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What Xavier’s return to training can teach us all about taking on the ‘new normal’

What Xavier’s return to training can teach us all about taking on the ‘new normal’

Like many young men, Xavier Hassell, aged 23 from West Point in Manchester, loves his weight training. Prior to the March national lockdown, he could be found at Life Leisure’s Houldsworth Village centre in Stockport every day, pushing himself to beat his personal bests.

Unlike other young men his age however, Xavier, who is autistic, has been too worried to leave the house since the pandemic hit. Until now that is. And it’s the reassurance of being able to safely lift, laugh and let off a bit of steam at his favourite facility, that has given him the confidence to start discovering his ‘new normal’ in the wake of COVID-19.

Xavier said: “Ever since I was 16, I have loved weight training. My mood feels better. I feel better. I can just focus on doing my different workouts, reps and sets, without having to worry about anything else. It’s something that’s ‘my thing’ and makes me feel good about myself. I also enjoy being around the trainers and the other members – chatting to them. They inspire and motivate me so much. They are people I really look up to so to spend time with them is brilliant.”

But when leisure centres and gyms had to close and the nation went into lockdown, losing that external outlet hit Xavier hard.

Because of Xavier’s conditions he gets quite anxious and as his father Tony explained, also very particular. As a result, it took quite a long time to find a gym where he felt comfortable, even under normal conditions – the right equipment, type of space and of course the right people.

Houldsworth Village was that gym. Going down there each day and spending a couple of hours training with the other members and staff became Xavier’s ‘me time’. It was an outlet. As Tony went on to say, in many ways Xavier’s only real outlet.

Losing that, coupled with anxiety over the possibility of catching COVID-19 was awful. It became virtually impossible to get Xavier to leave the house once full lockdown had lifted. He had his weights at home, but it just wasn’t the same and this affected him both mentally and physically.

It was Life Leisure re-opening the doors to Houldsworth Village, a facility where members of the GB weightlifting team train, that encouraged Xavier to take his first steps towards the new normal.

But as Xavier explained, even then it took a lot to convince him. “I was really worried”, he said, “I wasn’t sure whether people would stay 2 metres away, or if people would clean their stuff, or if there would be hand gel. I didn’t know how it would all work and was very worried about that – that I would do something wrong or someone else would. But I missed my time at the gym so much that it was worth finding out.

“The guys there actually took me round when other people weren’t there so that I’d know about all the safety measures in place and exactly what to do. I’m so glad I did because now I’m back in an amazing environment where I have other role models to motivate me. I follow all the rules and other people are following them too. I feel safe and my message to anyone else worried about coming back is to go for it.”

For Houldsworth Village trainer Kingsley Childs, watching Xavier build up the courage to come back and to see him training again is a lesson we can all learn from.

Kingsley said: “I always have a good old chat with Xavier and know how much this environment means to him. How much learning from other members means to him. I’ve witnessed him flourish in the last year or so that he’s been coming here.

“To see him so nervous to come back was both heart-breaking and inspirational as you could just see how much he wanted to return but also how much courage it took for him to take a step towards the ‘new normal’. I think perhaps we can all take a lot from that. Everyone will be anxious to different degrees about getting back to doing something ‘normal’ they love. Xavier is a great ambassador for why it’s worth facing those fears.”

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