Professionally, Jess Silver is an accomplished communications professional, published author, adaptive fitness trainer and multilingual educator with a passion for travel and making a positive difference in the world.
Quite apart from what they do though, what really defines a person is who they are. Silver is a passionate physical activity and inclusion advocate and dynamic thought -leader who is constantly challenging herself and those around her to expand their vision of what is possible.
As a person who grew up with Cerebral Palsy, Silver has for a number of years been a proponent for CP awareness in the context of sport and physical activity.
“I’ve been a sport fan since childhood,” she told me. “I relate strongly to professional athletes because of their physical training regimen to excel in their sport and the mental toughness they develop.”
And Silver has made it her mission to train like one. While many individuals with disabilities are encouraged to take part in only gentle physical activity or are sidelined altogether for fear of injury, Silver lifts weights and engages in functional fitness activities daily to build energy and stamina.
“My passion for adaptive fitness came out of my own pursuit for it,” she shared. A number of years ago, Silver struggled to exercise in the way she wanted to. That was until she found a gym where she could train despite her physical limitations, together with a trainer who researched the adaptations she needed and challenged her to excel regardless of her disability.
In 2015, Silver, who lives in Toronto founded Flex for Access, launched originally as a social media campaign to raise awareness of Cerebral Palsy and other physical disabilities. “I wanted to create awareness not in the context of pity,” she reflected, “but to redefine accessibility in the context of accessibility for and within the adaptive fitness industry, and to create opportunities for individuals like me to engage with adaptive fitness in mainstream gyms.”
The Flex for Access campaign gained enough traction that by 2017, Silver was able to transition it into a registered non-profit. Since then, the organization has raised over $20,000 to support adaptive fitness education initiatives, sports programs, and purchasing adaptive equipment. While it doesn’t have its own physical location, Flex for Access liaises with gyms and fitness professionals to offer support which enables the participation of clients with disabilities.
Today as a result of its popular social media presence, Flex for Access is known around the globe; the organization is connected with athletes and fitness leaders in countries as far-flung as Brazil and Australia. “It’s been an amazing journey to see it grow over the past six years,” Silver shared.
Closer to home, Flex for Access has developed a variety of partnerships with likeminded organizations including Parasport Ontario, private gyms and fitness studios, a number of universities and colleges, and canfitPro, a globally-recognized fitness certification program. The organization is also directing much-needed funding support to enable individuals with disabilities to access adaptive fitness training.
“Nobody should be limited by a diagnosis,” Silver emphasized. “It goes beyond attitude. We need to reframe society’s attitude about disability. I hope that through the different roles I have, I’m doing that. We have to move beyond talking about it. We need to create actional opportunities.”
For someone who has done so much already to create spaces for physical activity inclusion and influence hearts and minds, I wondered what might come next?
“I hope to continue to create larger partnerships with fitness facilities, general managers and professionals in the fitness industry,” she told me. “I’d also like to write a children’s book with a friend who’s in the publishing industry. I’ll be getting married next year which is a big milestone. I also hope to continue to train harder and continue to work with professors and faculty on knowledge translation so that disability is reframed both medically and within mainstream society.”
To learn more about Flex for Access and get involved, visit www.flexforaccess.ca.