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Emily: Hi. I’m Emily Ladau.
Kyle: And I’m Kyle Khachadurian.
Emily: And you’re listening to another episode of The Accessible Stall.
Kyle: What are we going to talk about today, Emily?
Emily: Oh my gosh. I’m really excited for this one. We’re going to talk about exercise. And look, I know that that is not everybody’s favorite topic, but we’re not just talking about any exercise; we’re going to be talking about inclusive, accessible, adaptive fitness. And I think it is such an important topic, not one that we talk nearly enough about. And not only that, but we have some pretty cool special guests to do it.
Kyle: Oh my God, are you saying that inclusive exercise is not just some pipe dream?
Emily: It’s not. It’s not. And we have real, live people who are going to talk to us about it today.
Kyle: Do you want to introduce yourselves?
Matt: Yeah. So my name is Matt Ney, and I’m the founder of Kakana.
Emily: Hi, Matt. Thanks for being here.
Matt: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Luiz: And I’m Luiz Faye, and I’m an adaptive boxing coach for the Kakana team. And I’m based over here in the UK.
Emily: Amazing. So this is – have we ever had – we’ve had a couple of international guests.
Kyle: Yeah, but it is a specialty. It’s a rarity for us.
Emily: Yeah, this is a rare occasion. We are so excited to have both of you. And I’m immediately ready to dive into this conversation because I’m already super pumped and I want everybody else to be just as pumped. So I’m going to let Kyle take it away with the first question.
Kyle: Oh man, it’s a tough act to follow with all that enthusiasm. I’ve got to try to match it. So this one’s for you, Matt. Can you tell us why you founded Kakana and what it’s all about?
Matt: Yeah. So, you know, I had a previous company that was taking me into classrooms, and we were – our goal was to keep kids moving and students moving throughout the day. And to make a long story short, while I was in the classroom, I kept noticing that teachers would continually tell students to just do what they can. And I kept asking, “Why is that?” It wasn’t the teachers’ fault because they were streaming the exercise that I had given them. It was my fault.
So I kind of went home and just dove into accessible fitness and inclusive fitness and exercise. And I found – to my surprise – just nothing. No community that you could wrap yourself around and really believe in, that it was there to promote accessible fitness. You know, you see these companies like Peloton and Mirror that are pushing these amazing communities and fitness together, and I kept asking myself, “Why can’t there be something like that that’s accessible first?” And from there, it was just off and running. I fell in love with what we were doing, and I haven’t stopped since.
Emily: I mean, I have to admit, whenever I see an ad for something like Peloton or Mirror, especially before I learned about Kakana, I would definitely find myself feeling kind of bummed and excluded because there’s no way that I can get on a Peloton. Kyle, I don’t know if you can.
Kyle: I cannot. No.
Emily: And, you know, our bodies are not designed for that.
Kyle: They just don’t – yeah, they don’t work for those machines.
Emily: And so I know it’s something that we’ve talked about before, Kyle, how we’re always looking for ways to make fitness work for us. And I think that this is an answer to that.
Emily: And so I’m particularly excited about that. I also really wanted to loop in Luiz though, because I’m interested in knowing a little bit about how you ended up being so very into adaptive exercise. I know that you do cardio boxing. And so, maybe if you could just share a little bit about your journey, how you ended up with Kakana, and also what it is that makes you so passionate about sharing adaptive fitness with other people.
Luiz: So my disability came later in life, and so I’d always competed in mainstream sport. And I was a police officer for 10 years. So I had always been strong, fit, confident, independent. And as my new life started to sort of develop, I wanted to get involved in sport. And the no brainer for me was to get back in the pool. I’d swum all my life very successfully. So, hey, let’s go for para swimming.
So got in the pool, timings were really, really good. I contacted Team GB for the – to have a look at my Paralympic times, and they were really excited by me. They asked me to fill out a form, and then came back and said, “Unfortunately, you’re not disabled enough.” And that was my first experience of being involved in disabled sport.
So off the back of that, I went and found just a personal trainer. And we always used to train in the gym, doing standard gym stuff. And I just looked at the punch bag in the corner of the room, and said, “Why did I never do that when I was standing? Why didn’t I ever do that? I’d loved to have done it.” And he just looked at me and said, “Why don’t you do it in your chair?” And the rest is really from history.
