“I found my inner athlete.”

Growing up with a prosthetic leg, Chinyere Eni avoided exercise; weight gain and a desire to help others helped her learn to be active within her physical limitations

Source: Web exclusive: March 2009

Chinyere Eni deliberately avoided all forms of exercise after losing her left leg to bone cancer as a child of eight. ‘I excluded so many things that could have brought me joy," she says, "simply by telling myself I couldn’t do it.’ But studying for her MBA while working full-time in downtown Toronto took a toll, and she packed on seven pounds during the program. The extra weight, which would be minor for most, threatened to severely impair the commercial account manager’s mobility, as it made wearing her prosthetic limb extremely painful.

So when a colleague sent a notice around the office asking people to join her in the 2008 Ride to Conquer Cancer, Eni figured it was time to give back and get fit at the same time. However, after borrowing an adult tricycle to make sure she could bike (she had to remove her prosthesis to ride), she didn’t bother to train for the two-day, 200-kilometre event. ‘I didn’t expect to be able to finish the ride," she says. "I just signed up, and at the worst, I thought I would raise money.’

The breaking point

On the first day, most riders biked from 8 a.m. to noon. Eni didn’t cross the finish line until 8 p.m. She thought about quitting along the way, especially with a race van following slowly behind her, encouraging her to catch a ride in. But she discovered determination she never knew she had. When she got close to camp shortly after crossing the finish line, the 2,850 riders who had already finished the day’s course came out of their tents to cheer her on. Eni was exhausted beyond comprehension, but moved by the spirit of the crowd. ‘It was the most amazing moment of my life," she says. "I could not believe I made it.’

Motivated by supportive fellow riders, Eni finished the race the next day, never once riding alone. Being in public without her leg for the first time was incredibly freeing. ‘I also realized that life is not about being the best in everything," she says. "I don’t have to be a triathlete to be athletic.’

The challenge

To incorporate regular fitness in her life and accept her limitations.

The plan

Once her MBA studies were over, Eni joined a gym in September 2008, and committed to spin classes. She also paid for two sessions with a personal trainer who tailored an at-home exercise plan for her. A naturopath gave her tips for coping with stress and suggested she keep a food journal.

The biggest obstacle

‘Accepting that perfection is in the experience, not in cutting out the experience,’ says Eni. ‘Before the race, never in a million years would I have tried a spin class.’

The results

Eni takes spin classes twice a week. ‘I finally found my little niche," she says. "I go to spin class and feel equal to everyone else. It makes me accept my body more. I feel more energized and happy. My mood is regulated. I feel more hopeful every day.’ Eni also recently discovered that weight-lifting works for her. And after cutting out snacking at night (her downfall according to her food diary), she lost those seven pounds and now fits more comfortably into her prosthesis. She’s excited about investing in her own bike for this year’s race, adding, ‘I’ll be ready this time.’

The tips

Be honest with yourself
‘When I was trying to be perfect I would tell myself I couldn’t do one and a half hours at the gym, and therefore I couldn’t go. Now I am honest with myself. I can only do half an hour, and I get that in and I am happy.’

‘ Connect with others
Eni forced herself to talk with people in her spin class, and introduced herself to the gym owner. ‘The old me was uncomfortable in that situation and wanted to be in my own little world. Now I feel like I am part of a community rather than going in and out of classes alone.’

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