Marc Sickel, the owner of Fitness for Health in Rockville, Md. has a vision for childhood fitness. That vision doesn’t just include fostering physical fitness in Maryland’s children, but fostering healthy self-esteem and confidence as well. As a result, Fitness for Health has become a premier club in the DC area for childhood health and fitness, and a therapeutic facility for children with special needs.
A unique club, Fitness for Health is the only facility in the DC area to boast a glow-in-the-dark gym, a 30-foot trampoline, climbing walls and a laser maze. Along with providing therapeutic programs for special needs children, Fitness for Health provides programs for adults with and without special needs, personal training, sport-specific conditioning, yoga for kids and more. “We cater to all different types of populations,” said Sickel.
However, the facility is known for its variety of multi-sensory and individualized programs that cater to children with special needs, including those with autism, cerebral palsy, genetic disorders, motor skill delays and weight management issues. The state-of-the-art club is designed to foster a safe learning environment for these populations, and build self-esteem in the process.
Opened in 1989, Fitness for Health’s programs and goals are important to Sickel, who struggled with developmental issues of his own at a young age. “Fitness for Health was started based on my own issues growing up,” he said. “What I wanted to do was work with children who have the same problems I did, and turn them into strengths.” After a fire destroyed the original building a year ago, Sickel re-built the gym to provide even more interactive options for health and fitness, and Fitness for Health reopened in June.
According to Sickel, Fitness for Health’s programs work to provide children with the tools they need to overcome issues they may be struggling with. Each child receives an initial assessment and an individualized program that works on “frustration points,” or issues that may be challenging for a child with special needs. “Each child has an area that causes frustration, and we want this to be a place where children can work on those,” said Sickel. “Our goal is to give them a toolbox they can open up outside of the club.”
Technology has become a main tool in Sickel’s approach. Many of the programs use exergaming and software that have been personalized to improve motor skills, such as the “Trazer,” a floor-sized video game that tracks movements via sensors, and a “XerPro,” where children throw balls at lighted targets. “We use an incredible amount of technology,” said Sickel. “As much as games can be negative, why don’t we take advantage of them and while children are gaming, get them moving?”
Fitness for Health’s innovation has been successful — according to Sickel, the club has a high success rate at improving on “frustration points,” and building overall self-confidence. “Really what we’re trying to do is transition what they’ve been working on into the real world,” he said. “We’ve had a very high success rate. We do a lot of research and we’re very personally involved.”
To further his drive to help children, Sickel consults with health clubs on how to work with children with special needs. For more information about Fitness For Health’s programs and services, or to seek consultation, visit www.fitnessforhealth.org.
By Rachel Zabonick