Eruption Athletics is the ultimate training regimen for people with developmental disabilities. Created by Chris Engler and Joe Jelinski of Pittsburgh, Pa., the workout program is designed to help build strength, endurance and self-confidence. But it has become so much more.
Eruption Athletics’ philosophy stems from the art of humanity: a caring, uplifting and beneficial art that has long been forgotten. From the group of men and women that Chris and Joe have trained arose an attitude of unwavering spirit. Not only did their clients find they could, they went further and did.
Over the years, the workout classes have become a tight-knit community, allowing people to interact and learn to be sociable. Take, for example, a young man named Andy who was living a life of solitude. He was often told what he couldn’t do.
But Eruption Athletics showed him what he could do and taught him how to make his own decisions.
Within a year, Andy significantly improved his social well-being and mental health. He became an inspiration for many with the help of the caring and extending nature of the Eruption Athletics’ philosophy.
From inspiration to inception
The duo decided to start Eruption Athletics after Chris’ brother was diagnosed with autism. Joe also found a group of people with a need unmet. They began with market research, which showed there was really no other exercise program that served people with disabilities. Th e duo also discovered that there were more than 25,000 people with developmental disabilities in Western Pennsylvania alone — and that number is just 1 percent of people with special needs.
Armed with their newfound knowledge and a desire to help people, with a healthy mix of stubbornness and creativity, they formed not just an exercise program but a new hope for people with disabilities and a life direction for themselves.
According to Chris and Joe, both clients and parents are often amazed by the improvements made while participating in the program. Some clients initially didn’t believe in themselves because their lives had been limited strictly to family and school.
They soon found that, in addition to the physical improvements made, their socialization skills had greatly improved. The exercise program provided the opportunity to work out, socialize, encourage one another and bond together, which helped both physically and spiritually. Additionally, clients and trainers connected, forming everlasting friendships.
From turmoil to enlightenment
There are no lost cases in Joe and Chris’ world, and they work hard to help the people they train get what they need.
“An individual that comes in with low sociability may not look like they are fully paying attention to what we’re asking them to do,” said Joe. “But I am stubborn in a good way. I know we can reach them, but we have to fi gure out how to crack the code, so now every time I see somebody that struggles in the beginning, I don’t consider that giving up. There have been so many examples of people that I was told would struggle, yet they wound up developing physically, socially, and cognitively in ways that I myself, as their individual therapist and their parents never even thought possible.”
Take Megan, a person with cerebral palsy who initially came to Eruption Athletics in a wheelchair. Chris and Joe were told that she may not be able to do everything the same way that the other participants were doing them.
“Well we came up with a plan, and we eventually had her walking around without her hand crutches,” Joe said. “One day, I saw her riding a bike on the trail, and I saw her using her legs with an adaptive bike.” Once the trainers noticed that, they began her on a regimen of leg strengthening exercises and started to build her balance and proprioceptive abilities with an adaptive bike. These exercises helped build her legs and balance. Eventually, Megan began walking without hand crutches or assistance.
Their philosophy and understanding is that every individual is limitless, every person is filled with ability, and lives can be changed through their direct reach. They are continuing to explore new ways to extend their reach further.
“What inspired me from the beginning is, as a trainer, you can typically guess what the ceiling of an individual is, but this population is constantly surprising me,” Joe said.
“Imagine what can happen on a larger scale,” Chris said. “We can change so many more lives for the better if we take this on a national level. Imagine how many more people we will benefit and impact.”
“There are other people out there that care as much about this population as we do,” Joe said. “We can share our knowledge and give them our equipment, training and materials and teach them what we’ve discovered. We can teach them how to create a fun and social atmosphere to prepare trainers and clients for success.” “We are not just talking about the couple hundred of people that we affect in our area, we’re talking about thousands, hundreds of thousands of people across the country that can benefit.”
Both Chris and Joe agree that Eruption Athletics has gone from limited to limitless, isolation to socialization and disbelief to belief.
“We’re growing with the flow,” Chris said.
Their program, right down to the name, is testament to the possibilities inside each individual.
“No matter what one is told they cannot do, our goal is to erupt the spirit from within to foster confidence and show people what they can do,” Joe said. “It feels great to know that we’re helping people with disabilities by doing the thing we love most.”