But adaptive boxing didn’t exist. There’s been versions of it. People have boxed in wheelchairs. Of course, people have done that in the past, but nobody’s taken ownership of the sport. And the long story short is I ended up working with the World Boxing Council. They happened to see me on a Facebook group, and they came over and they had a look at me. And we decided that we were going to form part of the team that started to develop the sport.
So in October 2019, went over to Cancun in Mexico and launched the sport as an official sport, an adaptive sport. And from then, it’s become a passion, and I’ve lived and breathed it ever since. I volunteered 30 hours a week in a boxing gym for a year, in the leadup to that to learn my craft, and I think that’s why my passion comes from it now. And I see the difference that it’s making to people’s lives, I see the empowerment that it’s bringing, and I’m so excited for the future. I’ve actually just got off a meeting with the head of the amateur organizations for Wales over here, because they’re looking at taking the sport into the amateur ranks as well, so I’m super excited.
Emily: So this sounds like it’s super official, which is awesome. But one thing that you said gave Kyle and I pause, and we both made a face at each other because we were very confused by it.
Kyle: Yeah, you said that you were told that you were not disabled enough to do adaptive –
Kyle: Can you just elaborate on that a little bit more, if you don’t mind?
Luiz: Yes, because they have a list. They have a list of conditions, and if your condition isn’t on that list, effectively it doesn’t count for a classification, and therefore, you are an able-bodied swimmer.
Kyle: How inclusive.
Emily: Yeah. We were both so taken aback by that because we just kind of assumed that adaptive fitness and the Paralympics and things like that would specifically focus on being more inclusive. So it just goes to show you that inclusion is difficult no matter – I’m trying to think of how to phrase this – no matter what type of sport you’re going for. And no matter what group of people you’re with. So that’s really interesting to me.
And I think that’s actually a really good lead-in to our next question, because there was something in particular that I think really stands out about Kakana.
Kyle: We noticed that you guys have such an incredible diversity of body types –
Emily: For your coaches.
Kyle: And this is, like, really cool. Yeah, sorry. In your coaches. And it’s not something that you see in a lot of similar platforms, and it’s just another way that you guys stand out. Is this something that you explicitly set out to do? Is it something that kind of happened naturally?
Matt: Yeah. It was definitely something we set out to do in a way that we wanted to bring as much representation to our platform as possible. And how accessible you are and how inclusive you are, you’re never going to be accessible enough and inclusive enough from the 30,000 – or from the detailed level, right? I mean, everyone’s different, and everyone brings a different experience. And so, the goal early on was, let’s bring in instructors that represent communities we hope to reach. They’ll be able to bring their experiences to the class as much as the adaptions that we teach. And that’ll help us bridge the gap between an individual who has no core, or can’t reach over their head, and they’ll be able to – based on their experience – help them adapt. Versus, okay, this is what the handbook tells you, and off you go. Because that doesn’t always work.
And so, our goal was that at the outset, and then look, it was you get a couple people they – “I know this person you should talk to.” Then, you talk to somebody else. Luiz – I came to Luiz through another member of ours who was taking her class on another – just off on her own. And they let me know about her, so what did I do? I dove in and researched her stuff, and before I even talked to her, I had probably watched at least five classes.
Kyle: That is so cool.
Matt: And you just – you fall in love with people who have the energy and who have the same passion that you do to bring engaging fitness to the screen, right? And I think you – you know, one thing that struck me, Kyle, when you were talking earlier was, is it just a pipe dream? And that was always my feeling that it’s nonsense to think that someone can look at Peloton or Mirror and say, “I wish I could do that,” but then, the only thing out there are a bunch of YouTube videos. And it’s not a linked community, and the brand isn’t powerful, and the brand doesn’t move people and move other companies in other industries, and doesn’t lower the standard of the fitness workout because it’s accessible.
And so, going back to the instructors, you look for instructors that can move the needle as well as bring different experiences, and Luiz was obviously one of those. But all of our instructors in their own way can do that, which is super important.
Emily: I could not love this more, especially because you’re absolutely right. I have been using YouTube workout videos for a long time because that was kind of the first place where I was able to find seated workout videos, which is a great resource. But after a while, I get tired of watching the same thing. I get very tired of feeling like I’m all alone and by myself, and there’s nobody on the other end who actually wants to kick my butt at that particular moment.
