RAYNHAM — The Raynham Athletics Club offers a new training and fitness program for young adults with developmental disabilities, and for some, the program has arrived just in time.

Amy Harrington, from Bridgewater, says her 29-year-old son Adam, who has Down syndrome, struggled during the COVID-19 shutdown when his regular activity routine was canceled across the board, and as the world around him began to return to its usual routine, Adam’s favorite programs, like Special Olympicsonly recently restarted.

The effort to rebuild his routine took a big step forward when Amy heard about the new program at the RAC, and now, every Wednesday, Adam can be found in the pool with the general manager of Raynham Athletic Club and the group instructor Ex Kate Dyer.

Mark Quigley and Graham Donovan pass the medicine ball during a circuit training class which is part of a new fitness and training program for young adults with developmental disabilities at Raynham Athletic Club.

“During COVID everything shut down and he had nothing to do. And without his usual routine and not having a lot to do, we saw some pretty big changes in his personality,” Harrington said.

“He’s a routine man and when his routine fell apart he just didn’t have much to do. It was tough.

The new program features circuit training in the gym on Mondays and water aerobics in the pool on Wednesdays.

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Attracted by water

Adam participates in water aerobics on Wednesdays, and Amy says it’s now one of her favorite activities. With Special Olympics, Adam plays soccer and basketball, but he loves the water and is also a member of a Special Olympics swim team that has yet to restart.

“Adam could swim before he could walk,” Harrington said. “He loves it, he really looks forward to it every week. He knows when Wednesday is. He says ‘swim, swim.’ And he really enjoys being around other people. It’s in a fun environment.

Kate Dyer, managing director of the Raynham Athletic Club and Ex group instructor, leads a water aerobics class as part of a new fitness and training program for young adults with developmental disabilities.

“As a parent, you need to keep them active and get them involved in some physical activity because we know people like Adam, people with Down syndrome, can struggle with their weight. But he trains very well in this pool.

An ideal monitor for the job

“And Kate Dyer, she’s just wonderful,” Harrington added. “She can handle anything, any situation. And with this population, with this group, you have to be ready for anything. But she knows how to make them work and have fun, and from the first class, he wants to go back every week.

A certified Group Ex instructor and Special Olympics coach for 25 years, Dyer is up to the task, and says the idea is “to provide engaging and inclusive fitness classes centered on exercise, social interaction and movement”.

“I wanted to offer young adults with disabilities the opportunity to develop their health and well-being in an engaging and fun atmosphere,” she said. “The class allows them to improve their skills, learn different types of exercises, practice and develop their communication skills.”

Dyer began volunteering with Special Olympics as a student and has been involved with the group ever since. His 19-year-old son, Jordan, who has participated in various Special Olympics programs including flag football, basketball and volleyball, helps with the class.

Vickie Gatzimas jumps over an obstacle during a circuit training class which is part of a new fitness and training program for young adults with developmental disabilities at Raynham Athletic Club.

The circuit training session on Monday aims to “target different muscle groups with minimal rest in between.” She describes the water aerobics session as “a high-energy, low-impact class that gives a total body workout using water as resistance.”

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Modest goals, life-changing rewards

While a bit of exercise and physical activity is the point, learning and summoning the courage to go underwater for the first time has been the big payoff for Caroline Hayes, 21, of Bridgewater.

According to Dyer, at the end of a recent class, unbeknownst to the instructor or her parents, Caroline, who has autism, decided it was time.

“I was throwing dive sticks at them for them to find. Caroline was by the pool, her hands over her face, looking anxious. I asked her if she was okay and she said yes,” Dyer recalled, setting the scene.

“Her father also approached her and asked her. A few minutes later, she completely immersed herself underwater and put on the most amazing smile and joyful facial expression. When I watched deck, his parents looked very surprised.For the rest of the course, after throwing the dive sticks for the participants, I asked him to dive underwater with me, a total of five times.

At the end of the class, Caroline’s parents explained that it was the first time that Caroline had done a good dunk.

Rinse and repeat

Turns out, Caroline’s dunk was far from a one-time dunk, and now she can’t wait to go underwater every class session.

“Each week she continued to go underwater successfully,” Dyer said.

“It was great to see her do that,” said Denise Hayes, Caroline’s mother. “She had a huge smile on her face when she came back. For her, it was a great accomplishment. She was very proud of herself.

“And it was funny to see her preparing to do it again, like preparing to do it again. She wanted to do it, but was still a little nervous. And then she did it.”

Hayes says the new activity came at just the right time and she hopes the RAC will continue and expand the program. She also hopes other gyms and training centers will see the need and embrace a new trend aimed at people with disabilities.

“We are just thrilled. Let’s hope she continues to enjoy it. It gives children a safe environment, it’s quiet and there are no crowds. Some children do not tolerate noise or crowded places. And it’s just a great environment for them.

“She puts on her bathing suit hours before it’s time to leave, which shows us how excited she is to go. The other day, class was at 4:30 p.m. and she was ready to leave at noon. It just makes us happy to see her happy.

She says that although Caroline is still anxious and excited to get into the pool, she leaves exhausted and in good spirits.

“She really works them. Caroline is exhausted when we get home. It’s great physically, not just mentally. We look for every physical activity we can find, but this one is at the top of the list. She loves swimming.

“It’s really tough for these kids, and I know it’s tough for all kids. But all physical activity and socializing is so important, just like any other child.

For more information contact Raynham Athletic Club Chief Executive Kate Dyer on [email protected] or call 508-823-5440.

Taunton Daily Gazette editor Jon Haglof can be contacted at [email protected]. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print newspaper subscription to The Taunton Daily Gazette today.