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Sometimes trusting your instincts goes exceptionally right — just ask Jared Ciner. A few years ago, the Maryland resident was working two jobs. One was as a support counselor at the Jubilee Association of Maryland, a center that provides daily living and residential support for adults with developmental disabilities. The other job was as a personal trainer in a popular Washington, D.C., health club franchise.
During that time he discovered an opportunity to tap into a niche audience and merge the two positions in order to accommodate an often overlooked group of people. “I realized there was a disconnect between people with disabilities and the opportunity to exercise,” Ciner asserted.
He was correct. A 2010 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that obesity rates for adults with disabilities are 57 percent higher than rates for adults without disabilities.
From a desire to affect those statistics and create an inclusive environment in which disabled clients could break their own sweat, the Spirit Club was founded in 2013.
The club’s mission, which is encapsulated in its tagline “Fitness For All,” was born out of the concept of founding a place where fitness would be provided for the benefit of all people.
“That means people with disabilities, physical and developmental — people who, for whatever reason, couldn’t participate in existing, typical fitness programs,” explained Ciner.
As a personal trainer, Ciner felt he would be the perfect person to help his clients with disabilities achieve fitness goals, but even with his experience in the industry, he wasn’t sure how to approach such a task. “It was so hard for me to envision fitness that would accommodate people with developmental disabilities,” he said.
Ciner said he assumed other health club owners have shied away from addressing the disabled community in their fitness offerings for the same reason — they too have likely been stumped as to how to create an exercise class that would engage and hold the interest of people with disabilities. But right under Ciner’s nose in the Jubilee building was 29-year-old Sam Smith, a man with autism, who turned out to be the invaluable perspective that Ciner needed.
Smith, who was working towards becoming a certified personal trainer at the time that he was introduced to Ciner, has since earned that certification and now works as a lead teacher at the Spirit Club.
“He was a great fit,” said Ciner, explaining the two ran with the idea of the Spirit Club and together created programs they felt confident would serve clients well.
“I found him to be a great link into the community that we were trying to reach, and a great resource for developing program ideas,” said Ciner. “If it’s fun for him, then I know that we’re doing something right.”
The club uses a minimal equipment approach and instead turns to visual aids, like rings, where clients can see where they’re supposed to be standing and how they’re supposed to be moving their feet.
The club’s goal is to have people practice moving their bodies similar to how they would move them throughout a normal day. “What we do that most clubs say they do and believe they do, but what we actually do, is try to help people build on their strengths and develop daily living skills relating to exercising and movement,” said Ciner.
Since 2013, the Spirit Club has grown to a team of 11 employees — five of whom are self-advocate assistant trainers with disabilities. The club offers group classes, 63 personal training sessions per week, and some partner training — where a two-client, one-trainer model is followed.
The Spirit Club is also gearing up for relocation to a 3,000-square-foot location, more than double the space they currently occupy.
“We’re not trying to compete with other gyms, we’re trying to target people who can’t join those other gyms because those gyms don’t know what to do with them or how to work with them,” he said. “We think that this mission and creating this integrated setting is something that all fitness providers should be doing.”