Emily: So that’s a really good point. And I think that, especially within the disability community, finding that sense of community is so important, because you want to see people like you who are out there in the fitness world. And that actually raises a point that I really wanted to ask Luiz about. You are part of the disability representation that I feel like the fitness community needs to see. But at the same time, I’m curious, have you noticed progress in disability representation across the fitness world? Or have you felt like you’ve been welcomed with open arms? Have you tried to kind of carve your own path that way? Or do you feel welcomed more to the mainstream community?
Luiz: Like I said before, boxing was my first experience of being involved in a disabled community, because I was so new to my disability. And the experience that I’ve had in that time has been that I’ve been welcomed with open arms. And it has been a tonic. It has been therapy, actually, through this lockdown as well. You know, because taking the classes online and having that online community has meant that I’ve been able to meet more people with disabilities. Whereby, if I was still just doing the boxing, the chances are the people that I’d be seeing are just my own clients and no one outside of that base. So yeah, I feel very much a part of the disabled community now.
Emily: That’s so good to hear because I know that it’s kind of, on the one hand, a very welcoming and inclusive community, but it can sort of be hard to find your place in the community as well, especially if you become disabled later on in life. You know, I was born with my disability, Kyle was born with his disability. So for us, those sources of community might look a little bit different. But on the whole, I love knowing that people are welcoming.
But you actually said something that really resonated, especially right now, about virtual classes.
Kyle: Yeah, and how beneficial they are during the lockdowns that we’re currently in. Would you mind elaborating on that? Because I feel like that’s a really big plus for this platform.
Luiz: My personal experience with that is the fact that I live on my own. So when we’ve gone into lockdown, that was it. All of my contacts had gone. The only contact I would have had would have been my dog walker who couldn’t then come and walk the dog because we were in lockdown. And so this online community literally became a lifeline. And I had the responsibility of delivering classes, so it meant that I kept routine through the beginning of the pandemic, kept focused, kept myself motivated, which then meant that I could keep my boxers motivated, and in turn, that kept us all kind of going. So if somebody had a down day, we’d be there to pick them up. If somebody else had a down day, somebody else would be there to pick them up. And it’s just – yeah, we feel like we’ve been through this pandemic together, even though we’re all across the pond and all over.
Emily: And, Matt, I remember you talking a little bit when I was first getting to know you about how the pandemic sort of influenced the direction that Kakana has taken. So would you say it’s ultimately been a positive in spite of the fact that the pandemic is very much a negative?
Matt: Yeah. The pandemic made us a better company.
Matt: It forced – yeah. So we had to pivot about two – well, let’s see, the pandemic – we went into national lockdown in what? Last February. And we were set to film about 100 videos in March. And so obviously that got scratched. And at that point, we really had to figure out what the best way to – what the best mode was to continue progress with what we wanted to do. And that’s where the live classes came in, because, look, we couldn’t get together and film. And so, let’s start creating a live class that people can do on their own, and we’ll just start that way and keep going.
And that’s where Crosscycle came from. Sunny and myself just started spit balling ideas, and then we got a beta class together, and off we went. And that allowed us to test what it was like to stream using Zoom, and then also, we can film these or record them and put them on demand. And so for us, the pandemic strengthened the platform and the power of it, right? Instead of just being something on demand, which is a glorified – or a set of YouTube videos in your own platform – now, we’re both. Now we’re live. Now you have connectivity. Now you have connection to a community. We get on 10 minutes early – we call it a virtual locker room – we get on 10 minutes early of every class if the individual wants, if the member wants, and we talk.
And, I don’t know, Emily, if you got on 10 minutes early today. But it’s just – it’s a conversation where it could be as silly as what your favorite Thanksgiving side was, or what adaption you need – or as serious as what adaption you need. And all of that came about because of the pandemic, and really solidified, hey, this can be done similarly to these other powerful brands. We can do this the same way as they are. And I don’t know if we would have gotten there that quickly without the pandemic and having to be quick and nimble on our feet.
