It’s mid-afternoon at the Fitness Center in Kent and Jessica, Nick, LaShawn and Leo are ready to get to work. Jessica makes a beeline for the elliptical machine. Nick’s ankle is hurting so he opts for the stationary bike. LaShawn heads for the treadmill, while Leo debates between a bike and the possibility of doing nothing.
“Not an option, buddy,” his physical therapist, Alison says to him with a laugh. “In fact, you’re leading the workouts today. How about that?”
The teens and pre-teens making up this session of Fitness Center classes have bonded with each other and with their therapists, Alison and Johanna, over workouts and the importance of self-care. They are also learning much more than meets the eye.
“Yes, it’s about the workout itself – that’s important, especially because they’re older and need to learn how to take care of their health – but there’s so much more going on,” says Johanna. Leadership opportunities come in the form of directing group workouts. Social skills are reinforced as the kids remember each other’s names and use them. They practice skills such as remembering a workout sequence, demonstrating proper positioning for others, and remembering instructions for how to use the machines. “This carries over into their lives outside therapy,” says Alison. “These are life skills.”
After working out on the machines, they gather in a circle for a group workout. They all suggest exercises – running in place, sit-ups, wall slides and pushups – which Leo then directs. Jessica’s mom, Natalya, watches them. Her daughter, nearly 13, has received occupational therapy at CTC for the past three years. “This class has definitely helped Jessica,” she says. “Not only with things like balance, which she struggles with, but things like making eye contact, staying on topic, expressing herself and just generally thinking better. She loves coming here.”
As the class wraps up, Johanna praises them for doing so well today. Nick takes the opportunity to give a few high fives. “You all get straight A’s! See you next week!”