Guardian Angels truly come in all shapes and sizes.
For Kyle Jay, they take the form of two muscular, tattoo-laden body builders.
One is Jason Mosher, co-owner of Naturally Fit Total FX, an elite strength-training centre in Charlottetown. The other is Kowboy Mike Hughes, the popular local wrestler behind Red Rock Wrestling.
The pair has combined their talents in the gym, along with genuine care and determination, to bring Jay back from a personal abyss.
Jay, 23, of Mount Stewart suffered a brain stem stroke at age 18. The damage was so severe that he was not expected to be able to get his body to do much more than blink.
Early rehab, though, saw some physical improvement in Jay. However, the young man did not want to leave his home.
The stroke had done more than hamper his mobility and curb his speech. Jay’s spirits were reduced to nil. His former spark was gone. His desire to socialize had left.
Hughes, who also happens to be a patient care worker at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, was approached to see if he could inject a little life into Jay’s life.
Has he ever.
Hughes hauled Jay off to the gym. Jay found the place “pretty scary’’ at first with the loud noise of weights crashing to the floor, as well as the overwhelming sight and sound of hulking bodybuilders grunting through their workouts.
Soon though Jay would go from being an intimidated spectator to a spirited participant. For the past four years, he has been pumping iron.
He comes in to the gym three times a week and his one-hour visits are no walk in the park. He does leg presses, bench presses and arm work. He works out on the pulling machines and suspension trainers. He works with weighted sleds. Aggressive stretching is also part of the regime.
Naturally, measures are taken by Hughes and Mosher to ensure Jay’s safety. But they do not let their eager subject off easy.
“We push him to his threshold,’’ said Mosher.
“He’s so driven to get better and we’re not afraid to take the chances to make him better.’’
Not only has Jay’s parents given their blessing to the regular workouts in the gym, Garth and Darlene Jay are so inspired by their son’s effort and his progress that they too made the move to the gym. So too has Jay’s brother Kurtis.
Mosher notes that Jay was the first neurological patient he has worked with in the gym.
“It was completely out of our comfort zone,’’ he said.
Watching the trio in the gym today, though, reveals a comfortable interaction fueled by trust and friendship.
Jay clearly has plenty of faith in the pair as they hoist and twist him into one position or another before urging him on to bend, stretch and lift with all his might.
Jay, who still can barely whisper a single word, responds to the playful ribbing from his trainers with a broad smile and the extension of a carefully selected finger.
With an emphatic nod of the head, Jay credits Mosher and Hughes with his remarkable progress to date: improvement that is evident in both notable physical and social gains.
Hughes says the development of Jay’s core strength in the past four years is nothing short of incredible.
When Jay first came in the gym, he was only able to stand for one or two minutes. He can now stand for a solid hour. He can walk with a walker but the trio is all shooting for the day that Jay will walk without any assistance.
“The goal is to get him walking,’’ said Mosher. “If that takes 10 years, he’s going to be walking.’’
Jay widens his eyes and nods affirmatively when asked if he considers it important the ability to be able to eventually walk.
The great physical advancements have also translated into significant social strides for Jay. He has really come out of his shell, observes Mosher and Hughes. Jay gets out all the time now with his friends.
He has also, in perhaps a nod to the ongoing strong influence of his trainers, got his share of tattoos. One reads “In Memory of Grandma.’’
Another tattoo seems to aptly sum up Jay’s state of mind that has been forged by a couple of giant Guardian Angels. The body ink proclaims: “Stay Strong.’’