By JOHN LE, WLOS
BREVARD, N.C. (CIRCA via WLOS) — Limited access to exercise equipment often takes a toll on the health of people with special needs. But in one North Carolina county, a gym owner is helping to level the playing field.
In December, The Fitness Factory owner Phil Kitchen began offering Transylvania County Special Olympics athletes free weight and cardio training to aid them in preparing for competition and improve their quality of life at the same time.
"Oh, it's a great feeling," Kitchen said. "It's nice to know you're contributing back and giving someone the opportunity to actually improve their wellness and overall health."
No matter what sport they play or level they compete at, it often takes a team help athletes reach new heights.
"I think that's one of the things that makes our county so special — the ability for multiple people and organizations to come together and kind of collaborate," said Jared Mull, Brevard County's parks and recreation director. "And, obviously, this wouldn't be possible without Phil's generosity."
The athletes are enjoying the gym.
"Working out," athlete Avery McKeller said. "They invited me. They invited me to work out."
McKeller was at the gym with friends and fellow competitors, including Tyler Smith, Mandy Buchanan and Steven Kimbrell.
"Yeah, I like being here with 'Pork Chop,'" McKeller said, referring to her buddy, Kimbrell.
"I love this place and with the coach," Buchanan said, referring to parks and recreation program coordinator Chase Lance. "Yes I am (stronger), because I lost 20 pounds."
Page Lemel, a Brevard County commissioner, saw an article describing a similar effort in Mecklenburg County (N.C.), inspiring the idea in Brevard.
According to the National Center for Disease Control, adults with intellectual disabilities are more likely to be have issues such as obesity.
"Our Special Olympic athletes and special needs population really needs to have the same access you or I could have," Mull said.
By doing his part to level the playing field, Kitchen believes everyone wins. Together, everyone involved can make an impact that transcends sports.
"They're enjoying it, they're having a good time and working hard," he said.