Noah Hastay saw a need in his community, and instead of ignoring it, he decided to make a change. After working for eight years with people with special needs, Hastay realized the special needs community did not have many resources when it came to fitness programming. On top of that, a side effect of their medications can cause obesity and a slower metabolism.
In order to provide assistance, Hastay helped develop a program at Gainesville Health & Fitness in Gainesville, Florida, for children and adults with special challenges such as autism spectrum disorder, Prader-Willi syndrome, sensory processing disorders and Down syndrome.
Fit for All is a free six-week program with the goal of fostering a sense of community, conveying the importance of exercise and making an overall impact on each athlete’s health. Participants are not required to be members of Gainesville Health & Fitness, but simply need to sign a waiver and take part in the program at no cost.
Each class starts with a warm-up, followed by strength training, circuit training, group exercise classes and other fun activities, such as soccer. All exercises work to not only keep the athlete engaged, but also increase their cognitive functions.
Each participant works with one-on-one coaches, who are volunteers from the club. “We started out with staff only, and that was to make sure they fit our club culture,” explained Hastay. “Our volunteers are learning so many valuable skills, including communication, problem solving and team building, as they continue to inspire a healthy lifestyle within everyone they work with.”
So far, the program has been a hit. Hastay says the biggest challenge has been turning people away. “I had a cut off at 15 participants and it filled up really fast,” he said. “The demand was really high and we couldn’t accommodate everyone because we needed to make sure we had a volunteer for each person. The biggest challenge is not having room for everyone who can benefit from it, which is a good problem to have, but a difficult one when you know someone needs it.”
Rebecca (Bella) Jimenez, one of the participants, says she loved the opportunity to meet new people. Since joining, she has also lost five pounds and has increased energy throughout the day.
“Bella is one of the happiest athletes in our program and her attitude has truly become viral,” said Hastay. “She knows everyone in the program by name and greets every single one as they walk in. She recently had her 32nd birthday in which I had the opportunity to meet a lot of her other friends with special needs and now they are participating with us too.”
With increasing demand, Hastay hopes to grow the program so they are able to reach as many participants as possible. “I never like to set a limit for the future,” said Hastay. “The ultimate vision, on a personal level, is to create the program structure that I will duplicate to other clubs. But for now, I want to master what we have and create the program model.”