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Journey Forward is out to change the world

by: Butch Stearns Updated:

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CANTON - Dan Cummings is the owner and founder of a unique gym in Canton MA called Journey Forward.  But this facility is so much more than a gym.  Journey Forward is a quest in the vision of Cummings.

“If I could go back to that day and change it, I wouldn’t," said Cummings. "Honestly. I truly believe things happen for a reason. I am the man I am today because of what happened on that day and I believe this was my purpose in life. This was my mission. God wanted me to do this and I’m happy to take on the challenge”

On June 24, 2000, Cummings was swimming with friends and broke his neck while diving in shallow water. At 19 years old, the previously healthy two-sport athlete was now a quadriplegic. Cummings spent the next four weeks in intensive care at Boston Medical Center fighting for his life.

“At that point, the doctors told my family that any chance of me walking again or having any sense of independence was out of the question,” said Cummings. 

Dan refused to accept that diagnosis. 

“At that point, I immediately got a rush of determination," he said, "I’ll show them. I remember being so grateful to be alive and I knew that God was giving me the opportunity to get out of the wheelchair. So yes, I was thankful but I said, 'Now let’s go for it!'"

Dan has never looked back. The next three months were spent in physical therapy learning to live in a wheelchair.  He has spent every day since trying to get his life back.

“My physical therapist was teaching me how to live in my wheelchair. I wanted to get out of my wheelchair," said Cummings.

In 2003, Dan moved to San Diego to join a specialized program called Project Walk. Four years later, Dan walked out of that facility and moved back to New England to open his own gym. In 2008, with the help of his brother Jimmy Cummings, Dan raised $350,000 and Journey Forward opened it’s doors.

“I couldn’t understand how coming from Boston Massachusetts, the capital of the medical world, why did I have to move 3000 miles away not only to help me learn to walk again, but to give me my life back?” he said. 

Journey Forward is a non-profit organization dedicated to bettering the lives of those who have suffered a spinal cord injury through an intense exercise program. All exercises done at Journey Forward are done while clients are out of their wheelchairs.  

In 2008, Dan started with two specialists and nine clients.  All of those clients were paralyzed from accidents, like Dan. Today, Journey Forward has grown to a staff of 15, with 75 clients.  The clients now include people who deal with paralysis from other situations, like brain injuries and cerebral palsy. 

Recently, Dan and his staff welcomed in 19 year-old Austin Tennison from Braintree. Austin was born with cerebral palsy and, unlike Dan, he has been in a wheelchair his entire life. On his first visit , Austin was lifted out of his chair to work out. It was the first time Austin had been out of his chair in more than five years.

“It made me feel like I accomplished something. It made me feel good about myself” said Austin. 

“Austin is a great kid. I really like working with him," said Dave Alexander, the lead exercise specialist. "He does exactly what you tell him to do and he really wants to get better."

Working out at Journey Forward has given Austin new resolve and a new passion. “What I want people to know is that I may have physical limitations but I’m not going to let that get in the way of anything I’m trying to do”

The workouts for clients at Journey Forward are not covered by most insurance companies and as a non-profit organization Journey Forward is constantly fundraising. 

“For those people who are looking to make a difference in people’s lives, that’s where we fit in," said Journey Forward program director John Walters.  “A lot of money goes to research and research is important, but the big thing about our program is that you are giving to help individuals. You’re not just giving to nameless faceless people."

If you would like to help Journey Forward in their quest to help change peoples lives click here. The next fundraiser is a Casino Night in Dedham on April 26.

“Our goal is to help them reach their goals through exercise,” said Cummings. “The ultimate goal is to walk again, but for some people it may just be to live a more independent life. We believe our clients will get better. We truly do. When someone believes in you it feels really good. Our clients know we believe in them”  

Official Journey Forward website

Journey Forward's Facebook page