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New $53 million fitness center proposed for Milwaukee Co. Medical Complex

New $53 million fitness center proposed for Milwaukee Co. Medical Complex

By Doug Russell. CREATED Oct 16, 2013 - UPDATED: Oct 16, 2013

MILWAUKEE - Damian Buchman was 13 when he was first diagnosed with a rare and almost fatal form of bone cancer. But he was that one-in-a-billion that made it, albeit with an extraordinary high price to pay.

Twenty knee replacements and revisions in the last 23 years, replacing joints, bones, ligaments, the femur, and the tibia with metal, plastic, and cadaver parts.

Every step Damian Buchman takes is painful. So of course, he now wants to do what anyone who lives with chronic pain from just moving wants to do.

He's opening a gym.

"The Ability Center, as its vision today, is 230,000 square foot fitness and athletic center designed specifically for people with disabilities," Buchman says, but is careful to point out that everyone, including the able-bodied, will be welcome as members at the facility once it is opened.

At a cost of $53 million, with plans to be located on the Milwaukee County Medical Complex, Buchman is thinking big with The Ability Center, and for good reason.

"I used to run a sports complex in Waukesha for almost 10 years," Buchman says. "It's the business I know, it's the business I'm good at."

And it's the business he has a passion to pioneer - as it pertains specifically to persons with disabilities, although everyone will be welcome once the facility opens.

But unlike every other gym in North America, this one is not trying to turn a buck, it's a non-profit. It aims to be the first fitness facility that is built without thinking first about the able-bodied.

"You make a chart where on one side of it has all of the disabilities you will be likely to see," Buchman says of his vision for the facility he has been spearheading for the last four years. "On the bottom side of it, that has all of the spaces...which exist in The Ability Center. So the idea there then is that you take a look at all of that, and you make sure that as many needs as you can meet are met in each space for various disabilities."

It's a daunting task, but his vision for The Ability Center has been his all-consuming project for the last four years, and local Milwaukee-area businesses have taken notice.

Already, Baker Tilly, Feller Design, Invacare, Mason-Wells and others have gotten on board. Buchman is also encouraging supporters of his vision to vote for The Ability Center on Nov. 8 in Toyota's "100 Cars for Good" campaign to help the facility win a much-needed vehicle.

But at a price tag of $53 million, there is still a great deal of fundraising that has to be done before shovel hits dirt. Today, Damian Buchman has the time; of course that wasn't always the case. Buchman has been cancer free since June 1993. And while he admits that the chemotherapy possibly could shorten his life someday, today he is healthy and he views every day as a gift that needs to be repaid.

"Being blessed with the gift of life 2-3 times over, you should feel absolutely obligated to do everything you can to honor that."