Michael Obel-Omia was nervous.
In a few short minutes, the Barrington resident was to lead a spin class inside a fitness room at the Bayside YMCA. People had already started to arrive and staff members were busy setting up the bicycles.
Mr. Obel-Omia had led countless spin classes in the past, and not just at the Bayside YMCA. In some of his classes, more than 100 people filled a sea of bicycles, following his instructions as music pounded in the background.
But that was before his stroke on May 21, 2016.
That was before his time recovering at Rhode Island Hospital and his weeks at a rehabilitation center in Boston. That was before the hours and hours Mr. Obel-Omia would spend re-learning how to speak, how to move, how to ride a bicycle again.
The stroke changed a lot of things, and left Mr. Obel-Omia with a nervous tingle as he prepared to lead the small spin class on Wednesday afternoon. He checked his music playlist, climbed onto the bike, and, as upbeat Jazz music filled the room, he began moving the pedals.
The class quickly responded. Riders wearing sweat pants, t-shirts, and sneakers powered their stationary bicycles up invisible hills while listening for instructions from Mr. Obel-Omia.
Like their instructor, the class participants were facing some difficult challenges — each is battling Parkinson's Disease.
The Bayside YMCA class is called Pedaling for Parkinson's, and is designed to help people combat the disease's symptoms. Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic have discovered that people suffering from Parkinson's Disease who pedaled bicycles at a rapid pace experienced a reduction in symptoms of up to 35 percent.
Sarah Srock, the senior wellness director at the Bayside YMCA, has been pleased with the early participation in the class. She said each rider in the class must follow a set of guidelines while participating; they also need to be cleared to ride by their neurologists.
It was also Ms. Srock's idea to invite Mr. Obel-Omia to lead the Pedaling for Parkinson's class.
"There are three group exercise instructors who lead Pedaling for Parkinson’s, as well as staff who assist during the class," said Ms. Srock. "Michael was chosen as one of our instructors because Edna (Kurtzman, the YMCA's older adult wellness specialist) and I felt he is not only a great instructor, but an inspiration. While Michael cannot personally relate to individuals with Parkinson’s disease, he can relate to unexpected challenges that life can bring.
"He is a motivation to all of us to never give up, even when life throws you a curve ball."
Ms. Srock said feedback from the class has been very positive. She has spoken to the participants and their spouses and caretakers.
"I’ve had several participants thank me for helping to bring this program to Bayside," said Ms. Srock. "Edna and I did a lot of hard work behind the scenes to bring this program to our branch and we are extremely excited to finally kick it off! During today’s class, one participant was singing loudly to the music that was playing which made leading the class even more fun."
Pedaling for Parkinson's is offered all year — participants register for 12-week sessions. (Ms. Srock said participants must fill out an informed consent for exercise participation release, as well as have their neurologist complete a medical screening and permission form prior to beginning the program.)
His long road back
Since suffering a stroke in May 2016, Barrington's Michael Obel-Omia has worked hard to get back on his feet. His recovery has included:
• After re-learning how to walk, then ride a stationary bicycle, Michael began biking outside.
• He eventually completed the Rodman Ride for Kids — a 25-mile charity bike ride.
• During the spring and summer months, he regularly rode his bicycle to therapy sessions on Allens Avenue in Providence — a 25-mile round trip.
• He has completed the Oak Bluffs Memorial Day 5K, Camp Jabberwocky 5K Run, and the American Heart Association heart walk
• He has started rowing at the Bayside YMCA and then began taking indoor rowing training through East Bay Rowing.
• He offered a speech at a Currents gathering in town recently, is a regular reader at St. John's Church, and read aloud at the Moby Dick Marathon.