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The Gym Helping Kids With Disabilities

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I frequently read about the benefits for children of participating in sports: better grades, healthier, fitter, and more confident. Given my own experience with organized sports, however, I always have to wonder about the assumed cause-and-effect relationship here. I'm not doubting that sports can make you fitter, healthier and more confident, but it's also possible that fitter, more confident children are more likely to participate in sports.

Believe me, no one values the benefits of physical activity more than I. I've been a certified fitness instructor and personal trainer for over 20 years, and I have a PhD in Exercise Sciences. The trouble I have with touting the wonders of organized sports for children, is that it overlooks the fact that not all children are interested, well-suited, or likely to excel in them, and too often we then forget to allow these children to explore other options for physical fitness. This was certainly my experience in elementary school.

My school had very competitive athletic teams and I was simply not a gifted athlete, nor was I particularly interested in any of the sports being played. This excluded me from being part of the "in-crowd" and led to teasing and criticism. Missing a goal, volley or basket in a recreational gym class game led to recriminations from the "jocky" kids and even the gym teacher openly favoured the more talented students. I wanted to be physically active, but I was turned off by these experiences.

It was my older brother who suggested I try a fitness class at a local gym when I was in Grade 9. A girlfriend and I joined an aerobics class after school one day and the rest, as they say, is history. I was hooked immediately. The fun music, the energy, the encouragement from the instructor...and no pass/fail, no winning or losing, no scores. It was just what I was looking for. I began taking classes regularly and by Grade 12 I was a certified instructor. I've been involved in the fitness world and exercised daily ever since. Personally, I think every school curriculum should include not just team sports and competitive leagues, but opportunities for recreational activities that focus on fitness, health and fun. But I suspect that we are far from that ever being a reality.

So what if there was a place for kids like me, that was just for kids, with classes geared specifically to the needs and abilities of children based on their age and level of physical and cognitive development. Wouldn't that be amazing? Fortunately, thanks to one couple in Toronto, there is!

Husband and wife team, Jonathan and Tania Skelcher recently expanded their personal training studio in the Yonge and Eglinton area of Toronto to include an entire fitness program and facility for children aged 18 months to 12 years.

Their FitFix training studio has been around since 1999 and has clients ranging from seniors with physical disabilities, to elite athletes, but the duo saw a gap in the market for young children. Unlike the many indoor playgrounds that exist around the city, FitFix Junior employs only certified personal trainers and ECE-certified teachers. Classes focus on every aspect of fitness and motor development, which is based on the age of the children, including:

Gross Motor Skills Development (18 months - 2 years)
Gross Motor Skills Training (2-3 years)
Motor Skills Training (3-4 years)
Fitness Skills Development (4-6 years)
Advanced Fitness Training (6-8 years)
Sports Specific & Injury Prevention Training Programs (4-8 years)
Small Group Personal Training (9-12 years)

In addition to regular classes, FitFix has March break camps and PD day programming. They also offer birthday parties that include a one-hour customized fitness class and one hour usage of their facility for a meal or snacks. Jonathan says that the focus on fitness seems to inspire clients to offer the children healthier options than the standard pizza and cake party.

Launched this past September, the response from the community, according to Jonathan, has been gangbusters. I'm not surprised! As the mom of two young girls, and a self-proclaimed fitness fanatic, I am all about trying to promote fitness and health to children. I think one of the best ways to do this is to associate it with "fun" and that is exactly what FitFix Junior does. Unfortunately, in our society children learn to associate fun and celebration with "consumption" instead. Parties are always about presents and junk food and I think this sends a very dangerous message.

The other thing that makes this studio unique is that because it offers services to both adults and children, it is perfect for families. And do not, for one second, think that because FitFix offers training for kids, that the training for adults is mere child's play.

No, Jonathan and Tania really know their stuff. They introduced me to the Functional Movement System model of assessment and training which they use for their personal training clients. Essentially, it is a series of simple tests you perform on your first visit, which identifies any muscle imbalances, biomechanical issues, or physical limitations that need to be addressed.

It helps them tailor a fitness program to ideally suit your unique needs. Whether you are a previously sedentary individual looking to regain mobility following a surgery, or an elite athlete, the trainers at FitFix can help you reach your goals. Moreover, while you're getting fit, your children can be in the next studio getting fit and having fun.

If you do not have access to a facility such as this one -- and likely you don't because I don't think there are too many out there -- you can still make family fitness a reality. If sports aren't your thing, or your kids' thing, consider family bike rides, hikes, skating, swims at the local community centre...anything that involves activity is great.

Try to make traditions involving physical activity like tobogganing on Christmas Day, or a bike ride on Canada Day, instead of having every celebration centre around sedentary activities and eating indulgent foods. Teach children that exercise is important, healthy and FUN!