Theo Paidas was a Phys Ed teacher coaching swimming, athletics and rugby when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986.
He has always been an active, social sportsman and in 1994 he opened a Sports Connection club in Midrand at the Boulders (later became part of the Virgin Active group.) In 1996 Theo took part in a bicycle marathon from Johannesburg to East London to raise funds for Retina Pigmentosa sufferers but his MS progressed steadily and by 2005 he had started using a cane.
During 2007 Theo was training at the Virgin Active club at Northgate, Randburg, despite using crutches and walking with difficulty. He brought the issue of handicapped parking spaces to the attention of the centre management and they willingly provided three parking bays at the entrance. Unfortunately the bays were too narrow. He brought this to the attention of the manager, Jason Gripper, and within a week the three bays had been repainted to form two wider bays!
But there was yet another problem at the gym, no access for wheelchairs in the weights room and no handicapped toilets, in any case, the toilets were down two flights of stairs! When he brought this to the attention of management he was told that nothing could be done, it was part of the original gym design! He did his best on his crutches but since falling all the way down the stairs, cutting his head and fracturing his arm he has decided not to return.
Theo believes handicapped people get a raw deal – not only from sports clubs but also at restaurants and shopping malls. “A lot of disabled people, not only those suffering from MS, who are challenged or differently abled are excluded from using many public venues due to poor design and the management not providing facilities. They are also entitled to visit restaurants, shopping centres, gyms and other facilities and not enough is being done about it”.
Theo has started a crusade to make sure that facilities are provided at sports clubs and shopping centres. The management of Virgin Active have supported him and all new Virgin Active Health Clubs are now fully equipped with handicapped parking bays, ramps, and handicap friendly toilets.