Emily: Yeah, I did. I actually took a cycling class earlier today. And I’ve taken a few, now, live classes, and already absolutely in love with it. But I think that is one thing that I really like is logging on, and instead of starting up my usual YouTube videos, someone is like, “Hi, Emily.” And then while I’m exercising, someone is like, “Yeah, get it, Emily.” And I’m like, “Oh, they’re talking to me. This feels great.”
So yeah, and I think you actually raised a point about the pivot that the pandemic caused because that’s something that the disability community has been talking about in so many ways and for so long. So much of what is offered in the entertainment world, in the fitness world, you name it, is not accessible, and there is no option to do things adaptively or remotely, or to build up that sense of community. So I think the pandemic has kind of caused a lot of people to see that the Internet is a perfectly acceptable way of forming community.
Matt: Yeah. I’ll jump in just – sorry to jump in. But the interesting part was pre-pandemic, when we were just an idea, I was actually – I was growing these ideas of streaming and doing live classes. I threw them out to a lot of non-profits just to get their sense because they were doing in-person programming, and a lot of people were negative about it. “No, individuals with disabilities can’t stream. They don’t want to stream. There’s no connection involved.” The excuses were varied and silly. And it was just – for me, it was another way of just saying, “No, what we’ve got is fine.” And I think the pandemic in a – it’s a weird way of saying it – but in a positive way, has kind of blown open another of these stupid preconceived notions that individuals with disabilities can’t do X. Well, that’s just nonsense. And streaming exercise is no different than running for political office or heading a company, or take your pick, right?
And it was surprising to me that directors of non-profits that were serving individuals with disabilities had these kind of thoughts. But it showed otherwise, because then, what, three months later, they were all streaming. So maybe it was just scared to think outside the box. But the pandemic has really shown that accessibility is not only good for individuals with disabilities but for everybody, right? Now, people can work from home with no issues.
Emily: Yeah, you’re spot on. You’re absolutely spot on. And I’m glad to see – although I wish that the impetus had not been a pandemic, I’m glad to see that people are starting to recognize and respect that accessibility in a virtual world is so incredibly important. And I also really, really wanted to ask, especially now when it feels so hard to get motivated, do you guys have any tips on motivation? I mean, I’m going to not-so-humble brag for a second. I’ve exercised now for 157 days in a row as of today, which is a record for me.
Emily: And I didn’t used to be like that. That was a very concentrated effort. But I know someone else over here – ahem, Kyle –
Kyle: Hey. No, she’s right. I have a set of weights that just stares at me every day. And at this point, I’m pretty sure it’s making fun of me behind my back. Working out is something that I love to do – or I should say I want to love to do – and I just can’t find it. And I guess, yeah, do you guys have any tips on how to stay motivated or how to get motivated?
Emily: Yeah, especially Luiz, because I can hear the enthusiasm in your voice.
Luiz: I’m laughing because I always think to myself, energy creates energy for a start. So if you sat down, and you’re looking at your weights, they ain’t going to move themselves.
Kyle: Yeah. I’m trying really hard.
Luiz: When you pick those up, they start to move. It’s amazing. They start to move, but then you start to smile. And then you start saying, “Okay, now my muscles are hurting a little bit. Okay, so now I’m working. Ah. So this is what working feels like.” And then when you finish, you feel tired, and you go, “I’ve just worked out. Check me.” And that’s the bit where you go reward yourself. And I don’t mean with a Takeaway or a bar of chocolate. I mean a hot soak in the bath. A little bit of a pamper. And give yourself little goals, but give yourself little rewards. The goals need to be manageable, and if you don’t hit the goals, don’t beat yourself up, because those weights will go back in the corner of the room, and they will stop moving.
Kyle: Man, is this what I can expect if I sign up for Kakana?
Emily: Okay, I just have to tell you, that’s not even a joke because today, when I was taking my cycling class, and the coach, Sunny, she was like, “Being a badass is a mindset,” and I was like, “Yeah, it is. Yeah, it is.”
Kyle: See, I’ve never done anything like this before so it’s like –
Kyle: — this whole idea of virtualized, personalized fitness is very foreign to me. But I’ve got to tell you that this is cool.
Emily: Yeah, it’s really exciting.
Luiz: I was going to say, if you do one of my cardio boxing classes and you’re not feeling motivated after, I need to have a word with myself.
