People with disabilities have options for fitness

Facilities aim to improve health of those who face exclusion


The energy at Pure Barre fitness was running high. Thumping music, grunts of exertion and the smell of sweat filled the air as fitness specialist Briget Russomanno led the workout class.

“You can do it,” she said to the class. “Just one more set, let’s keep going!”

Groans of protest were mixed with smiles of joy, as she eventually wrapped up the class with a cool-down session.

“Wow. This is my new place. I’m coming here again,” said Casey Gunning, 34, who has Down syndrome and attended the exercise class at 5375 Landmark Place in Greenwood Village for the first time.

Every client in the class had a disability of some sort, some mental and some physical. Pure Barre is one of the few places in the Denver metro area that offers workout classes for people with disabilities. Owners Briget and Scott Russomanno launched Barre Stars in early 2018 to help combat adult obesity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 36 percent of adults with disabilities are obese, versus 23 percent of adults without disabilities. Obesity can lead to various other health issues, including diabetes and heart disease.

The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability says that the 50 million-plus Americans with disabilities, who are at greater risk for developing health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle, are getting even less physical activity because of the numerous barriers they face in becoming physically active.

“For many, they don’t know how or where to exercise,” said Kelly Bonner, an inclusion specialist with NCHPD. “Marketing material is not focused on this minority group, and to be honest, many fitness centers aren’t equipped to work with these individuals so they don’t know where to go that can create a plan that is appropriate for them.”

The CDC also recommends that people with disabilities get regular physical activity. But historically, there have been few facilities to meet their needs, as well as various other factors that prevent healthy activity.

“So few programs exist that offer safe and effective fitness programming in a way that educates and adapts to the specific needs of these individuals,” said Scott Russomanno. “Parents and caretakers are left to face this challenge alone without a community equipped to serve the health and fitness needs of their children.”

Russomanno said attitude plays a big part in a successful fitness plan, and that people with special needs are often told they can’t do certain things.

“They’re either told they can’t, or assume they can’t be active,” he said. “The truth is, everyone can do a little something that’s good for them, and we are here to help them achieve what they can.”

Trevor Wicken and his wife Misty, owners of RISE Movement Solutions in Englewood, have spent more than 10 years helping people stay physically active after becoming disabled or being diagnosed with a life-long condition, such as multiple sclerosis. According to Wicken, many people who are diagnosed with a disorder or receive an injury are prescribed a period of physical therapy that is helpful, but doesn’t foster an attitude of staying healthy after receiving a diagnosis. A regular fitness plan that fits into the new “normal” of their lives is seldom addressed by physicians.

“A lot of times when they come to us, they’ve been told that nothing else can be done,” said Trevor Wicken, who began the medical fitness training practice in 2004, and started the MS gym, an online Facebook page that has gained 11,000 followers in less than a year.

Wicken said his goal is to bridge the gap between medical and fitness needs, and figure out the next steps after physical therapy. He works with clients with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, strokes, osteoarthritis and brain injuries, and said attitude and accessibility are two barriers to fitness for those who have a disability or an injury.

“General fitness plans don’t work for people with disabilities. They try to work out and get hurt, or never feel better or get better,” said Wicken. “Or they’re told they’re broken and just fall into a pattern of unhealthy habits. We’re intensely passionate about helping them feel better, because they are more than their disease.”

Training sessions, such as those Wicken offers, are not always covered by insurance and are seldom promoted by health-care professionals. While Wicken does not accept insurance, clients can submit claims to their insurance providers for possible reimbursement.

For those who attended the class at Pure Barre, getting physical was not only good for them, but they had a good time doing it.

Dana Stehno, of Englewood, brought her 17-year-old son Luke to the workout class, and said it was a great experience and she hopes he will continue to attend.

“He never really wants to do anything like this. He’s apprehensive and not sure he can do what everybody else does,” Stehno said. “This is a non-intimidating environment and we’ll be back. He’s definitely going to walk out of here with a smile on his face.”


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