Zooming Into The Future: Courage Kenny Intern Leads Online Adaptive Spin Classes

by Joanne C. Gerstner

Alex Mitchell leads a virtual adaptive spin class. (Photo courtesy of Alex Mitchell).


Most college-level internships come with some nerves and stress. Being new to a workplace, and learning how do to a job and relate with coworkers can lead to a lot of questions and new experiences.

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse senior Alex Mitchell found all of that to be true, and then some, when he participated in a recreational therapist internship with Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institutein Minneapolis last fall.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed much of Mitchell’s experience from in-person to finding creative online programming solutions.Mitchell, a native of Rice Lake, Wisconsin, found a skill he never knew he had: leading weekly online adaptive spin classes over Zoom. 

“I think it started out as really a social thing, a way for us to check in on everybody,” Mitchell, 25, said. “But it was something more every time we did it. Many of us have to stay in because of the danger of COVID, so we found ourselves looking forward to having this outlet at noon every week. We can’t see our friends, we are isolated. 

“This was like having a time to be together. We got to move our bodies, see each other, and that really brought a lot during a tough time right now.”

Courage Kenny received donations of bike trainers and made handcycles and recumbents available for loan to outfit riders at home. This helped patients stay active, even if they did not have their own equipment.

Mitchell, who had never taught a spin class before, found his groove with a regular group of six riders. He asked them for weekly music recommendations to help build the workout playlist. Recommendations included upbeat dance music and a few unexpected options.

“When I saw the depressing, ‘I-lost-everything’ country music, I was like, ‘Well, that’s a choice’ and let’s do it,” Mitchell said, laughing. “It made everybody so happy to have their music played and I think we all got to learn a little bit about them and what they like. It was fun every week to see what we were going to do the class to.”

Getting to control the music was a small victory of normalcy for the riders in a time of uncertainty. These interactions helped Mitchell get to know his fellow riders over his time with him from last September to mid-December. Being online also helped Mitchell, as he said he was less nervous being on Zoom than in person. 

The pandemic affected the in-person rehabilitation services at Courage Kenny, shifting a lot of its programming online to protect its patients and staff. Mitchell’s in-person work, which focused on the recreation rehab programs in the gym and the pool, was shut down after a few weeks.

Mitchell deeply understands the serious risk factors of COVID for his rehab population, as shares them too. He suffered a serious spinal cord injury from a snowboarding accident at age 17, leaving him paralyzed from his C5 vertebra (mid-chest) on down. 

Through years of hard work and a lot of rehab, he has regained some use of his legs and can walk with a cane. Mitchell still has limitations with his arms and hands but has learned to use adaptations to make his life work. 

His medical challenges have been a direct influence on his career path. Mitchell saw the impact of rehabilitation and therapists in his life and made the decision to help others in a similar way. 

“There really aren’t too many people with physical disabilities like me doing recreational rehab. I know I am unique,” Mitchell said. “I feel it’s important for me to people see me and know they can live with their disability like me. I can talk to them about what is happening in a different way. I know what this is. So I hope they can see me as a resource.”

Mitchell’s Courage Kenny internship stint was successful, and he graduated with his bachelor’s degree in December. He’s now looking for a full-time position and studying for his certification exam.

He’s proud that his adaptive spin classes made a difference for others and helped him rediscover his love for cycling. 

“I’ve always been really into fitness, so cycling is going to be part of what I do from now on,” Mitchell said. “I think I had about as good of an internship experience as I could during COVID. I learned and grew a lot, and I learned I could do a lot more than I thought I could when I started. I’m really good at adapting in my life, and if you throw me into something, I can get it done. Which is cool.”

Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for the New York Times and other outlets about sports. She has written for since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.