Zack, who is now 16, was born with Down Syndrome. As his mom Diane says, he’s kept his parents on their toes since day one – when he was born in the car! He’s always been outgoing and social, and in his early teens he was active in Angel League baseball and Special Olympics, until programs were put on pause when Covid hit.
This is when his family found Special Strong. Diane came across a Special Strong video on LinkedIn and reached out to CEO Daniel Stein. Without Special Olympics, and after he got cleared from physical therapy because he’d met all of his goals, Zack was spending most of his time at home. At his age, his parents knew he could benefit from finding a new physical activity to participate in.
“He’ll pretty much try anything once, if he doesn’t like it he’ll definitely let you know that he’s not doing it again,” said Diane. The unstructured nature of open PE doesn’t work well for Zack, but beginning his training sessions with Manju provided a regular time to fit in his workouts, and the guidance he needed to try new things.
“He has natural ability, he’s a quick learner. You show him once or twice how to do something and once he has it he’s got it forever.”
He wakes up on Wednesday and knows he gets to see Manju. For someone who works well with structure, this reliability has been key. He’s also been able to develop a relationship with a trainer that knows him well enough to cater to his specific interests and abilities, and switch things up in a way that keeps Zack interested.
Zack’s earliest lessons began with balance, where he was able to do a single leg balance for about 2-3 seconds.
“We progressed to the BOSU ball,” said Manju. “It’s wobbly, you really need good core stability and leg strength to stand on it. Once he could do that we progressed to battle ropes. Now we’re doing both – combining two separate things so he’s also multitasking and has to think about both balancing and moving. It really addresses so much – endurance, stamina, core strength.”
Everything was new to Zack when he first started at the gym. He’s now mastered the elliptical, rowing machine, stairmaster, treadmill, and other gym equipment. His 30 minute sessions quickly moved up to 50 minutes.
“It’s hard to imagine my life before we knew Manju,” says Zack’s mom, Diane. “It’s become such a great relationship. It’s not just trainer-student. It’s evolved. Manju and I play pickleball together now!”
When Zack started playing volleyball with Special Olympics, Manju set aside 20 minutes of their sessions together to help him hone his skills. They practiced agility drills, so Zack learned how to move quickly and practiced his serving skills. After all his practice, Zack went on to win a game on his serve.
“He seems to have more control over what he’s doing,” said Diane. “In the past he’d hug and he didn’t realize how strong he was. Now it seems like he’s grasping how strong he is. He has more control of his mobility and I’ve noticed more muscle definition.”
“His body awareness since we started has increased so much. Controlling weights, movements, flexibility, range of motion. He now has a better understanding,” said Manju.
His upper back is much more stable since they started incorporating upper back exercises that focused on crossing the midline. He can independently do exercises including figure 8, bird dog, and cross boxing. After a recent finger injury, Manju adapted lessons to incorporate activities that avoided the injury – the kind of personal touch that Zack has benefited from by having a longstanding relationship with a trainer who knows him well.
“Zack started with no weight and he can now pull down 20 lbs with a single hand or 50 lbs with both hands,” said Manju. “Over the last three months we’ve been working more on the lower body, using resistance bands across knees, practicing abductions and focusing on some soccer drills. His leg strength has improved and his calf muscles are starting to really develop.”
“It’s mind, body and spirit. It’s the whole picture. I think he sleeps better and he’s happier too. He looks forward to things,” said Diane. “This is real inclusion when you’re working out in a regular gym. We don’t need a special place for this.”
He can use the gym independently and respectfully now. He greets others, saying hi, excuse me, and remembering their names. Diane went on to say that this awareness has contributed to Zack’s personal safety in his day-to-day life. “In the past he’d walk with his head down, not paying attention to where he was. In the gym you need to pay attention. In the past, crossing a street or parking lot, he’d just cross. Now he’s more aware of his surroundings.”
“He’s a true rockstar. He’s come a long long way. I enjoy every session with him.”
If you would like to learn more about owning a rewarding Special Strong franchise, we encourage you to reach out to us today for more information.