Today, Matthew Schlafly looks like you might expect a personal trainer to look, with muscles and veins bulging from his arms. But Schlafly’s path to his current profession is unique and inspiring, and he brings his unusual background to the table when working with fitness clients.
Schlafly has spastic diplegia cerebral palsy, a rare condition diagnosed in early childhood that causes extreme muscle stiffness and contractions in the legs. In many cases, like Schlafly’s, there is no obvious cause.
“I believe there are things that happen to us for which there is no explanation, but that’s part of life,” he says. “We have an opportunity to stay optimistic and accept this, or be pessimistic and bitter for not knowing the cause of our problems.”
Schlafly chose the former, and that attitude helped him face a series of complex surgeries, starting when he was just 7 years old. During the first operation, the surgeon intentionally severed the nerves that caused the severe spasticity in Schlafly’s legs, leaving him with no sensation in either leg. Three other surgeries on his legs and feet would follow before he reached the age of 16.
“I will not be needing any more surgeries in the future, and I am extremely blessed for this,” Schlafly says. “Through years of patience, I am fully able to walk with minimal hints that I have a physical disability.”
Patience was only part of Schlafly’s journey to get back on his feet. Grit, determination and intense rehabilitation also factored in. At 9 years old, Schlafly joined a local gym, Power Play, located on Manchester Road in Des Peres.
“No matter what emotion I was feeling, I was in the gym,” he says. “On days when I got little to no sleep, I was in the gym. On days when my day job drained me, I woke up in the gym. It occurred to me, after all of that, that personal training was my calling.”
Last year, Schlafly became certified as a personal trainer through the International Sports Sciences Association, and he began training fitness clients in February. “My physical limitations do not affect me when I train with clients,” he says. “However, I make it known to them I do have a disability, and I am knowledgeable on how to modify workouts. Through the experience I had growing up, I needed to learn to train differently than most people. This knowledge is helpful when I train someone with a disability.”
Although most of Schlafly’s current clients are not people with disabilities, he notes that his unique experience makes him sensitive to the needs of that population. “As I build my brand,” he says, “I’m hoping I can make every client, disability or not, feel like they can get through any obstacle in their way through patience and fully learning the body – mentally, physically and emotionally.”
Power Play, 12878 Manchester Road, Des Peres, 314-909-1995, powerplaystl.com