Valdosta Daily Times

Features

July 1, 2014

Fitness program caters to people with developmental disabilities

(Continued)

- — The space, at the front of the Jubilee headquarters in Kensington, Md., was formerly a used bookstore. Ciner and his small team of trainers, including Smith, worked to transform it into a welcoming fitness facility on a shoestring budget. With the help of Jubilee's director of development, Stephen Allen, Spirit scraped together the funds to put in gym flooring, a wall of mirrors, a boxing stand, a weight rack with dumbbells and a sound system - "so we can make it fun," Ciner says.

But more important than the equipment or location are the people. Every Spirit class starts in a circle, with introductions and exercise suggestions.

"I'm singing with my church group," shared Van Berg, 25, during a recent Sunday meet-up, before showing the other half-dozen participants a punching move. (Ciner demonstrated how to make it harder by squatting down and throwing his fists faster.) Next came Mary-Jo Wybierala, 52, who proposed, "Let's do head, shoulders, knees and toes." While stretching, she revealed that she'd just "made oodles of friends" playing bocce.

These types of interactions establish connections and empower students, Ciner says. Like every group he works with, this class has a mix of mobility issues, communication limitations and sensitivities. (Berg will stand back-to-back with a partner to pass a medicine ball, for instance, only if there are a few inches of air in between them.) As long as everyone feels involved, however, it's easy to overcome those hurdles, Ciner adds.

It also helps to be able to turn to Smith, who seems like he was born to do this.

"By the time I was 3 years old, I was kicking around soccer balls," Smith says. A year later, "he rode the training wheels right off his bike," adds his mother, Sara Sonet. His role model recently has been Jillian Michaels because he loves how the "Biggest Loser" trainer motivates people. But despite his enduring interest in all things athletic - as well as his fitness certification - he couldn't persuade a gym to hire him.

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