By Ned Norton
Last year I was named one of the Top Ten CNN Heroes, recognizing the 26 years I’ve been running Warriors on Wheels, a strength and conditioning program I created for people with disabilities. (Profiled earlier this year on this site). Since I last spoke to The Sweat Life, a lot has happened!
The aftermath of being on worldwide television and receiving the CNN Heroes Award last December was incredible. I was absolutely bombarded with emails, instant messages, social media, and phone calls from people with disabilities from literally all over the world. Most of them were heart wrenching, going into great detail regarding the circumstances of their disability and how it affects their daily lives. It was very emotional, as all of them wanted to know what I could do for them and I really had nothing prepared to offer. My program is in a housing projects high-rise in Albany, New York, where for years I have offered free training to anyone with a disability who wanted it. Now I was receiving requests from Taiwan, Spain, Egypt, and all over the USA — I didn't know what to do, and really felt terrible that I had no answer to their pleas for help.
That all changed with one phone call. I received a call from Cambodia, where a guy said to me, “Big deal, you won an award for training the disabled in America for free, but if you really want to do something, find a way to help landmine survivors here and around the world who have little or no rehabilitation opportunities. Even the poorest disabled in America are better off than the people here in Cambodia!” Before I got off the phone the idea hit me. I finally had the answer that I was searching for since those heartfelt requests started.
I decided I would find a way to send out FREE Resistance Bands like the ones I use with the Warriors in my program, to anyone, anywhere in the world, and use Skype to show them what to do. I use top-of-the-line resistance bands like those you would find in NFL and Division 1 training rooms, that I get through Power Systems. These include traditional one-person user bands, partner or two-person user bands, leg loops, and band attachments. I received funds from Subaru when I was given the CNN Heroes award, and decided to use it to start The Hercules Project. I designed 3 packages to be shipped: for individuals with disabilities for home use; group residences or facilities for the disabled; and landmine survivors or war torn areas with limited rehabilitation options.
To promote The Hercules Project, I relied on social media and was fortunate to have a full-page profile written in Muscle and Fitness magazine (July/Aug 2015 issue). I also contacted the United Nations Mine Action Service to see if they would be interested, and they were! To date, I have sent comprehensive packages to 32 sites in 18 different countries and to locations in 16 States here in the USA, all for FREE. Places like South Sudan, Darfur, and Somalia in Africa, the UK, Egypt, and Bolivia. Africa in particular, I have sent multiple packages to places where they work with landmine survivors and people with disabilities. I am looking forward to 2016 to send out as much as I possibly can, and help as many people who are looking for help. I have been joined by people who are helping by sponsoring packages, as well.
Early last year Sweat Life founder Aly Teich spoke to me about her plans for Sweat it Forward, and all year I have watched the great success of her vision come to life. I was nominated for the CNN Heroes award without my knowledge, and have just always felt uneasy about getting an award for doing what I love doing (lifting, running, and training other people). So by following Aly’s lead, using the notoriety to “Sweat it Forward” with The Hercules Project, it became more than receiving an award and getting a hug from Kelly Ripa. It gave me the opportunity to help people I will never meet in person, and that's pretty cool.
For more info on the Hercules Project please visit warriorsonwheels.org
Ned Norton is the owner of the Warriors Gym, and Founder and Director of the Warriors on Wheels program. He is also a strength coach and fitness trainer with 35 years of professional experience. A former competitive power lifter and Olympic lifter, and a three-time finisher of the NYC Marathon, Ned knows his fitness.
Find Warriors on Wheels at their website, www.warriorsonwheels.org