Garth & James's Story - The Power of Exercise


We could easily guarantee that all of our accredited professionals would have an inspiring client (and most likely more than one!) who has made significant progress in their life thanks to the power of exercise. For James, an Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) in Sydney, this is Garth.

Garth is a 38-year-old quadruple amputee. In August of 2018, the father of two fell ill on a trip to London and as a result was amputated below the knee on his left leg, below the knee of his right leg, below the elbow on his left arm, and partial of his right hand.

As we continue to feature client stories for our 30 year anniversary, Garth's story is one of sheer determination and the unique tale of Garth and James reconnecting is one that needs to be shared.

Tell us about you as an Accredited Exercise Physiologist, James.
I own and operate EPiActive Healthcare, an exercise and well-being studio in Randwick, Sydney. Like many others I enjoyed sports and exercise growing up. After high-school I wanted to combine these hobbies with studies, which ultimately led me down the Exercise Science / Exercise Physiology path.

I graduated in 2011 and have worked in various roles within the industry including corporate health, WorkCover, case management and others. I also operated a personal trainer business whilst studying – which has been vital to my skills as an AEP.

I have since completed a Master of Public Health to combine with my work for EPiActive Healthcare – which has been operational since 2017.

Garth, can you share with us your amputee story?
In August 2018 I was traveling over to Ireland for a friend's wedding. Five days before flying out, I caught the worst flu of my life from my daughters. I was feeling better by the time of departing Sydney, however, on the flight from Singapore to London I got pneumonia by aspiration in my left lung, which then progressed to sepsis and multi organ failure.

Upon arrival to London, I was in a coma for three weeks on Ecmo machines.

Upon coming out of the coma, I spent another several weeks in ICU in London. From there, I was transferred to hospital for another six months in Sydney, whereby my feet and left hand needed to be amputated as they were gangrene and became infected.

Since April 2019, when I was discharged from hospital, I have been learning to adjust to walking on my prosthetics and adapting to my “new normal”. This is what prompted my journey with James at EPiActive Healthcare.

James and Garth
James, tell us about yours and Gareth's journey together.
We had established a relationship years earlier when Garth and his wife, Fiona were regulars to my group training sessions at Coogee Beach. Garth was always a very enthusiastic and committed participant. It is a long-standing joke that I didn’t do the longer runs with the groups as Garth was likely to outrun me!

When my Exercise Physiology career path took me elsewhere, we parted for some years. It was not until the end of 2019 that I was contacted by Fi who outlined the events that had taken place and expressed their wish for me to work with Garth – a request I was and am very humbled by. We arranged a home-visit within days and were working and training together soon after.

It has been quite unique in knowing Garth prior to losing his limbs, and reconnecting with him years later working as an AEP. My professional perspective and outlook towards Garth as a client, his abilities, his potential, and his future are very optimistic. The journey inevitably poses as a multifaceted case, of which aligns strongly with EPiActive Healthcare’s philosophy – to Educate, Motivate, Facilitate & Empower. All of which we do over four, 1-hour sessions per week.

Garth’s reasons for exercise are still the same as they were 8 years ago – to live his best quality life. Exercise and fitness have always been a part of his lifestyle, and that passion has not at all diminished. He is a father of two alongside his amazing wife, Fi. Despite the obstacles Garth has had to overcome, and those that may lie before him, the mental strength and genuine legendary nature of this man ensures his future is bright and prosperous!

As it is, we are weeks away from his new prosthetic running blades – something we are incredibly excited about.
What do your sessions together involve?
Where do we start! Garth has many challenges that he has already overcome, and many he will face in his future. Our sessions provide a magnitude of benefit for Garth, both in the short-term, and most certainly for his future.

We work on everything, from balance and proprioception training, gait analysis and postural awareness, through to general strength and functional training. We also prioritise his aerobic fitness, helping to manage and control his weight and metabolic risk factors also.

We always aim to complete a variety of both resistance exercises including free weights, machine weights, swiss balls, etc., and aerobic-based exercises such as incline walking, stationary bike, boxing and have even kicked the footy around the parks during COVID-times.

We are fortunate enough to have multiple sessions together each week, allowing us to include resistance strength exercises for both upper and lower body, static and dynamic balance drills, core strengthening progressions, functional movement patterns, and of course aerobic training, each week. Extensive stretching is also a core component to managing Garth's body each week.

Our program and sessions always vary, as there are many components of an overall health and well-being program of which we need to cover. In addition to this, ongoing changes or alterations to his prosthetics, inclusion of newer limbs and any ongoing surgeries, requires us to work hard ensuring we quickly adapt to each new obstacle that presents.

Adopting an ‘outside the box’ approach to the gym/studio has allowed us to incorporate a rich diversity of training styles, helping to keep all sessions challenging, rewarding and enjoyable.

Garth, can you sum up your Exercise Physiology journey with James?
It has been awesome reconnecting with James again to commence a slightly different “health journey”!

Working with an experienced AEP has been critical in improving my overall health and strength. I require very close one-on-one assistance getting on and off machines and around a gym, not just someone training my technique and pushing me harder! We have had to research and find attachments for my prosthetic limbs – giving me a left hand to lift weight, push/pull, etc. James and I have worked hard on building my balance and coordination, not only to exercise to greater levels, but it ultimately enables me to independently access the community and do the things I did prior to becoming an amputee.

James has been great at sourcing exercises and tasks which aim at increasing my aerobic capacity, especially due to my left lung which was damaged when I fell ill.

Working with James each week is now “part of my life!”

Thank you to James and Garth for sharing their story with us. They would love to hear from any AEPs across Australia who may have a similar story, or are exercising in similar circumstances to Garth! You can find them on Instagram: @epiactivehealthcare or email James at [email protected].

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Supporting health through exercise for 30 years 

To celebrate 30 years of Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA), we are reflecting on 30 stories which commemorate the profound impact the exercise and sports science industry and its professionals have had on our communities, and how they have benefited the health landscape in Australia.

Click here to read more like this one