Local Gym Makes Fitness Accessible for People with Disabilities

It might seem like there is a gym on every corner, offering everyone the opportunity to get healthy. But for people with disabilities, that opportunity isn’t always there. Barriers to physical fitness can make staying healthy a challenge.

When Tony D’Orazio’s son Jacob was diagnosed with Down syndrome, he knew he wanted to make sure he still had all of the same opportunities growing up, including the ability to stay healthy and exercise.

“If you’re in better shape, you just succeed better in terms of relationships, and your health care costs are lower, but more importantly, you learn about some discipline an dyou feel better about yourself,” D’Orazio said.

His son Jacob became active at an early age.

“My favorite exercise would be planking and the wall sits,” he said. “The reason why it’s important to exercise is because it will give you stronger muscles and be a good athlete.”

Jacob’s success inspired D’Orazio to coach others like him. Eight years ago, the family opened Jacob’s Ladder in a church. It started with about 50 people, and it’s grown to three different sites.

At Christ Church in Columbia Station, people age 7 to about 50 years old participate in activities like walking on a balance beam, lifting weights, and jumping rope.

Carmen Farley is one of the participants.  She didn’t like to exercise at first, but now, her mom says she loves it.

“With Carmen, she has Down syndrome, and motor planning is a big issue, and it takes our kids a little bit longer to figure out what they have to do,” Julie Farley said. “But when somebody shows them, like how to step up on a step and step down, it helps them figure it out in their head. It makes that ability for them that they can do it. And once they figure it out, it really helps them to get confidence to do something they might not have ever tried, if they weren’t given the opportunity.”

Other parents say the program helps more than just physical fitness:

“My son, he listens better, and it helps him to stay active, especially now that he’s not in school,” said Barb Fabinak. “It also seems to calm him. He came very hyper, rocking, and then he participated, and he’ll be calmer after the exercise program.”

Parents say it’s harder to find activities for people with disabilities after they’ve graduated high school, so the program is also an opportunity to meet new people.

“It helps him get out and socialize a little more and become more familiar with the guys who attend here regularly,” Elizabeth Donofrio said. “Sometimes it’s just trying to be social and learning how to get along with other kids and learning how to communicate correctly.”

Donofrio’s son Mark has anxiety, ADHD, and bipolar disorder, and she says the medications he takes cause weight gain.

Volunteers Delaney Brown and Julia Danko say they love working with the participants each week and helping them learn new skills.

“I love seeing all the progress that they make all through the weeks and seeing them challenge themselves and push themselves,” Brown said.

“It’s really great to see them when finally get an exercise down, the excitement on their face,” Danko said.

“They’re so much more capable than people think they are. It just takes a little bit of working with them to show how capable they truly are,” Brown said.  

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