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This gay fitness instructor gives classes from his wheelchair


20 years ago, Kris Saunders Stowe was your typical gay man who loves the gym and never thought he would end up in a wheelchair.

Now 47, he suffers from a degenerative knee disease causing constant chronic pain. But it was a slow process to get to where he is today.

Kris grew up in an evangelical church. In fact, the first person he dated was someone he was in church with.

I was part of a church youth group and told my group leader about it, ”he told Gay Star News. “His opinion was tactful, but it was not acceptable.”

She ended up keeping it private, but Kris couldn’t keep it anymore.

One day, when he was 18, his friend came to his house to go out. His mother imposed a strict “no girls upstairs” rule and he had to stay downstairs so his parents could watch them.

Kris was so frustrated he blurted out: ‘You don’t have to worry because I’m gay! ‘

Kris Saunders Stowe. | Photo: CARA Center Ireland

Her mother and the pastor of the church could not accept her sexuality. His minister even suggested that Kris become gay because he saw a psychic when he was 15.

So they both forced him into what he calls “faith healing.”

Kris explains: ‘It’s a prayerful laying on of hands and it went on for a few months. ‘ He just pretended he was healed and they stopped the healing sessions.

It all escalated years later, in 1999, when they got into a fight. After years of trying to convince him to be straight, he was fed up with not being respected.

He called his mother and after a heated exchange ended the call with “IIf you can’t respect me, then you have no place in my life.

Kris did not see her mother until she passed away the following year.

I remember going to the funeral home and walking past her, ”Kris said. “I didn’t even recognize her.

Then the pain started

That same year in 2000, the discomfort in his knees began. He was referred to a physiotherapist, who gave him some basic exercises to do.

Then he had to put his kneecaps in place and told her he had underdeveloped muscles.

Kris told GSN: “I found it weird because I was a regular at the gym and went to the gym seven to eight times a week. I was very active and in great shape actually. ‘

The pain persisted for many years later, and then doctors told him he had arthritis.

He explained: “Doctors stated that there was damage to all the heads in the bones of all the joints and that all the kneecaps were damaged.

In 2008, he was in “constant, constant pain” and absolutely nothing was working to relieve him.

His legs were constantly abandoning him and he also had many growths on his joints.

Doctors gave him crutches, but it affected his mobility.

“I sat down on the chair and I was free”

Then, one day in 2012, her partner Dean suggested that she try a wheelchair.

Kris joked: ‘My answer started with an F and ended with two F’s (fuck you).

“Like a lot of people, you see a wheelchair as a very negative thing. That’s how a lot of people see it, ”he explained.

It was only when his friends wanted to go to Alton Towers – a theme park – that he really thought about it.

Dean and Kris
Dean and Kris. | Photo: provided

Dean told Kris: ‘The only way you will be able to do this is in a wheelchair.

Kris reluctantly agreed.

As soon as he settled into the chair, he felt immense relief: “It relieved my legs and I was able to express myself again.

I sat down on the chair and I was free. Suddenly I could move at the same speed as everyone else, aAnd I never looked back, ”he said.

Dean and Kris have been together for seven years now. In 2012, they entered into a civil partnership and then turned it into a wedding a few years later.

Kris joked: ‘He had a second option to say no, but he didn’t say no, so that was pretty good.

Holidays that change your life

In September 2012, Dean took Kris on vacation to the Hilton in Cardiff, Wales. But when they got there, they saw a lot of other people in wheelchairs.

They found it to be the central training ground for Paralympians for the next Paralympic Games. He watched all the Paralympics and got inspired to do something athletic with his life.

He started playing wheelchair basketball, and then career ideas started pouring in.

Kris said, “So I took my gym class and I had a million ideas in my head.

In eight months, I had completed six or seven diplomas and then I adapted everything I had learned in the disability courses.

“It was all by accident. If Dean hadn’t got me out that day, none of this would have happened, ”he said.

Kris Saunders-Stowe Leads Wheely Good Fitness Class
Kris Saunders-Stowe teaching the Wheely Good Fitness class. | Photo: provided

He created Wheely Good Fitness, a fitness provider for clients living with a disability.

It offers seated aerobics, mixed ability classes and spin classes. The latter uses tread units and “it’s actually like you’re on a treadmill,” he explained.

Kris said: ‘Most of the time, people think that seated exercise is very gentle and low in intensity, but it is actually high energy and intensity.

He continued: ‘Everything I do is for everyone. I find a level where everyone can do something and then create these adaptations so that everyone feels like part of the group. ‘

“I created a family of monsters”

Disabilities in the classroom range from amputees, arthritis, and people who have had strokes.

Kris said: ‘I have created a bit of a family, in fact, a family of monsters – in the fondest sense of the word.

“They come in shy, head down and six months later they’re monsters,” he joked.

He says the best part of his job is watching his clients’ quality of life improve. He said: ‘You see such a difference.

The changes I see are worth more than any paycheck, ”he said.

In fact, he even got a few clients to participate in various marathons across the UK: ‘I have a lady who took part in her first event two years ago at the age of 60. ‘

Superheroes Dash, sponsored by npower. | Photo: provided

Kris also competed in the London Marathon (26 miles / 42 km), two years in a row.

He finished the race in 4 hours 54 minutes and 4 hours 24 minutes the second time around.

“I want to have a knee amputation”

As he still suffers every day, Kris wants to voluntarily have his knee amputated. This is where a surgeon would amputate his legs through the knee, hopefully at the same time, he says.

Kris thinks his legs are holding him back: ‘I can see how much better it would be for me not to have them.

He explains: ‘It would allow me to do much more.

“I’m limited by isolating my legs in the gym. I can’t do a parachute jump on my own because I can’t take the strength in my legs. Whereas if I had a knee amputation I could actually do this stuff, ”he said.

Kris Saunders-Stowe participating in the Cardiff Half Marathon
Kris Saunders-Stowe competing in a wheelchair in the Cardiff Half Marathon. | Photo: provided

Kris is passionate about dispelling myths about people with disabilities. He even volunteered for the next season of Britain’s Got Talent.

And in which category did he apply? To dance.

Kris explains: ‘“When I was a kid, I did ballroom dancing and Latin dance. I was called a bitch at school because of it and I didn’t even know I was gay at the time.

“But because I was being bullied, I actually stopped dancing,” he said.

Kris Saunders-Stowe teaches her Wheely Good Fitness class
Photo: provided

He reveals that most wheelchair dances are ballroom dances, but he wants to show off more contemporary and diverse styles. He’s even professionally filming three dance routines this month.

He said: ‘You can still dance in a wheelchair and express yourself.


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