Incorporating exercise into one’s day can be difficult — the variables of time, energy and motivation often line up to prevent that yoga class, run or weightlifting regimen from happening. For people with disabilities, the usual obstacles are compounded by challenges such as lack of physical accommodations or sensory processing issues. Despite this, the powerful benefits of exercise remain. So how do you increase accessibility for those with disabilities?
Ryan Lockard ’07 has set out to “provide access to fitness for an underserved population,” including but not limited to those with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and Parkinson’s. In 2012, he founded Specialty Athletic Training, a personal training business specifically for those with both physical and cognitive disabilities. Lockard is a former Lewis & Clark football player and football coach. During his final year at the college, he took a job working with Ben, a 13-year- old boy diagnosed with autism, a job that would eventually become the topic of an independent study project.
Lockard recalls seeing Ben run in his physical education class. While the majority of the class ran four laps, Ben was told to run two, despite being at a comparable fitness level to the others. The teacher explained that Ben would grow frustrated after those two laps, and it was easier to set lower expectations for him. After speaking with Ben, Lockard learned that it was not due to the fact Ben was physically incapable of completing the task.
“He didn’t like to run because he didn’t like to sweat … that’s understandable, not everyone likes to sweat … So we talked to him about it and explained why your body sweats,” Lockard said.
Ben became increasingly more comfortable while running. It was experiences like these that led Lockard to becoming interested in working with children and adults with disabilities. During an interview after graduation, Lockard was asked where he saw himself in five years.
“I had told them about my experience working with Ben, and said, ‘I have this idea for fitness,’” Lockard said. “‘I don’t see anyone else doing it, and no one else has scaled it the way I think it should be scaled to.’ And they said, ‘That’s awesome, let us know how we can help.’”
In June of 2012, Lockard founded Specialty Athletic Training. Today, clients train in Vancouver, Wash. and Bend, Ore., as well as in Portland.
Lockard spoke on how their training has helped people gain independence and enjoy new activities, everything from competitive sports to family walks to getting on school buses without assistance.
“They come see us, and they work out — our clients are no different from anyone else, right? You put in the work; you see results,” Lockard said.