How it all Started
In the fall of 2010, while teaching in the Special Needs Department in the Birmingham school district, Mark’s story would begin to unfold. It started when some of his parents came to him and expressed an interest in getting their children on some of the school athletic teams – particularly track – if that was possible. Knowing a fair amount of what this would entail since Mark had also earned a minor in Adaptive Fitness while in college, he volunteered to take on this effort. This opportunity was in his wheelhouse since he had always been a serious athlete, playing sports at all levels. Some of his students quickly signed up. Mark attended every after-school practice and taught them how to stretch properly before exercising, how to run around the track, and, most importantly, how to interact with others and to be a teammate. And, during the meets, Mark even ran alongside them, on the infield. The season was a success. The parents were ecstatic. And no one wanted the season to end. So, Mark essentially extended the season and the concept of uniting special needs with general fitness/exercise was spawned.
Good news travels fast. Soon, other parents of special needs children asked Mark to do the same with their children. As a result, every day after school Mark was traveling to tracks, individual homes and even to a nearby fitness center (where a family had a membership) to train his fitness students.
The Adaptive Fitness Program at the Y
Then, the idea of approaching the local YMCA (thanks to Mark’s mom) was brought up. This idea would enable the students and Mark to begin meeting in just one place. In 2012, the Birmingham Y branch embraced the concept, and training began at this new location. However, there was only one Mark and word of mouth was bringing more and more families to the YMCA’s doorstep. The twenty-fours in Mark’s day were not enough, as he was still teaching in the Birmingham schools.
A New Commitment. A New Location
As interest continued to grow, Mark realized it was maybe time to make a big change. Starting his own fitness center for the special needs community had been in the back of his mind since college, but now it seemed the need had grown enough to support his vision. Around this same time and after hearing about his plans, a grandfather of one of his students reached out and told me about an empty building that he owned. A building that he thought might be just right. It was and still is, just right. So, in 2016, he resigned from his teaching position, left the YMCA and founded Inclusively Fit.
Today, Inclusively Fit is a unique fitness center that provides tailored one-on-one adaptive fitness programming to the special needs and disabled population with challenges that include attention deficit disorder, autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and intellectual, emotional, and cognitive disabilities. All of the trainers that Inclusively Fit employs have experience in working with special needs individuals. The fitness center houses professional-grade training equipment, including ellipticals, treadmills, arc trainers, stair masters, and more. Situated in a standalone building with more than 5,000 square feet of space, Inclusively Fit offers all resources required to design and implement fitness and wellness routines that meet the needs of every person, from entry-level to more robust fitness regimens.
A Final Thought from Mark
Opening a place like Inclusively Fit has allowed me to combine two of my greatest passions – physical fitness and the love of sports, with the drive to help improve the lives of people with special needs. Incorporating multiple passions into one’s career is gratifying. As I reflect on this short history, I remember during that first track season parents reporting that they saw many positive changes in their children. From seeing improvements in their listening skills and sleep habits to their children being more outgoing, willing to try new things and being more social. While these are phenomenal in themselves, the one thing that really stuck with me, as they also all told me that their children were simply: happier. When I think about it, my passions were coming together during this time without me even knowing it.
After some years into this new career, I look back and realize I made a big commitment to leaving the financial security of teaching in the public school system. But I soon came to the realization that I get so much more accomplished with my clients at Inclusively Fit than I ever did in the classroom. Bringing happiness, a newfound sense of self-esteem, a sense of accomplishment and overall better health, convinces me that I am on the right path. Everyone is forever grateful, and I realize that when you make an impact on a child’s life, you become a part of his or her family.