Though it wasn’t part of his plan, this National Football League trainer was inspired to build a one-of-a-kind gym for people with disabilities.
Ned Norton’s biggest dream was to become a strength coach in the NFL. So when he reached his teenage years, he started working towards that goal and began powerlifting. Fast forward to several years, Ned’s efforts eventually paid off. He got to work alongside professional athletes, weightlifters, wrestlers, and Olympic hopefuls.
But just when Ned thought that this was what would constitute his career for the rest of his life, he was proven wrong.
A friend of his told Ned about a 22-year-old who became paralyzed after falling out of a tree. The young man had been struggling ever since the incident, and Ned’s friend asked him if he would be willing to train him. The coach agreed, not putting too much thought to it.
The 22-year-old came in and Ned trained him for free at the gym. The young man absolutely loved it, and when he came back to the hospital for his physical therapy, he told his friends about Ned. Eventually, he started bringing other people with him. The first year, Ned had trained about six people who all had spinal cord injuries.
From there, Ned’s client list got so long that he was compelled to open his own non-profit business with its own facility. That is when Warrior on Wheels was born.
“I never realized how many people were in that position that could benefit from it. They weren’t paying me, and I really enjoyed it,” Ned said. “From there I decided to go out on my own. I rented space from the gym and after a while we got so many people that I ended up getting our own space in an abandoned area in public housing.”
Since it is a non-profit organization, Ned doesn’t charge his gym members monthly fees. Instead, he solely relies on donations from those people who believe in his cause. He also regularly applies for grants and set up a PayPal account where the donations for the Warrior on Wheels website goes to.
For those who can, Ned asks a donation of only $10 a month for membership. But if someone can’t pay, they are still completely free to use the gym’s services.
“If they have it, fine. If not? Who cares?” Ned says. “Many of them are in a position where they are on Social Security Disability Income, and that’s not a lot of money.”
It’s been 32 years since, and Ned has trained people with a variety of disabilities such as paralysis, cerebral palsy, autism, MS, spina bifida, stroke, traumatic brain injury, and more. Aside from helping them develop their physical strength and gain independence, Ned also aims to increase their confidence. Many of his clients were able-bodied individuals who suffered a debilitating injury, so one can only imagine what a serious blow their disability brought to their mental state.
Although this was not what he intended, Ned is glad that he ended up taking this path – just as much as others’ lives were changed, so was his.