When I first started Specialty Athletic Training, I envisioned creating an inclusive and supporting community that provided access to fitness to individuals with special needs. A place where differences didn't matter, rather they were celebrated, and exercise was the means of finding the common ground to support each other. We have created that community at each one of the locations that we train at, but we have started to witness it's affect on the greater Portland community as well.
Back in July, a player (Jake Gricius) from the Portland Winterhawks came across one of our social media channels and immediately wanted to get the team involved. After some phone calls and emails, we were able to schedule a time for some of the team to come to our Vancouver location, Stephen's Place, and watch our clients in action.
I'm going to hit the pause button for a second. For those of you reading that do not know who the Portland Winterhawks are, CLICK HERE.
Back to their visit. When given the opportunity and correct environment, exercise has a way of magically breaking down stereotypes and barriers. It happened during this visit and it was amazing to watch the evolution of the relationships being formed.
When the guys first arrived, they received a tour of the amazing facility at Stephen's Place. They interacted with the residents and signed autographs. This experience alone would have been a great experience for the young hockey players to increase their awareness of disability and acceptance of others. However, the next part of their visit left a lasting impression that they will remember for the rest of their lives. Although very kind, the players were a little reserved during their initial interactions. That all changed the moment we took them to the weight room.
As an athlete, you pour a lot of your soul into the weight room. It becomes your safe haven for self improvement and reinforce lasting relationships with your teammates as they workout beside you. You can walk into a gym and immediately feel at ease because it is a familiar environment. This was apparent immediately when the Winterhawks stepped foot into the fitness center.
We walked into the fitness center to show the team some of our clients in action and the rest is history. They immediately relaxed and began joining the adult group that they had come to watch. It was like someone had flipped a switch. They began to support our clients and exercise along with them, as well as giving them assistance and showering them with positive support. They knew exactly what to do when they walked into that room and it was amazing to witness.
Athletics and fitness continue to be the common ground that I'm able to use to destigmatize disability and create opportunity. After their visit, our clients and their families had the opportunity to shower the players with their own praise as they attended their match in the Moda Center. Cheering on not only our favorite hockey team, but our new favorite hockey players as well!
About the Author
Ryan Lockard, CSCS, CSPS is the founder and head trainer of Specialty Athletic Training and is accredited by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a Certified Special Populations Specialist. He is a member of the board of directors for the Autism Society of America and the Central Oregon Disability Support Network.