Norwin student launches successful fitness program despite challenges

Updated 5 hours ago

Despite being visually impaired, Jessica Welch-Mussori was busy Tuesday morning, leading fellow students in walking around the Norwin High School gymnasium as part of a fitness program.

The group has logged more than 1 million steps since starting in late February.

“I like fitness, and I like to work out,” Welch-Mussori, a junior, said in explaining why she started the Get Fit Norwin program.

“It was all her idea. She put it all together,” said Melissa Cheplick, a case manager and special education teacher at the high school.

Since Feb. 26, Welch-Mussori and the other students have gathered before classes five days a week to walk for about 30 minutes. To date, they’ve taken 1,026,263 steps — tracked with pedometers.

Daily figures are entered into a database, said Jack Momeyer, an instructional aide who works with Welch-Mussori.

Welch-Mussori walks and sometimes breaks into a jog around the gym with other students. A cane she holds out in front of her is the only indication she faces a challenge in participating.

“Jessica is a visually impaired student who faces challenges each day, yet had the ability and energy to take a basic idea and turn it into an exercise program that students enjoy,” said Amy Kerr, secretary for Norwin’s athletic director.

Welch-Mussori helps with clerical tasks in the athletic director’s office.

Welch-Mussori suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a rare genetic disorder that shows itself in a loss of cells in the retina — the light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye, according to the National Eye Institute’s website. As the disorder progresses, patients tend to lose more of their visual field, developing what is referred to as “tunnel vision.”

‘Ready to start the day’

In the past two months, participation in Get Fit Norwin has increased from 10 students to between 40 and 50 on a typical morning, Momeyer said.

“I did not think it would grow this much,” Welch-Mussori said.

The student body has embraced the program — athletes, those in the life skills program and the autistic support programs, Cheplick said.

Alexandra Brentzel is among those who participate.

“I just think Jessica is a highly inspirational person. I love to walk with her,” the junior said.

Jake Williams, a junior volleyball player, considers the walking program as “a great way to start the day.”

The morning exercise program is benefitting students once they get to class, Cheplick said.

“Some of the teachers are reporting the kids are coming to class ready to go for the day. They tend to be on task better and ready to start the day … not sluggish like they were before,” Cheplick said, adding that Norwin “is trying to find creative ways to enhance our (students’) education.”

‘Contagious’ attitude

Since being diagnosed several years ago, Welch-Mussori said she has lost most of her peripheral vision and ability to distinguish colors.

The National Eye Institute says that about one in 4,000 people in the United States and the world are affected by the disorder and the symptoms start in childhood, which is what happened to Welch-Mussori.

“Eventually, most individuals with retinitis pigmentosa will lose most of their sight,” the National Eye Institute stated.

While Welch-Mussori said the deterioration of her vision has stabilized, she uses a cane to maneuver around school hallways and classrooms, relies on a special program to enlarge the type on her computer and has become good at reading Braille.

“She navigates school like an pro,” Cheplick said.

Despite the challenges, Welch-Mussori is manager of the Lady Knights girls basketball team, is involved in Special Olympics and is a competitor in Norwin’s unified track and field team. The team includes students with and without disabilities.

“She has a great attitude. It is contagious,” Cheplick said.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

Jessica Welch-Mussori leads a group of Norwin High School  students walking around the high school gymnasium on Tuesday, May 1, 2018.

Joe Napsha

Jessica Welch-Mussori leads a group of Norwin High School students walking around the high school gymnasium on Tuesday, May 1, 2018.

Jessica Welch-Mussori (blue shirt) sits with fellow Norwin High School students in front of a poster celebrating the students walking one million steps in the Get Fit Norwin program.

Joe Napsha

Jessica Welch-Mussori (blue shirt) sits with fellow Norwin High School students in front of a poster celebrating the students walking one million steps in the Get Fit Norwin program.



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