Video: Pumping iron helps disabled people boost fitness and outlook

Sue Scheible

Days ahead, David McNulty, 71, was ready – swimming trunks on, eager to jump in.

So when McNulty, who has mental disabilities, finally got into the South Shore YMCA pool, he went for broke. Getting out of the pool eight laps later, he sported a big smile.

Upstairs, Rafiq Bakr, 55, worked his arms on the upper-body machine.

“I need this!” he said.

Bakr, who was a musician before his stroke, joked that he was “a boxer.”

“They’re having a ball,” said Susan Habchy, a staff member at the Hancock Nursing Center in Dorchester.

The center is run by Vinfen, a private, nonprofit human services organization.

McNulty and Bakr are among 12 nursing home residents in the Bodies in Motion Program at the South Shore Y. Spending an hour at the gym three days a week, they get much-needed exercise, and they come away with positive energy that lasts.

“We see such a big difference in their mood and attitude,” said Habchy, the nursing home’s wellness director.

The program is funded by a $30,000 Resident Empowerment Grant from the state Department of Public Health, which pays for renting a van to transport residents and a group YMCA membership. The disabled residents taking advantage of the program have ranged in age from early 40s to mid-70s.

Habchy got the idea of applying for the grant when she was working out at the Quincy gym. The YMCA has special adaptive equipment for people with physical limitations.

That includes the specialized exercise bike used by Sonia Scott. The bike sends an electrical current into her legs, stimulating the muscles used in pedaling.

Scott plans to continue going to the YMCA after she leaves the nursing home, taking advantage of a Y scholarship.

Resident Rochelle Bulliner, 56, worked with Comfort Muyide and Barbara Lowe, staff members at the Hancock Nursing Center, on the exercise bike and treadmill. When she slipped off the rowing machine, she gamely got back on until she learned the new motions.

Donna Rheaume, a spokeswoman for the state health department, said the money for the program comes from fines that the state levies after nursing homes commit health and safety violations.

Any nursing home can apply for a grant.

“We applaud innovative programs like this, which focus on the needs of the residents and tailor activities to their interests,” Rheaume said. “This enriches the lives of residents.”

Sue Scheible may be reached at