OMAHA, Neb. | Cadie Albin has dabbled in fitness before.
The 17-year-old, who has Down syndrome, loves working out and her parents wanted her to find a routine that would challenge her. So they teamed up with an Omaha gym to offer weekly classes for kids and teens like Cadie.
"We don't want any restrictions," said her father, Russell Albin. "If you have any issues whatsoever, you're more than welcome to attend."
The 45-minute classes, which have been going on weekly for about a month, are held and led by an instructor at S-Cape Fitness, near 168th Street and West Maple Road.
The weekly classes have drawn about 10 young gym-goers. Some have Down syndrome, while there are others with autism and cerebral palsy, Albin said.
So far, they're learning how to be comfortable in a gym setting and the fitness fundamentals. During a class in September, kids and teens warmed up with high knees and jumping jacks.
To learn proper form for squatting, each kid stood on top of plastic shaped like feet. It kept their legs shoulder width apart. After each set of squats, they got to shake out any wiggles.
It's important that fitness isn't overlooked in the disabled community, said those involved with the class.
"We have an issue with fitness in general," said Chelsea Hoff, the class instructor. "The special needs population is no different. They just have different barriers."
Once they had that down, Hoff turned squats into a game. Kids paired up and stood across from each other. They would both squat and then toss a bean bag to their partner. After each toss, they took a step back.
Keeping things fun and quick helps with some short attention spans, Hoff said. Before becoming a trainer, Hoff spent 13 years working with special needs children at Children's Respite Care Center. This class was a way to blend her two backgrounds.
Hoff — along with Albin and his wife Cheri, who help with the class — is still learning each class member's personality traits. Some don't respond well to hands-on learning. Some like to be challenged. Some aren't fans of loud music. Finding what works is similar to working with typical adults, Hoff said.
Sometimes you heard the same griping you might during an adult's workout. Like, "How much longer?" When a little boy heard it was going to be five more minutes, he let out a groan.
Some exercisers wandered away from the action at the September class to peek out the window, climb on punching bags stacked against the back wall, or to jump around. Most came back around with a little nudge from Hoff or Albin.
Sam Jalem has been sending her daughter Devya to the class since it started. Devya, 7, is on the autism spectrum. Her mom said the exercise and class structure help with her focus.
"It's an important life skill," Jalem said. "You need to be fit all through your life and they have limited opportunities. It helps them so much."
Cadie demonstrated moves during class and cheered on her peers. She said she wants to help them "do it right" so no one gets hurt.
"Having peer models is great," Hoff said. "When they see somebody their age, their ability level, that goes a long way."
Cadie also takes an earlier class at the gym where she's learning more advanced moves, like how to hold a barbell and how to deadlift. Her goal is to eventually perform in a fitness competition. She wants to be strong, she said as she showed off some of her muscles.
Albin hopes this is something Cadie carries with her into adulthood.
"It's hard to imagine my little 4-foot, 80-pound daughter out there squatting. It makes me really proud," he said.