Collective Stories of Exercise: Making Sense of Gym Experiences With Disabled Peers

in Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly
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  • 1 Loughborough University
  • | 2 University of Birmingham
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Using a dialogical narrative approach, we explored how disabled people made sense of their gym experiences as part of a peer group. Interviews were conducted with 18 disabled people (10 men and 8 women, aged 23–60) who had experience exercising in the gym as part of a group. Data were rigorously analyzed using a dialogical narrative analysis. Within their peer group, participants crafted a collective story that they used to resist disablism in the gym. The dialogical components of the collective story functioned to (a) validate participants’ experiences of oppression in the gym, (b) forge an unspoken understanding with peers, (c) craft a more affirmative identity, and (d) instill a sense of empowerment in participants so that they can tell their own story. This study extends knowledge in the field of exercise and disability by showing that despite the oppression disabled people experienced in the gym, they can create a collective story, which is useful for helping to promote and sustain exercise in this space.

Richardson and Papathomas are with the School of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK. Smith is with the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK.

Please address author correspondence to Emma Richardson at
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