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MCC program teaches fitness to people with special needs

Published: Saturday, June 22, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
(Kyle Grillot -
Participant Rachel Altergott of Crystal Lake (center) is helped by Michelle Dvorak of Cary and Cathy Bott of McHenry inside the McHenry County College Fitness Center. “I get everything here; range of motion, very good balance, to sit and stand, I don’t fall as much. It’s pretty cool,” Altergott said.

CRYSTAL LAKE – Whether it’s a long day at work, a busy schedule or the alarm clock snooze button, there’s no shortage of excuses to avoid exercise.

But for a small group of people from the Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association, there are no excuses when it comes to working out at the McHenry County College fitness center twice a week.

Despite physical and mental disabilities that limit some participants to wheelchairs or affect their coordination, the group comes to the fitness center twice a week for hourlong workouts with volunteers from the college’s Occupational Therapy Assistant and Fitness Instructor Training programs.

Joel Chapman, coordinator of the fitness center, said the program is one of the most beneficial for the participants and trainers he has ever experienced.

“It gives the students who volunteer real-world experience,” Chapman said. “Not only in working with people with disabilities, but working with people in general.”

The Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association provides year-round recreation activities for people with disabilities, but it still can be difficult to find the resources and training guidance McHenry County College provides.

Tiffany Niccum, regional coordinator with NISRA, said the reason for the partnership with MCC is because of the expertise of Chapman and the volunteers, as well as the genuine care and friendships the participants and trainers develop with each other.

“A lot of our participants re-enroll because it helps so much,” Niccum said. “They do a great job at catering to each individual. They’re very fun, very trustworthy.”

Chapman said one of the challenges in working with people with disabilities is the extreme modifications trainers must learn to do to make exercises practical and effective. Even the most severe limitations where people may have difficulty controlling limb functions can be worked around, he said.

“It’s absolutely a fantastic learning experience,” Chapman said. “It can be a challenge, but we try to educate ourselves and seek out resources. We do the research.”

No matter the challenges, the reward is always worth it, Chapman said. He said the program offers the long-term benefits of physical health but it also clearly helps the participants feel better immediately after.

He said some volunteers have become friends with participants and stay in touch.

“You can tell when they leave after the day they are feeling better,” Chapman said. “They benefit very much from it.”

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