Luiz: So I invite you, Kyle, to do one of the classes, and see how motivated you feel about exercising those dumbbells later on afterwards.
Kyle: All right. I may take you up on that.
Matt: Yeah, and it’s also – I mean, a little bit to what Emily said, is when you’re – it’s very difficult to motivate when you’re the sole person just moving to a video that’s just kicking back at you. I have trouble motivating to go work out or do the 5:30 class or what have you because it’s been a long day. You pick your excuse that you can lean on to jump off. But the minute you get onto the class, and if you get on 10 minutes early, you’re talking, you’re conversing with other people, you’re starting to get this snowball effect. And then, off you go. And kind of what Luiz said, right, it’s baby steps. So you get one class, then you get two classes, then you sign up for two more. And all of a sudden, you kind of enjoy the company that you’re keeping, the connectivity with the group, versus, “Oh, I have to work out.” It’s “I get to go hang out.”
And by the way, you’re working out along with it. You’re not in this silo by yourself anymore, which I think – if you look at Peloton, they revolutionized the fitness industry with connecting people via virtual connection. And it’s no different with us. Why do individuals with disabilities and without disabilities have to do stuff differently? Now, there’s an option for everybody.
Emily: Could not agree more. Why should we have to do things differently? I think there should be – and I think this is exactly what you are doing – acknowledging that everybody does things differently, but the programs and the processes should be just as available to anyone.
Matt: Yeah, exactly.
Emily: And I love that. So I think we’ve covered a whole lot of ground, but we just want to make sure that people can find Kakana and know more about it. So what’s that process? Walk us through that process for how we can find you, and what being a part of the community would look like.
Matt: Yeah. So you can go to OneKakana.com. And sign up for a free trial. You get seven days free, so you can test run it. We try to make it as easy as possible, so we only take your name and email, no credit cards. You’re not locked into anything. You simply can just sign up and jump into on-demand classes if you don’t want to jump in live. But I always suggest take a live class because you don’t really get the full experience until you jump into a live session and feel what it’s like to be in front of the instructors, like Luiz, like Sunny. But you get seven days for free, and then you get to make a choice. Do you want to continue with the monthly membership, which is $14.99 a month? Or do you hold off?
Luiz: I was just going to say, you said there about – you encourage people to jump into a live class. Even from my perspective as an instructor, when I jumped onto that first live class to teach, and I jumped into the locker room and we were all talking beforehand, that was so lovely, and it gave me an idea of the kind of community that I was going to be working with as well. So I was an outsider looking in, open to all, that first day, and then – do you know what I mean? So I can honestly say to anybody out there, please, please, give it a chance. And come and have a chat, and come and see what we’re about, because there’s no pressure. That’s the thing as well. No one’s going to sit there and say you have to complete this whole session, you must do it to this level. It’s adaptive. You take from each class what you feel is good for you.
Matt: Yeah. The idea is to be together, is to be welcoming. No one’s coming into the class and feeling like they have to make an excuse for themselves. You come in, and if you want to explain what you can and cannot do, that’s open and welcome. And we will help in any way possible. And if you come in, and you just want to be apart and ease your way into it, that’s great. And I think that’s the biggest thing is the community is just so welcoming, and it’s just so open to what everyone’s needs are. And then, guess what, then you’re going to get your butt kicked.
And that, for me, was always the main thing, is we are not going to lower the standard of working out and of our fitness classes because they’re accessible. The standard is going to be high, the brand is going to be impactful. And it doesn’t matter if you’re Peloton or you’re Mirror or you’re a non-profit, we’re going to push you further to be more accessible, to be more inclusive, because otherwise, we’re going to take over. And I think being unapologetic in our brand makes people feel good about being a part of Kakana too. Because look, how many people go around talking about how great that Peloton is and how much apparel they’re buying? That’s where we want to go, and that’s the power that we want to wield. So the more people that jump on, the better, Kyle.
Kyle: I mean, it sounds like you guys are as much into the community aspect of Kakana as you are about the actual fitness, which I find very cool.
Matt: A hundred percent.
Luiz: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. A hundred – yeah.
Kyle: So we are nearing our time, and at the end of every episode of The Accessible Stall, it’s very traditional to do something that we call final takeaways. Do you guys have one final piece of advice or information either about you or Kakana that you’d want to share with our audience?
