There is no better feeling in the fitness and health industry than observing someone succeed. It doesn’t matter to what extent – it could be someone new to the gym or a seasoned athlete who made it to another level.
Imagine that feeling for someone who works with clients who had either been unable to do what average people their age can accomplish without a second thought, or have struggled mightily achieving those objectives.
For Marc Sickel and the staff at Fitness for Health they get that feeling of accomplishment and achievement with everyone who walks through the doors of the Rockville, Md., facility.
Fitness for Health works with children and adults who may have certain roadblocks that prevent them from being both physically active and agile enough to play with friends, walk down the street or even just walk to the car. Or in an adult’s case, remain active and healthy. It is sort of like an occupational therapy graduate program.
Fitness for Health was created 27 years ago based on the idea to work with children (and now adults) who are all over the continuum of motor development, like Cerebral Palsy, autism … or maybe they are struggling with weight management,” said Sickel. “I really wanted to develop a program designed to children and build success, self-confidence and self-esteem”
Sickel has found that his program has afforded children to feel confident to try things they wouldn’t have attempted prior to hooking up with Fitness for Health.
“What we try to do is put them in an environment where success builds success,” Sickel added. “We raise their confidence and then they will take more healthy risks in areas that were once challenging.”
One way in which Fitness for Health can boast a success rate of 90 percent or more is that it makes the work fun for the child. Oftentimes they don’t even realize they are working on a goal – and doing something they were once unable to do – because they are enjoying it so much.
Fitness for Health uses items like a rock wall that glows in the dark, giant ball pit, laser room, Frisbees and a trampoline. How can a child that doesn’t have confidence not want to at least try with equipment like that.
Sickel explains that this style, called exergaming, is very popular and successful.
Some exercises include hitting a lighted board with a Frisbee, balancing while touching different colored lights, matching numbers and colors while moving, and a “Wii on steroids” game.
Fitness for Health uses everyday items like a basketball or badminton to make the “work” enjoyable and not appear to be therapy. With badminton the focus is on the ability to “track” items. What Sickel will do is start the client with a larger racquet, like one for tennis, to make it easier to hit the birdies, thus more achievable. He will change racquets, getting smaller and smaller until the client is able to use one designed for badminton.
“A client may do some activities in physical therapy but it can get old and not be fun,” he said. “We take the arduous activities and put them into a game where they don’t realize they are doing them. Now they are engaged and we see progress.”
Sickel said he also works with companies and manufactures to tweak equipment so it will work for his clientele.
“A lot of the high-tech equipment out there is designed for high-end athletes,” Sickel said. “I work with manufacturers to manipulate them to work for us. “If I can put a child in an environment with activity that was once challenging, we are going to win the game. They will have fun and will win the battle.”
There are also victories with older clients.
“I had a woman with Cerebral Palsy who made a comment to me. She said (her program) is a big investment for her, financially, but she believes it will keep her out of the nursing home and for that it is worth it,”Sickel said.
In the end, it is the number of smiles on clients’ faces and the gratification from parents that makes it worthwhile.
“To me, it makes me extremely happy that I can get someone active who is otherwise not active,” Sickel said. From a social standpoint, when someone is confident and the self-esteem is there, that overflows in every part of their life. That’s where it is big.”
For more, visit www.fitnessforhealth.org.