Participant Stories

13 Juniper Classes Bring Balance Back After a Brain Injury


Kathleen Sorbie experienced a traumatic brain injury from a fall three years ago that impacted her balance, large motor movements, depth perception, speech and vocabulary. But over the past two years, she’s made a 98% comeback with a focus on recovery, and dedication to 13 Juniper classes.

Older adults taking an exercise class

Juniper Classes Change Lives

A Juniper class called Living Well with Diabetes was Kathleen’s first step into her Juniper series, followed by 12 virtual classes, including A Matter of Balance, Stay Active and Independent for Life (SAIL) and Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance.

Working hard and learning practical strategies for building strength and reducing the risk of falling have made it easier for Kathleen to step up on curbs and navigate snowy conditions. It’s also led to improvements in her leg and arm strength. “Before I took Juniper classes, I fell several times walking my dog, but now she doesn’t pull on her leash as much because my arms are stronger,” Kathleen explains. “And learning to position my feet wider apart and bending at the knees has helped me recover from vertigo moments.”

Gail Johnson is Kathleen’s Juniper class instructor and the health and wellness manager at CommonBond Communities. Gail says she’s had the honor of working with Kathleen in Juniper classes to improve her balance. “Kathleen’s balance was severely impacted by her injury. Just walking outdoors was difficult, navigating and trying not to fall, but that’s no longer the case because she’s learned how to shift her weight and use other movements to prevent herself from falling.” Kathleen added, “I learned muscle memory in SAIL and Tai Ji Quan classes. Gail said it would become instinctive, and she was right.”

Another victory for Kathleen is being able to unload the dishwasher without thinking about it. Before Juniper classes, she would unload dishes from the dishwasher onto the counter and categorize them based on where they go in the cupboards. This made it possible for her to make fewer movements. “Now I can take them out, turn around, and put them away without thinking about it because I’ve regained a level of balance.”

Taking Juniper classes remotely from home has been extremely important to Kathleen. She says, “I don’t have to worry about commuting or looking good for class, and I like the privacy of learning steps and doing the motions without people watching because I can be clumsy and uncoordinated.” She adds, “But it’s good for people to have access to in-person classes as well to be able to choose what works for them.”

Enjoying Life to its Fullest

Helping Kathleen recover from her injury is extremely gratifying for Gail. “I want people to be successful,” she says. “I always think there are people missing out on Juniper classes, and I would like to see more men attend. In my experience, once men come to a class and realize we’re not doing dancing aerobics, they’re hooked!” Gail shares the story of an 80-year-old class participant who can still get down on the floor to play with his grandchildren. “He is sure he wouldn’t be able to keep doing it without Juniper's classes,” she says. “The classes allow people to enjoy the highest quality of life possible, and it’s never too late to get started.” Gail also says we need to be mindful about putting a daily routine aside due to life changes.

“There are other routines to enjoy, and we need to keep moving.” Kathleen agrees. “I encourage people to give it a try, even if you think you may not be able to do it,” she says. I never thought practicing Tai Ji Quan would be possible for me, and now I’m taking the advanced class online, and I’m making new friends along the way.”


If you would like to find out how you can benefit from Living Well With Diabetes, Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance, A Matter of Balance or Stay Active and Independent for Life (SAIL) classes, go to the Juniper website and click on Find Classes.

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