Le Tour de France Cycles through Village at St. Clair

Kinesiology student Natalie Heeney sparks new energy among neighbours

By Kristian Partington

Nearly 200 riders in the 2016 Tour de France travelled 3,535 km through 21 different stages in four separate countries during the first three weeks of July. Le Tour de France, St. Clair edition, required athletes to travel no further than their rooms in the village to the fitness centre, but they still managed a great feat of collective strength as they worked together to match the great cycling race, one step at a time on the NuStep fitness machine. 

Kinesiology student Natalie Heeney and Village at St. Clair kinesiologist  Angel Renaud posing for a photo together

Natalie Heeney, a fourth-year kinesiology co-op student from the University of Windsor, developed and implemented the Tour de France exercise program in the hopes of engaging more neighbours (residents) in a steady exercise regimen. She invited all neighbours to participate and made individualized cutout bicycles for each neighbour to be placed upon a chart covering an entire wall in the fitness centre. A smaller map mirrored the actual route of the famous race in France, showing how far the village had gone. The harder the neighbours worked out on the NuStep and the more often they visited the centre, the more progress they made.

The instant the program began at the beginning of July, Natalie saw engagement rise. People who would normally come to the gym a few times a week began to come more often and some would come several times a day.

“There was one lady who really never came down, maybe once in a blue moon, and she was here three or four times a day,” Natalie says. “There were some who would pedal a little harder than they normally would – they really got into it and they got really competitive.”

She laughs recalling two residents pedaling side-by-side at one point, each one trying to best the other. ‘Are you feeling tired?’ one lady asked the other in jest. ‘You’re looking a little tired, I think you should stop.”

The program ended alongside the true Tour de France on July 24 and the challenge now, Natalie says, is keeping neighbours engaged in ongoing physical activity now that this program has ended. They all saw and felt the benefits and it would be a shame to lose the momentum created during those three weeks in July.

It speaks to the creativity kinesiologists and exercise therapists must use everyday in a long-term care environment and this may be one of the key lessons Natalie will take away from her time at the village when her work placement finishes at the end of August. This and the realization that she loves working with older adults.

“Everyone tells me I have an old soul,” Natalie says. “I never really saw myself working with the elder population, but I absolutely love it. I come to work and I feel like I’m spending time with my family every day.”