Jessica Beecham’s personal journey as a blind woman combined with her work with individuals with disabilities showed her that there is a need to break down barriers so that everyone has access to a healthy lifestyle.
Beecham, 35, serves as program manager for WE Fit Wellness, which provides exercise and nutrition solutions to people with disabilities.
Beecham grew up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where she also attended Middle Tennessee State University. She earned a Bachelor of Science in recreation and leisure studies in 2008 and later earned a master’s degree in exercise science from the university.
She started her career as a recreational therapist for children who are medically fragile. She went on to work as a recreational therapist for adolescents and adults with drug and alcohol dependency problems. In 2012, Beecham moved to Colorado where she began working as chapter and community development coordinator for the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado.
“In 2015, I married my passions for community organizing, disability, recreation and leisure, and [CEO Kevan Worley and I] started a company called WE Fit Wellness to provide affordable recreational opportunities to people with disabilities. I really love it,” Beecham said.
As program director, Beecham works to find creative ways to introduce people to exercise and to break down the barriers or “perceived barriers” they may face. Additionally, she helps conduct workshops for people in Colorado and across the U.S.
She continues to volunteer with the National Federation of the Blind, serving as president of the organization’s Sports and Recreation Division. She also serves as first vice president of the Colorado affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind.
Through both her career at WE Fit Wellness and her volunteerism, she is an advocate for policy changes that will help make health and fitness more accessible, affordable and achievable for everyone.
“I just have a lot of fun helping people to become more healthy and fit,” Beecham said.
Beecham spoke with the Business Journal about her career, perceived barriers to a healthy lifestyle and legislation she has been involved in.
Talk about the barriers that people may feel exist to keep them from achieving a healthy lifestyle.
I would say sometimes people are maybe new to a disability, so they don’t know what their capabilities are. There may be something they liked to do before the disability, and they might have to make modifications and do it a little differently, but they can still do it. Another barrier is transportation and finances can sometimes be difficult. We help people brainstorm solutions to some of those types of problems. Honestly, finances is a really big issue that we see. A lot of people are on fixed incomes, and we have to help them understand how you can eat healthy on a budget and exercise without spending a ton of money. Of course, time is always a barrier for people. They think they don’t have enough time, so we help them understand how they can fit fitness into their day and why it should be just as a much of a priority as anything else.
What have been some of the challenges that you have faced?
Working as a recreational therapist and doing community organizing, I just saw so many people who didn’t exercise and who didn’t eat well. It made me realize how important it was to offer education in that area. Getting started, funding was a huge challenge for [Worley and I]. We couldn’t do everything at once, so we had to take things one at a time. We persevered down the path to find other funding streams or to marry and meld projects so they could work together. I would say that was the biggest challenge.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I think my favorite part is the moment when somebody’s mind changes from thinking they can’t to really looking at how they can and how it really is possible. Sometimes it’s an aha moment. Sometimes it involves them trying something fun, like cardio drumming, for the first time and realizing there is an exercise that you can do. We also see breakthroughs in our group discussions when people realize that the barriers they perceived to be there don’t have to be there, and when they realize there are friendly people who will be great support to them and help them do it. Any time somebody feels like they want to make better nutrition and wellness a part of their life — any time that one person makes that commitment, it makes me happy and makes me want to continue working.
What would you say are some of your proudest accomplishments?
We have a bill in Congress right now that, if it passes, would require standards to be made that would tell manufacturers how to make accessible exercise equipment. I’m excited that we have a bipartisan bill that’s there now and hopefully it gets enough traction that it passes. It’s exciting to me either way because no matter what, it will raise awareness.
We’ve conducted National Federation of the Blind wellness fairs where we’ve been able to introduce hundreds of blind people to a variety of sports and leisure activities, like cardio drumming, aerial silks, kickboxing, yoga, kettlebells, hula hooping, anything you can think of. We usually have 20-25 different activities that people can try out during the day.
Working with the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado and WE Fit Wellness, we hold an annual race called the 6 Dot Dash. It’s a 5K race to raise awareness and funds for the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. Last year, we raced in person and we had about 100 blind people running. We had about 400 participants total, and about 100 of them were blind. I felt like that was a great accomplishment because you won’t see many races at all where 100 blind people are running. Hopefully, this year we will have a lot of blind and sighted people participate in our virtual race. It started on Oct. 1 and goes through Nov. 8. When you register, you can choose to do a 5K or you can log miles from Oct. 1 through Nov. 8 and see how far you can make it across the state of Colorado, or you can work as team and see how far can make it across the U.S.
How has your industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
We usually travel to do workshops, but we’ve done a lot of those virtually this year, which has been fun. Traveling is the biggest thing. Several times a year we’re able to go and do weekend or day workshops for people. Those in-person events have not been practical this year. Often, we learn by touching, so you have to change that up a little bit. A lot of our work has been focused on helping people to understand how they can stay active safely during the pandemic, so we’ve had to shift our purpose a little bit. Some of the things that we’ve looked at are barriers because gyms are closed and people have been staying at home because they don’t feel comfortable going out. So, we’ve been helping them realize what you can do at home to stay active.
Why is health, fitness and an overall healthy lifestyle important to you personally?
I see so many who don’t take care of their bodies and who have a tough time when they are older. I just think we have such a gift and opportunity to take care of ourselves so that we can really enjoy the lives that we have. The other reason is that I just really understand how much what we do and what we eat plays into how we feel emotionally and mentally and what our happiness is. I just want people to have meaningful leisure lives so that they are happy.
What are your goals for the future?
We would really like to be able to get back to offering more in-person workshops where we can get together and have face-to-face interactions. But, we want to marry that with what we’ve learned from the virtual workshops. Although we hope to get back to the in-person workshops, we want to have a nice complement of both. That’s going to be a great game changer. I am also going to continue to do a lot more work on the advocacy and policy side. Right now, we have the bill in Congress that looks at accessible fitness equipment. We are working on another advocacy bill related to accessible online platforms and application-based platforms. We know people are at home right now and they can’t get to the gyms, but there is so much available on apps. That’s an area that we’re really going to target. And of course we want to continue to grow our efforts, so that we can continue to reach more people.