Member Profile: Jess Silver
Let’s flex for accessible fitness for all
Jess Silver’s fitness journey began at birth.
“Fitness has never been separated from who I am,” says the SWCC member, fitness professional, advocate and author.
Having been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and sustaining a brain injury at birth, her motor and physical abilities were impaired. Physical therapy and rehabilitation sessions were routine for her early in life. It wasn’t until she stepped into a gym about a decade ago, that she discovered her true physical capabilities.
“Fitness went from something I had to do as part of my life, to being something I absolutely fell in love with doing,” she says. Movement had a positive impact on both her physical and mental health.
After years of working alongside her trainer, Dan, who was able to gradually adapt exercises, today Silver can proudly complete 20 strict pull ups, a 135 pound seated row, and sandbag squats.
“Whenever I didn’t have the confidence or didn’t feel capable, Dan would always tell me, ‘we’re going to find a way to do it.’ He didn’t have a fear of working with me and that made me trust him more. He lit the fire under me,” Silver says, nearly tearing up.
Jess Silver holds a barbell in preparation for a snatch.
For the approximately two in 1,000 Canadians who are diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Silver’s physical achievements might seem completely unfathomable. But Silver says movement should be for everyone, and it all comes down to making adaptive fitness more available and known in the industry. This is in large part why she decided to spread awareness about cerebral palsy and the promotion of fitness and sport through Flex for Access.
The awareness initiative launched in 2015 as a social media campaign under the hashtag #FlexforAccess. Participants were encouraged to post online flexing their biceps, or engaging in some physical activity using the hashtag.
“It stemmed from an aha moment, or you could say a moment of frustration, around the limited awareness and understanding of cerebral palsy,” Silver says. “It’s a lot more than being a person in a chair.”
The first campaign garnered support worldwide from athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike. In 2017, Silver decided to register Flex for Access as a non-profit organization. Since then, it has raised more than $20,000 towards facilitating accessible training sessions and implementing adaptive equipment in gyms.
“By allowing these individuals to be active, we give people the understanding that these people can go to the gym,” she says. In the future, Silver says she hopes to see more academic programs and coaches teaching and learning about adaptive fitness and how to develop programming for a-neurotypical clients. She is already engaging on this front, by working with kinesiology departments to educate on adaptive fitness methods.
For National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day on March 25, Flex for Access hosted a CB Power Hour–a campaign where participants were asked to wear green while completing a workout centered around pushing and pulling movements. In their post caption, they were to describe a personal experience of adversity and how it has shaped them.
Silver, who is no stranger to adversity, decided to tell her own story through a memoir she published in 2020. Titled Run: An Uncharted Direction, it details her journey through sports and fitness as key to her life and personal growth. It also takes readers through her childhood experiences, academic trials and her questions and contemplations about daily life.
A journey in itself, the memoir took Silver just over seven years on and off to write, but the feeling of it finally being published was indescribable.
“I had shivers and could not express what I was feeling,” says Silver, who holds a bachelor's in English Literature and a Master’s in Creative Writing. “Writing has always been a way for me to make sense of this complex life.”
She also studied Medical Writing and Editing at the University of Chicago, which opened her to the world of science communication–a solid bridging of her interests in health and fitness, and writing.
“It got me thinking about how we could change the way info is disseminated about different conditions,” she says. She began researching science communication opportunities in Canada, and ways to connect with like-minded professionals. In late 2021, she hopped onto the SWCC’s Digital Media Committee as a volunteer.
And now, as an adaptive fitness trainer herself, she’s helping others change their lives through movement the same way hers was.
To learn more about Flex for Access or for adaptive fitness consulting, visit flexforaccess.ca or email Jess at email@example.com.
Cristina Sanza is a Digital Journalism Instructor and Writing Coach in the Department of Journalism at Concordia University in Montreal. She also coordinates the Concordia Science Journalism Project team and the Projected Futures international science journalism graduate summer school. At the SWCC, she serves as a board director, the blog editor and digital media committee volunteer.
Social media: @cristina_sanza (Twitter)
SWCC member Jess Silver says physical activity should be accessible to everyone. Through #FlexforAccess, she spreads awareness about cerebral palsy and adaptive fitness. Learn more about her journey in #fitness and #scicomm on her LinkedIn.