Every Y member has a story. Most are “normal,” some are “special,” each is unique. This story illustrates the strength of the human spirit, and the Y’s dedication to helping people remain strong in spirit, mind and body.


In the late ‘90s Michael Lyght was extremely healthy, active, and enjoying his work in a local hospital and at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He exercised regularly at the Downtown Y. Next on his list was learning windsurfing and in-line skating.


Then—suddenly—came headaches, blurred vision, numbness on his right side, six grueling weeks in Intensive Care, and the diagnosis of a life-threatening brain-stem infection.


“This is too dangerous for surgery,” his doctors said. Antibiotics beat back the infection, but Michael was left paralyzed in his arms and legs. “My right arm hung limp, flopping around like a mudflap on a semi,” he recalls.


Michael spent the next six months learning life in a wheelchair and wondering about his future.


“I didn’t get depressed,” he says. “I remember thinking, I wouldn’t even be able to get to a bridge, never mind jump off it.”


Michael fought back. A major battleground was the workout room at the Downtown YMCA. He started slow with weights and adapted cardio equipment, but soon saw progress. Over time he regained his fitness (losing more than 50 pounds), got strength in his arms, and traded in his wheelchair for a cane.


In 1998 Michael received the “YMCA Inspirational Award” from the Downtown Y staff and members. “He’s our locker room hero,” a Y friend said.


Today Michael maintains his daily workout regimen and uses that cane only sporadically. He remains positive, upbeat, looking to the future. How does he do it?


“The Y has been a wonderful support,” he says. “The staff and members have been very encouraging.”


Michael also offers these practical points for others facing life-changing challenges.


  1. Surround yourself with good people.
  2. Look within yourself—find your personal strength and determination.
  3. Be consistent—create a routine that you miss when you miss it.
  4. On those days when you don’t feel like doing it—do it anyway.
  5. Be motivated by your results and progress—they will come!


If you need special support to help you begin or maintain your fitness journey, or if you know someone else who does, please feel free to contact your local Y’s Fitness department. The Y is here to help!