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Man takes first steps in seven years with help of the J


by Laura Toussaint-Newkirk

When Duane Washington visited Valley of the Sun JCC last fall, no one really expected he would take his first steps since a devastating car accident in 2007.

But Duane has triumphed, one small step at a time.

The near-fatal accident had ejected Duane, the son of Noel Washington, a longtime and beloved personal trainer at Valley of the Sun JCC, from a car. It left the active black belt confined to a wheelchair, partially paralyzed on his left side and with some brain damage.

Duane came to Arizona last fall to visit his father. Noel felt he could help his son regain some of his mobility and had an idea how to go about doing so. Noel worked with Danielle Cvetanovich, the JCC’s aquatics director, and the two came up with an exercise program that they thought would lengthen and strengthen Duane’s muscles.

“Having worked at The J for over 12 years, I’ve have the opportunity to work with many people and impact many lives,” said Danielle. “Duane is a pleasure to work with and seeing his results in so short a time makes me excited to see what he will accomplish on his next visit.”

Duane also worked hard both in The J’s weight room and in its pool. During his stay Duane saw great success.

“He handles everything with grace and a smile on his face. He lifts everyone up who is around him,” said Noel of his son. “His spirit is great and he wants to participate, to make himself stronger so he can live a more independent life.”

Duane’s doctors had told him that his muscles were too weak to regain any strength or mobility, but in just a little over two months at The J, Duane was able to take his first steps in seven years.

“When he took his first steps, he brought tears to the eyes of everyone who was watching, especially me,” recalled Noel. “They had seen the hard work that he was doing in the gym and in the pool, and they were there to cheer him on.”

Both Duane and his father appreciate the care Cvetanovich has taken working with Duane, who lights up when he hears her name.

“Danielle, Danielle, Danielle, I love Danielle,” exclaimed Duane. “I tried real hard. She made it easier and fun, and fun, a whole lots of fun.”

In March, Duane returned to his mother in Pennsylvania. There, he is continuing his progress with “land and sea” physical therapy; one day a week in the pool and one day a in a physical therapy center.

Noel looks forwards to having Duane visit again and continuing their progress.

“When Duane returns to Phoenix later this year, it will be a joyous moment for all connected to him. So many of our members have followed his progress and want to see him succeed,” said Noel. “I strongly believe with all the care and knowledge we have, we can contribute and continue his progress.”

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