Kerr has noticed a marked improvement in a little over a year, stating that her debilitating back pain has gone away, her legs are much stronger and she’s walking with one hiking pole instead of two.

Debra Kerr and Steve Rice

“My improved level of fitness has brought huge benefits to my life every day. … I don’t get tired during the day, and my energy level has increased tremendously,” she says.

And Kerr isn’t the only one noticing her remarkable physical improvements. Inspired by his client’s fitness journey, Rice says that since they’ve been working together over the last year, “Debra has shown me and others how a focus on fitness—and striving to stay healthy—has improved her condition.”

And while some days are admittedly better than others for Kerr, “she has helped me realize just how impactful I can be [as a trainer],” Rice says. “She is truly inspiring to me and truly lets me know that I can be helpful in my role as a trainer.”

Kerr enjoys being active, from hiking to scuba diving. As she continues to strive for her complete mobility—with the intention to walk freely without her hiking poles—Rice will be there all the way, cheering her on.

“I look forward to going to the gym because I always feel better after working out, both mentally and physically,” Kerr says. “I’m so grateful to Steve. His immense knowledge and skill as a former physical therapist, and now master personal trainer, have meant that I have gotten just the program I needed to change my life.”

Photo credit: Debra Kerr, Steve Rice