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Trainer Gets People with Disabilities Moving in SPIRIT

By Alex Stoller


Personal trainer Jared Ciner ’12 got odd looks from members of the Sport & Health fitness club in D.C. as he led his newest students to an exercise studio.

Ciner ignored the stares that April day. He was achieving his goal of giving people with developmental disabilities an opportunity to improve their physical and social well-being.

Ciner was combining his two passions. When he was not at the club, he was working as a support counselor for a local nonprofit dedicated to helping adults with disabilities.

“It was pretty clear that if I brought those two worlds together, something positive would happen,” he says.

Today, Ciner is owner of SPIRIT (Social, Physical, Interactive, Respectful, Inclusive & Teamwork) Club, a health and fitness organization for individuals who may need extra guidance and motivation to live a healthy and active lifestyle. He has a staff of five instructors and over 100 clients, most of whom have autism, Down syndrome or other developmental disabilities, who meet in a studio in Kensington, Md., or rented gym spaces across Maryland.

Ciner, who was a psychology major at Maryland, says while working at the Jubilee Association of Maryland, he noticed that many of his clients were not fit. They wanted to be more physically and social active, but there was no outlet for them to do so. While working at the gym, he says, he hardly ever saw anyone with a disability.

After doing some research, Ciner found that people with disabilities are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the average American.

“I realized that the overall disabilities community was very lacking in fitness opportunities,” Ciner says. “The idea is to use exercise as a part of mental health.”

Stephen Allen, director of development at Jubilee and a mentor for Ciner, says he is using every bit of his knowledge gained at Maryland. “He’s two years out of college and he has developed a financially successful business that’s operating in four different locations,” he says. “He is very clear on what his vision is.”

SPIRIT FitnessSPIRIT Club prides itself on inclusivity. Two of Ciner’s assistant trainers have disabilities: One identifies himself as a little person and the other has Asperger’s syndrome. Ciner says he hired them because they appreciate how exercise can improve overall well-being, and they understand the challenges that people with disabilities face.

The eight-week classes max out at 10 participants and run for eight weeks at a time. They are interactive and always start in a circle. Every student shares something from his or her week or a skill he or she would like to work on. Ciner says sharing provides opportunities for self-expression and social interaction.

Students also participate in partnered workouts and in relay races and obstacle courses to learn balance, flexibility, strength, speed and agility. Every skill is taught in both modified and advanced ways so everyone can participate.

Classes conclude with “homework” assignments asking students to perform certain exercises on their own time and to follow a new health tip relating to the skills taught that week.

Allen says SPIRIT Club gives clients a new network of friends, much like anyone joining a gym would find.

Additionally, SPIRIT Club holds classes for caretakers of people with disabilities, teaching them skills they can share with their clients or loved ones.

Ciner also organizes fundraisers to pay for scholarships for his clients. In the past year, a fundraiser at a local karaoke bar brought in $1,500 for SPIRIT Club’s scholarship funds. The next fundraiser will be held Dec. 17 at Flanagan’s Harp & Fiddle in Bethesda.

“The ultimate goal is to have programs that cater to everyone,” Ciner says.

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Strategic Communications for the University of Maryland community weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.