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Stories of impact: Man takes first steps in seven years with help of The J

Duane and Danielle

The Federation proudly supports the Valley of the Sun JCC and the diverse culture within its walls. People come from all walks of life and everyone’s journey is different. There are so many stories that could be told and heard. This is Duane Washington’s story.

Duane is the son of The J’s longtime and loved personal trainer, Noel Washington.

In 2007, at the young age of 23, Duane was in a near-fatal accident that ejected him from a car. The vehicles were traveling at high speed and the impact was violent, and it would forever change Duane’s life.

Duane sustained a traumatic brain injury and was in a coma for six months. His doctors kept him in a medically induced coma for an additional three months while he underwent a series of brain surgeries. Tragically, the accident left the active black belt confined to a wheelchair and partially paralyzed on his left side.

This past fall, Duane came to Arizona to visit with his father. Noel felt he could help his son regain some of his mobility. Noel and The J Aquatics Director Danielle Cvetanovich, worked with Duane to lengthen and strengthen his muscles.

He also received massages at The J to help his muscles become more pliable. Duane worked hard both in The J’s weight room and in its pool. During his stay, Duane saw great success.


“He handles everything with grace and a smile on his face. He lifts everyone up who is around him,” said Noel of his son. “His spirit is great and he wants to participate, to make himself stronger so he can live a more independent life.”

At first Duane’s doctors had told him not to expect much, that his muscles were too weak and atrophied to regain any strength or mobility, but in just a little over two months, through his time at The J, Duane was able to take his first steps in seven years.

Assisted by Danielle and the buoyancy of The J’s pool, Duane was able to move his legs for the first time and to somewhat support his weight.

“When he took his first steps, he brought tears to the eyes of everyone who was watching, especially me,” recalled Noel. “They had seen the hard work that he was doing in the gym and in the pool, and they were there to cheer him on.”

In March, Duane returned to his mother in Pennsylvania. Noel looks forwards to having Duane visit again and to continuing their progress.

Duane and Noel
Duane and his father/trainer Noel celebrate Duane’s progress with their favorite frozen beverages