SPRING HILL — Derrik Amaral is a miracle in his parents’ eyes. Five years ago, they didn’t know if their son would live or die after a horrific car crash. A nurse assistant at Oak Hill Hospital, the crash left Amaral a quadriplegic.
The 33-year old admitted there were times he wished he had died in the crash.
Now, however, he heads an initiative to inspire those around him to never give up. Amaral hasn’t completely recovered and most days are still challenging, but he is proving wrong the doctors who told his parents, Ernesto and Dora, that he would never walk again.
“They didn’t think I would even breathe on my own,” Amaral said.
His injuries were complex. But with the care of his parents and a determination to beat the odds, Amaral is an inspiration to everyone he meets. He was featured on Lifetime’s “This Time Next Year” and appeared in an episode of “Inside Edition Paralyzed Patients.”
But Amaral is just a guy who keeps his focus on the prize: recovery. The Amarals live in Spring Hill, where Derrik works almost continually at getting better. And as often as he can schedule it, he meets with his Pilates trainer, Kristin Werner.
But Werner is more than just a part of Amaral’s recovery team. “She’s family,” he said.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Pilates is a method of exercise that consists of low-impact flexibility and muscular strength and endurance movements. Pilates emphasizes proper postural alignment, core strength and muscle balance.”
Werner is a STOTT-Certified Pilates instructor and owner of Kontrology Pilates Studio, 12547 Spring Hill Drive, in the Niagara Square shopping plaza.
She knew when she met spinal cord injury survivor Derrik he was special. Their paths crossed when he began searching for a Pilates trainer. At the same time, she had been building toward a dream to open her own studio. He became her client and the two worked out of her home for about a year.
She is in the process of officially opening her own studio, the sole STOTT Pilates studio in the area. STOTT Pilates is a contemporary approach that focuses on injury prevention and safety. Werner provides one-on-one instruction to clients, an important distinction from group classes.
The equipment is in and Werner is working on her scheduling. But Amaral was acclimated even before the sign had been installed.
“He has a soft place in my heart,” Werner said about her client. “From the minute I met him I knew I had to do something to help him.”
She’d always been interested in spinal cord injury clients. “I feel like Pilates is the niche for them. It goes hand-in-hand with rehab, completely.”
Amaral has been the navigator of his own recovery, researching and learning about therapies to help him bridge the gaps between his old life and now. “I read something about Pilates and its effects on the spinal cord,” he said. “And I’m like ‘you know what, I’m going to try this.’”
Werner works with Amaral for about two hours each session. He stretches, stands and works his core. His parents are always right by his side, offering physical support. They work as a dedicated team, stabilizing their son between exercises and assisting Werner with equipment changes.
And Dora, with the empathy of a mom, straightens out his shirt in a genuine nurturing gesture. The couple encourages their son without coddling and praise his incredible progress, noting it was his stamina and grit that has gotten him this far.
But they never gave up, even when his prognosis was bleak. Dora remembered times when he asked her if he would walk again. “I told him yes because I had my faith.” But often she would leave the room and cry.
That faith has paid off. Derrik gets around with a manual wheelchair and a walker. And he keeps getting stronger.
“I keep going and trying different things and haven’t given up,” Amaral said.
And it is working. Werner noted that Amaral has made tremendous progress with his Pilates training.
“I knew what I was getting into. I knew what I could do, and we’d do it together,” she said.
We are a team, Amaral added. “Team Derrik Strong.”
Kontrology Pilates Studio is taking clients. Kristin Werner can be reached at 727-844-8994.