By: Sarah Keith
Brendan Aylward has been volunteering for Special Olympics Massachusetts (SOMA) for over eight years. He began in a unified program, “It was my first experience working with anyone with a disability and I loved it”, and has continued to be involved with SOMA ever since. He is now the director of the Central Massachusetts Special Olympics program, through which he coaches soccer, basketball, golf, tennis, and baseball. He was also a coach at the USA Games in 2014.
These experiences inspired him to pursue the study of special education and exercise science in college. He now has combined his love of coaching and special education to open an inclusive gym, Unified Health and Performance, in Lancaster, MA. Brendan’s goal is to move towards “having classes that are a combination of athletes with and without disabilities”. He begins his classes with a certain set of movements to teach the athletes, but also has various adaptations that can be implemented for any athlete who needs a modification.
“With sports, you get a lot more out of it than just the athletic and fitness components,” Alyward explains, “The kids are all good friends, they spend time together in school, and then they’re able to come here and spend their quality time together and do something that they all enjoy.”
Brendan hopes to eventually reach an even more adaptive level with his athletic facility, in order to reach even more athletes in need of a place to stay fit. “That’s what I find most rewarding, is finding ways to get them active and having them realize that they can do things that they might see other people doing and assume they can’t.”
Unified Health and Performance held their grand opening on July 9th. There are currently summer programs in session, including a group class for Central MA Special Olympics. More information on Brendan and Unified Health and Performance can be found at: https://unifiedhp.com/