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Able to Be Fit With Special Olympics Athletes

Inclusiveness, creativity and passion guide the way in training Special Olympics athletes.

Special Olympics Athletes training over Zoom

Clients: Special Olympics Athletes

Personal Trainer: Condy Burdick, Jaime Bey, Josh Gregor and Tom Lange

Location: In-Shape Health Clubs, Northern California & Nevada

This column normally focuses on one trainer and a single client, but what’s been normal about the past 2 years? Both the pandemic (bad) and a new commitment to inclusion and diversity (good) have led our industry to evolve in some exciting ways.

This month, Client Success is evolving, too. Here, we’re proud to share the story of how In-Shape Health Clubs reached clients with some special needs—and found, along the way, some special joys.

A Pandemic Partnership

When COVID-19 forced the closure of all California-based locations, In-Shape Health Clubs began supporting its community through free online classes, motivational virtual races, and lots of informative content and healthy recipes. Part of that outreach was a partnership with the Special Olympics of Northern California and Nevada. Working with Special Olympics coaches to understand the unique needs of this at-risk community, the team created programming that would serve these athletes optimally while they were stuck at home.

Client ages ranged from 9 to 65, and fitness levels varied widely. Movements needed to be highly adaptable. The goal? Provide a safe, motivating environment with workouts that infused fitness with fun.

Coaching With Passion and Purpose

Here’s something else that’s pretty fun. Only one of the four coaches who ran the program, Condy Burdick, is a regular instructor. The other three have different full-time positions at In-Shape’s Support Center. “They were involved in this purely driven by their passion for fitness and passion for serving our communities,” says Rachelle Gardette, In-Shape’s senior director of group fitness. “At In-Shape, we are all professionals in fitness, but what sets us apart is we are professionals in motivation.”

Programming That Zoomed Into Fun

The workouts—presented through Zoom on “Flex-it-Friday”—each had a special theme. For example:

  • Dance Party featured a cardio dance workout. Coach Condy led the party, while Coach Jaime showed modified choreography sitting on a chair.
  • Star Wars involved a slideshow developed by Coach Tom and set to themed music. Nearly 200 athletes attended this workout, some in costumes with lightsabers in hand.

The team also sponsored Special Olympics athletes to participate in In-Shape’s third virtual 5K/10K race, held last summer. And the coaches created more programming for their digital platform—In-Shape Digital—to support this special population beyond the challenges of the pandemic.

See also: Ramping Up Your Virtual Zoom Studio

Lessons Learned

“We learned very quickly that, along with . . . bringing this group together to stay healthy and active, it was equally important for this group to keep their sense of community,” says Gardette. “These events provided much-needed socialization for this group of high-risk individuals during uncertain and anxious times. The workouts connected this community.”

Underserved and marginalized communities have many faces, and In-Shape—through creativity and a sense of purpose—found a way to give back. By working with experts and following their hearts, the coaches gained as much as their clients did.

Gardette summarizes what success looks like for these clients: “This workout and community coming together like this demonstrated the power of movement to change your body, change your mood, change your outlook and change your life.”

What’s Your Story?

Do you have a client who has overcome the odds to achieve new heights in health and fitness? Send your story to [email protected], and you and your client may be featured in an upcoming issue of Fitness Journal.

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