Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Fitness buff helps disabled find strength

By Laura Klairmont, CNN
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Ned Norton works with a woman at his gym in Albany, New York. For the past 25 years, Norton has provided free and low-cost strength training for people living with disabilities. Ned Norton works with a woman at his gym in Albany, New York. For the past 25 years, Norton has provided free and low-cost strength training for people living with disabilities.
HIDE CAPTION
CNN Hero: Ned Norton
CNN Hero: Ned Norton
CNN Hero: Ned Norton
CNN Hero: Ned Norton
CNN Hero: Ned Norton
CNN Hero: Ned Norton
CNN Hero: Ned Norton
CNN Hero: Ned Norton
CNN Hero: Ned Norton
CNN Hero: Ned Norton
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Word spread after Ned Norton devised a workout program for a man with a spinal cord injury
  • Soon patients from a rehab center sought Norton's help, and he trained them for free
  • Norton is dedicated to providing free or low-cost strength training for the disabled

Editor's note: Ned Norton and the rest of this year's top 10 CNN Heroes will be honored Sunday, December 7, during "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute." The annual show airs at 8 p.m. ET on CNN's global networks.

Albany, New York (CNN) -- Ned Norton was working as a fitness trainer for Olympic athletes and bodybuilders when a young man with a spinal cord injury asked him for help.

"At first, I had no idea what to do with him," said Norton, who managed a health club in Albany, New York.

Together they developed a workout program, and the young man made great strides.

"Even (his) doctors saw the physical and psychological improvements we were able to make," Norton said.

Ned Norton trains more than 120 people per week through Warriors on Wheels.
Ned Norton trains more than 120 people per week through Warriors on Wheels.
Vote for this hero.

It didn't take long for word to spread. Patients from a rehabilitation center sought out Norton's help, and he began training them for free. After a newspaper published an article about Norton's workouts with the disabled, his phone rang off the hook.

"So I opened a gym designed to fit their needs," he said.

For the past 25 years, Norton has dedicated himself to providing free and low-cost strength and conditioning training for hundreds of people living with a variety of disabilities.

"They can't move, they can't be independent. They can't live their lives," said Norton, 55. "I'm building them up, building them stronger, so they can go out and live life like they're supposed to."

Bodybuilder with a big heart

Norton trains more than 120 people every week through his nonprofit, Warriors on Wheels. His clients' disabilities include spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome.

"I never worry about what they can't do," said Norton. "I worry about what they can do, and make them as independent and capable as possible."

Participants come to the gym twice a week for one-hour sessions. Norton's strength-training equipment is specially adapted to fit his clients' needs. Most of the people he trains are in wheelchairs and rely on their upper body strength to get around.

"The world is more accessible now for people with wheelchairs," Norton said, "but you've got to be strong to be in a wheelchair."

Top 10 Hero: Ned Norton
CNN Heroes: Warriors on Wheels

Tom Clement knows that first-hand. About 40 years ago, he fell off a roof and severed his spinal cord. He has been in a wheelchair ever since.

"When you lose (the use of) your legs, your arms become your legs. So upper body strength is key," said Clement, 65.

Clement has worked out at Norton's gym several times a week for the past 15 years. He says it's helped him live independently.

"My activities in the gym have increased my ability to maintain the stamina of everyday work," said Clement, who runs a frame shop and art gallery with his brother. "Thanks to Ned, I've been able to live a full life."

For those who can afford to pay it, Norton charges $25 a month. Most of his clients are living on disability income and Social Security, and he says less than half can afford to pay the fee. He never turns away anyone who has a disability.

Strength in numbers

Norton is the only trainer in the facility, which was donated to him by the city. Participants often form friendships and motivate one another. They also become resources for each other, providing advice and references.

"After an accident, people are devastated. Their family and friends have no clue what they are going through. They are out there on their own," Norton said. "But when they come here, they get a network of people going through the same challenges."

Kathleen Lane has been coming to the Warriors on Wheels gym for about 15 years to help with her multiple sclerosis. Lane, who is in a wheelchair, also benefits from the social aspect of the program.

"I come out of here feeling better than I do when I first come in," said Lane, 51. "It changed my life. ... Ned's unbelievable."

Norton says many of the people he has worked with have gone on to drive again, gain employment and pursue their interests without letting their disabilities get in the way.

"I'm not a genius. I'm not a miracle worker," Norton said. "But I do know what I'm doing in the gym, because that's what I love doing and that's what I have to offer to people."

Want to get involved? Learn more about Warriors on Wheels at www.profilesinpurpose.com/warriors_on_wheels and see how to help.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 27, 2014 -- Updated 1508 GMT (2308 HKT)
They protect lions, teach music to injured soldiers and open new worlds to autistic youth.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
CNN's Anderson Cooper introduces the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2014. Cast your vote for Hero of the Year at CNNHeroes.com
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
More than any single soccer player, the fans have taken center stage during the World Cup.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 2009 GMT (0409 HKT)
When Capt. Greg Galeazzi joined the Army seven years ago, he was well aware of the risks he would face.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
Staff Sgt. Edwin Caba served in Afghanistan for nearly three years. Like his fellow soldiers, he longed for a sense of normalcy during his tours.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 2014 GMT (0414 HKT)
For 12 years, Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg worked at a camp for children battling cancer.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 2007 GMT (0407 HKT)
At just 7 years old, Kyron Chase is facing the unimaginable: His father was murdered.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 2008 GMT (0408 HKT)
Fred Wright may have grown up on Garden Street, but his early childhood was far from rosy.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Ned Norton was working as a fitness trainer for Olympic athletes and bodybuilders when a young man with a spinal cord injury asked him for help.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 1826 GMT (0226 HKT)
Growing up in Guatemala, Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes watched many of his peers succumb to drugs, gangs and crime.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 2005 GMT (0405 HKT)
For many families, a night at the ballpark is a treat. But it can be a nightmare for those with autistic children.
ADVERTISEMENT