By Nic DeCaire

Until about a year ago, I didn’t know what the word ‘inclusion’ meant. At least, I didn’t know the role it played in fitness for people with disabilities or special needs. It wasn’t in my vocabulary.

It is now.

In the classroom, inclusion refers to the educational practice of keeping students together so that kids with disabilities learn in the same environment as their peers.

But what about inclusion in fitness? I think it’s just as important there, too.

It wasn’t until Fusion Fitness held a fundraiser for Preston’s March for Energy that I learned about the lack of inclusion opportunities that currently exist in physical education and fitness. Preston Buenaga, 16, has mitochondrial disease. The charity named for him and run by his parents provides adaptive bicycles for kids with special needs.

Preston’s mom, Deb, educated me on how she had to fight for inclusion when it came to physical education for Preston. Most schools are not equipped to make it possible for children with physical and cognitive disabilities to participate in P.E. class. They often lack special equipment, staffing and the knowledge. As a result, these children wind up sitting on the sidelines, not able to join their classmates.

We all know that childhood obesity is a problem. Unfortunately, among children with functional limitations that affect their physical activity, nearly 81 percent are overweight or obese.

So how does sitting out during gym class help these children? It doesn’t.

It’s my job as a fitness professional to help people live a healthier life. And over the years, I’ve been honored to meet a few athletes who are amazing at what they do. They didn’t listen when people told them they couldn’t be active like their peers because of a disability.

If you haven’t heard of Jon Stoklosa, Google his name. Jon, who lives here in Newark, has been powerlifting since he was a teenager. He currently benches around 400 pounds. The most I have ever benched is 300 pounds. Let’s just say Jon is strong.

Did I mention he was born with Down syndrome? I don’t need to, because it hasn’t made a difference in what he’s been able to accomplish.

So what’s the secret? Jon’s parents made sure he was included. Not once did they say he wasn’t able to do something. They just figured out what his ability was and made it work.

It’s amazing to watch a person do a clean and jerk with perfect form. It is even more amazing to watch someone do it with one leg. But that’s just one of the feats of strength Travis Pollen can demonstrate. He’s such a regular in the University of Delaware Carpenter Sports Building that students are unfazed to see him remove his prosthetic leg before an exercise.

Like other adaptive athletes, Travis has created fitness opportunities for himself where others only see limits.

So now I get the message of inclusion. I want more people to have the chance to be active. And that’s why I’m honored to be part of the inaugural “Inclusion Means Everyone 5K.” It’s a walk/run event being held in Newark on Independence Day.

Its purpose is to encourage everyone – no matter their level of ability – to be active. We say inclusive and we mean it – people with walkers, strollers, adaptive bikes, wheelchairs, crutches and any other kind of equipment are welcome at this event.

The best part is that the money raised will go towards teaching physical education teachers in Delaware schools how to work with students with special needs. This way, those students can be included in gym class like their peers.

Fitness is one of the main reasons I am where I am today. It changed my life. My hope is that by promoting inclusion and teaching others how to make fitness possible for these children, it will change theirs also.

Nic DeCaire is the owner of Fusion Fitness Center on Main Street. He writes a monthly column for the Newark Post.

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Fusion Fitness Center

Fusion Fitness Center