Local gym partners with Special Olympics for unified fitness club


The mission of Anytime Fitness is to raise the self-esteem of the world.

The gym’s location in Seymour accomplishes that through its community outreach, from doing free public workouts inside and outside its facility to sponsoring 5K run/walk events to raising money or items for good causes.

One of its newest outreach efforts is partnering with Special Olympics Indiana Jackson County and having two personal trainers spend time once a month with athletes with intellectual disabilities and volunteers during a unified fitness club meeting.

That club meets from 6 to 7 p.m. every Thursday at the Boys & Girls Club of Seymour to walk and do other physical activity in the gymnasium.

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Adding the trainers to the July 12 session was a hit, and they hope to see more people at the next meeting, set for 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday.

Corey Lynch, district manager for Anytime Fitness, and Alex Cazares, personal training manager, attended the first meeting and showed people how to use resistance bands.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that this evening, we came out here and we raised the self-esteem of some people that we wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to inside our organization,” Lynch said.

“Raising the self-esteem of our community and throughout the world isn’t always in those four walls,” he said of the gym at 840 E. Tipton St., Seymour. “It can happen at the Boys & Girls Club. It can happen at a 5K that we might be sponsoring. It can happen anywhere.”

Working for an organization that values community outreach is a plus for Lynch and Cazares.

“When you look at exercising and fitness in general, Anytime Fitness is more than just a health club,” Cazares said. “Although that’s what we specialize in, giving back, that’s what rewards us on a daily basis. It’s why we do what we do. I think it’s important for more people to get involved in things like this. … It’s not always about money. We understand the importance of profitability, but it’s about helping people.”

Lynch said he likes having a variety of ways to give back.

“Every one of us that works there, we have big hearts, and we want to extend our footprint beyond just those four walls in the community,” he said. “Sometimes, that means getting the opportunity to come out and hang out with these fine young gals and guys. Other times, it means providing hats, scarves and gloves to people who need some extra clothes during the wintertime.

“It fills a different spot in your heart than what it does whenever you help somebody lose 50 pounds,” he said. “It’s fulfilling in different ways.”

Unified fitness clubs are the newest addition to the Special Olympics Indiana health and fitness initiative, giving athletes ages 8 and up and partners an opportunity to walk and do other activities together once a week year-round. Clubs are formed using the Unified Sports model, pairing people with and without disabilities.

Walking is the primary activity, and participants earn points by tracking activity data collected from a fitness band and receive incentives based on points accumulated.

The Jackson County club’s first meeting was April 5 outside Seymour-Jackson Elementary School. Meetings continued there until the heat forced the county management team to seek an indoor meeting place, and the Boys & Girls Club allowed the use of its facility.

Unified fitness clubs are encouraged to expand the range of activities based on the resources of the community and interests of the group.

That’s how the partnership with Anytime Fitness came about.

Other guests could be invited to talk about various topics, such as the importance of eating fruits and vegetables and balanced meals. Ideas also could be shared for activities the athletes could do the rest of the week to increase their activity level.

For example, Lynch said the resistance bands can be purchased at a low cost at department or sporting goods stores or online.

“I think oftentimes, people think of exercise as a chore or something that has to be done because your doctor told you to,” he said. “Our goal is to make exercise fun, especially for the younger population, and get them to see that exercise isn’t a chore. Our hopes and goals in something like this is to make it fun and find a way for them to be motivated and inspired to continue doing it beyond the time that they spend with us.”

Three athletes, three parents and three members of the county management team attended the first session with the Anytime Fitness trainers.

Crystal Ackeret, county coordinator for Special Olympics Indiana Jackson County, and Mary Carlson, secretary of the group, were among the participants.

“It is a variety, so at least once a month, we know that we’re going to be doing something different, and I think we really enjoyed it,” Carlson said.

“I think they did, too,” Ackeret said of the athletes. “It will give people skills that they can do at home. Hopefully, it will flow in with if they are wanting to strengthen themselves or lose weight.”

By word of mouth, the trainers hope to see double the number of people Thursday.

“If more people want to come out and are excited to do it because they want to be involved and continue to do it, we’ll send somebody out once a month and teach the importance of why wellness is important,” Cazares said.

Besides the opportunity to meet new people, the unified fitness club also has a networking benefit. Once the attendees interact with each other, they may wind up exercising or doing other activities together outside of club meetings.

“These young ladies may not know each other outside of this evening, but maybe they meet each other and they find a common interest, and all of a sudden, they are hanging out on Friday nights,” Lynch said.

He and Cazares both said they know people from the gym who have done that.

“It’s a downswing effect that we didn’t really see happening, but that’s fulfilling in a totally different way because it’s always good to make new friendships and build new relationships,” Lynch said. “We’re professionals in the exercise realm of fitness, so we help people lose weight, but when we get to help people lose weight and make new friends and do things like that, that’s where the icing on the cake is at.”

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The Special Olympics Indiana Jackson County unified fitness club meets from 6 to 7 p.m. every Thursday at the Boys & Girls Club of Seymour, 950 N. O’Brien St.

The club gives athletes ages 8 and up and partners an opportunity to walk and do other activities together once a week year-round. Clubs are formed using the Unified Sports model, pairing people with and without disabilities.

On the first Thursday of each month, trainers from Anytime Fitness will lead attendees through different exercises. The next session is Thursday.

Before participating in the unified fitness club, athletes and partners must turn in all of the forms required by Special Olympics Indiana. Athletes must fill out an application for participation and a medical form, and partners must be a Class A volunteer and complete the online training.

Forms may be obtained by emailing county coordinator Crystal Ackeret at [email protected] or downloaded online at soindiana.org and clicking on “Resources.” Partners also can visit the same website to do the online volunteer training.

Special Olympics Indiana is a not-for-profit organization that provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in more than 20 Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Information: facebook.com/jacksoncountyspecialolympics


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