Paralyzed from the neck down, Raleigh chef says closed gyms are detrimental to health and recovery

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — As a bill to reopen North Carolina’s gyms moves through the legislature, a Raleigh chef is pushing for its approval.

Michael Thor says for the paralyzed community, not going to the gym is detrimental to their health and recovery.

“Sitting in your chair for months at a time without being able to work out can be deteriorating,” said Thor, the owner of Whiskey Kitchen.

A 2015 motorcycle crash left Thor paralyzed from the neck down.

To help in his recovery, his mom opened NextStep Raleigh, a paralysis recovery and fitness center helping those with spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, stroke patients, and other neurological conditions.

“Unfortunately it’s not considered a physical therapy center. We’re a rehabilitation center,” said Thor.

This means NextStep Raleigh is not allowed to open in Phase Two of Gov. Roy Cooper’s reopening plan during COVID-19, and clients don’t have access to physical therapy or specialized equipment.

“People are deteriorating. They are losing all of their muscle mass, they are losing any abilities they had prior to this closure,” said Thor.

Thor says he’s lucky to have the support of his wife and family, and that routine physical therapy is critical for patients.

“Mentally and physically we’re struggling not being open. We need to get there to have our bodies moved and manipulated to be able to work whatever muscles we have. Whatever we can be doing we need to do on a very repetitive basis,” he said.

There have been other pushes to reopen fitness centers in the state.

This week’s request for a temporary restraining order against Cooper’s executive order was denied. The motion was filed on behalf of roughly 20 gym owners.

The complaint sought injunctive relief from the court, claiming not being allowed to practice their “ordinary occupation” presented a substantial economic burden.

A judge ruled that Cooper used “expert guidance” in deciding which businesses to close to protect public health and that those “distinctions have a rational basis.”

Now a bill to reopen the state’s gyms will go before Cooper, and Thor hopes the governor will listen.

“Not being able to open in phase two is gut-wrenching,” said Thor. “Just two months of non-activity has set some of the clients back so far.”

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