From ballet to basketball, there are many options to keep kids physically active. But it can get a bit more complex with special needs in the mix.

That’s why Mark Ralko opened Inclusively Fit. Since mid-July, this Sterling Heights center has helped people of all ages and abilities get strong and healthy.

“I would say about 80 percent of our clients are kids,” says Ralko, who previously worked with special needs youth at the Birmingham YMCA. He noticed that when training stopped, though, skills tapered off. And parents began requesting special sessions.

“Once I started training people off-site, the word started spreading like wildfire,” says Ralko, who holds a special education bachelor’s degree with concentrations in cognitive impairment and adaptive physical education.

At Inclusively Fit, he specializes in one-on-one training for all physical and cognitive disabilities. It begins with a meeting and creating an adaptive plan.

“What is the method of communication that we need to use? Can he speak? Does he need visual demonstrations or hand-over-hand prompting?” Ralko finds out and helps clients set goals and a personalized program. Then, the action begins.

That may include athletics like tennis and football, life skills like stairs and cycling or modified versions of jump rope and pushups – lots of obstacle courses, too, particularly for younger kids. You’ll also find weight machines, cardio equipment and dumbbells. Plus ask about future group fitness classes and even tutoring.

“We want them to succeed physically because we are a gym,” Ralko says, “but we also want them to succeed in other aspects of their life.”

Address: 37980 Commerce Drive, Sterling Heights
Phone: 586-850-5004
Hours: By appointment only
Ages: Ages 5-plus


A gym created to keep people with special needs fit has opened in Sterling Heights. It is helping clients physically and mentally.

Riley O’Leary, 18, has down syndrome, but that hasn’t stopped him from staying active.

At Inclusively Fit in Sterling Heights, O’Leary is taking the right steps to stay healthy, thanks to his trainer, Mark Ralko.

Ralko said, “There is no gym like this anywhere, it’s really needed out there.”

Mark has been working with Riley for the past five years.

“I trained him to be on the track team. Everyday after school he and I would go out to the track, I would say, ‘Okay Riley, this is a track, we got to learn how to run around it.’ I taught him how to stretch, how to properly run,” he explained.

Mark is a former special needs teacher but noticed his students weren’t getting enough exercise outside of physical therapy.

“They feel better cognitively, emotionally, they feel better about themselves.”

After years one-on-one training, he opened the gym specializing in folks with special needs.

Mark helps his clients stay fit or trains them for certain sports.

“They just feel a part of the community and a part of something and it goes above and beyond physical exercise. They perform better in school, they sleep better at night, they have better behaviors.”

For families, Inclusively Fit is more then just a gym.

“Share stories, we understand each other, and working in a group it’s so nice because then they can have social (interaction),” said Suzanne O’Leary,Riley’s mother. “They are getting a physical workout.”

Mark has about 40 clients. He hopes to see that number grow and open up more gyms in the next few years.

“There life completely changes when they start exercising.”

The gym’s rate starts at $25 a month.

They will soon start a scholarship program for families who cannot afford the training.

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