Matt: Do you want to go first, Luiz?
Luiz: I saw that bus coming.
Emily: No pressure.
Luiz: What do I want you to know about me? That if anyone – I want to be able to learn and understand about so much and so many different disabilities. And because I’m so new to, like I say, my own disability, to boxing, to adaptive sport, I’m open to you guys giving me your feedback. So please, if there’s certain things that you want to look to do when it comes to boxing or anything like that, or from adaptive sport, from my perspective, please just get in touch with Kakana, let me learn from you. I want to learn, like I say, about different disabilities, and then hopefully I can then give something back to the Kakana community. So that’s what I would say from me.
Matt: Mine’s a little less nice, but it’s no different. Luiz is much nicer than I am anyway.
Luiz: [unclear 00:33:50] with our circles.
Matt: Don’t apologize for what you want. I was doing a – I was on a panel the other day, and there was a wide range of people. And listening to everybody talk about their fitness journeys, don’t be afraid to ask. And don’t be afraid to, as an individual, as a person, say, “You know what? This is what I want. This is what I like. And I’m going to jump into this full-throated.” And they don’t have to worry about telling someone that, “I can’t do this,” or “I need an adaption for this exercise.” I just think that the more people that speak and speak loudly, the better accessibility is going to – to move forward, the better accessible fitness is going to move forward. And that helps change minds, and that helps change companies.
I always say, if Kakana’s successful, then the likes of these other companies are going to have to make moves towards accessibility. And if that happens, everybody’s on the right track. And Kakana has done their job, not just in our fitness and our community, but for the world. So that would be mine.
Emily: Oh, those were both so good. Who cares about being nice when you’re being profound? But Luiz, thank you so much, and Matt, thank you so much. I really, honestly feel like I have a new community. Kyle, I’m sorry I roped you into this.
Kyle: Yeah, well, it’s okay.
Emily: I rope him into things. Yeah, but this was just a really lovely conversation. And I also would love to share a final takeaway, if I may, which is that I don’t think that fitness needs to be scary for the disability community. I think that it can be something that you can make work for your body, if you want to make it work for your body. And you know, I’m kind of on my own journey with figuring out self-acceptance right now, and figuring out how to be comfortable in my body. And I think that for me, fitness has been a part of that. And I don’t want anyone to think that I’m telling them what to do with their own bodies, but I just want people to know that being part of a fitness-related community is possible. Because I think that we get shut out of that so often, because people make assumptions about what disabled people can and cannot do. And so my hope is that people recognize that that shouldn’t be the case, and that the option for fitness, should you be interested, should be just as much on the table for disabled people as for anyone else. So that’s what I’ve been feeling lately.
Have I missed anything, Kyle?
Kyle: I don’t think so. I think we’ve all covered every single base.
Emily: So, yeah. So that is it for this episode of The Accessible Stall. And Matt and Luiz, I want to say thank you so much for joining us. And Matt, can you tell us quickly how we can find Kakana across the interwebs?
Matt: Sure. We are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all at OneKakana, O-N-E Kakana. And our website is OneKakaka.com.
Emily: Awesome. And Luiz, where can we find you on social media?
Luiz: Luiz Faye, and it’s WC Boxer, wheelchair boxer. And I’m on Instagram and Facebook. Oh, and TikTok.
Emily: We – oh, on TikTok.
Luiz: Yeah, we’re on TikTok. I’m the dancing wheelchair boxer.
Emily: You’re way cooler than us. Neither of us do TikTok.
Kyle: That is so awesome.
Matt: That [unclear 00:38:20].
Luiz: No, not at all. Congratulations on your 157 days, by the way. That is amazing.
Emily: Oh, thank you.
Luiz: Make sure you are rewarding yourself, very much so.
Emily: I reward myself at this point with checking a little box on an app every day when I exercise, and it makes me feel really happy. So it’s the little things. It’s the little things. But yeah, this was so much fun. And I’m going to officially wrap up the episode by saying that this has been another episode of The Accessible Stall. I’m Emily.
Kyle: And I’m Kyle.
Emily: And might we say –
Kyle: You look great today. Especially in your workout pants.
Emily: I was going to say, in your workout pants.