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Coaching A Terminally/Incurable Ill Client: The Inspirational Journey So Far


Picture the scene.

I have a former client coming in who I used to do bootcamps with and train a couple of times a week in a park.

I would properly work her and her friend incredibly hard and we'd have a wonderful time.

I doubt they would have called it wonderful at the time!

But I would say she was at the height of her fitness levels during this process.

This went on for a while until I moved gyms and couldn't train them as well as work fulltime at the gym I had recently moved to.

So we stopped training together for a few years.

I have always had her as a Facebook friend and always missed training the two of them.

Then I found out through Facebook that my former client had cancer.

Then I thought she had gone into remission.

Then I found out that no, she was terminal and I'd got it wrong. I still feel ridiculously bad for making that mistake, but I digress. Occasionally I'm an idiot and I was lucky enough to be forgiven for the misstep.

I assumed I'd never train her again but one day I received a message from her to sit down and talk about some training. This is because she trusts me to keep her safe and feeling confident on the gym floor.

And trusts me to make sure the sessions are at least relatively enjoyable.

We organised a consultation where we discussed many things. The gist of it was that despite the illness, she wants to get stronger and fitter with weights and maybe lose a few pounds at the same time.

The consultation went well (other than me getting her diagnosis utterly wrong) and we decided to book some training in.

Usually, I do a movement screen before every client starts their training journey but (and this says a lot) I was concerned that even the movement screen may be too much for her. I didn't say it in those words and to be honest I can't remember the words that I did use but I imagine it was something along the lines of "we'll try things and we'll see, let me know if it's too painful and we'll adapt as we go."

I will be frank here. I was scared about that first session. I genuinely was imagining someone literally at death's door who would be a shadow of her former self, with me genuinely trying too make the best of things and make her feel good but still capable of doing, well, not very much.

But I wanted to do this. I was still excited by the challenge and I knew I'd love spending the time with this client because we've always got on well and have lots to talk about, so at least I could provide that, right?

The session rolls around. I can't remember exactly what we did, but it started on the TRX and with some dumbbell work.

....and she wouldn't rest. She did fantastic, surprising me and herself enormously.

And this kept (and keeps) happening.

She is hitting PB's (which I tell her about afterward,) she trains incredibly hard and she has goals to achieve.

Yes, there are times when the meds feel like shit or I have a cold so I cancel because I don't want to destroy her immune system (I find it helps me to think of it like that as I'm bot very good at cancelling sessions because I am ill.)

She trains harder and more consistently than a lot of people I know and it's not like she's a natural-born athlete or has been in the gym trenches forever. She only started learning to 'lift' or strength train with me a few months ago.

One of my favorite stand-up performances of all time is Greg Davies' 'You Magnificent Beast' (watch it on Netflix) and during that performance, he speaks of a visit to a hospice for the dying and terminally ill. He talks about it being one of the most uplifting experiences of his life because he came away knowing that terminally ill people ARE STILL ALIVE AND THEY HAVE LIVES TO LEAD.

When I first watched it, I thought I understood what he meant in an abstract kind of way. But it took training my client to actually KNOW what he meant by this.

I am constantly amazed, inspired and moved by her training.

Terminally ill people:

  • Can and do hit pbs.

  • Can come to the gym, learn to lift for the first time and enjoy it.

  • Aren't necessarily in pain all the time

  • Will train that well that most of the time you'll forget they have any illness at all

  • ARE STILL ALIVE

  • Will inspire, will make you laugh and will leave the gym having accomplished things they didn't think were possible

For those trainers who might be nervous about training people like my client, please don't be. As a coach it's your job to be a problem solver, so train around their condition in an accommodating way.

Help them to lift because many who are diagnosed with a terminal illness stop training. I think one of those reasons is that they don't want to burden other people with their illness. Take that worry away from them.

Training my client is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done as a coach.

I want to use this article as a way of saying thank you to her for giving me the opportunities to learn these lessons.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

By Chris Kershaw

The Heavy Metal Strength Coach


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