When Fit 4 Boxing Club opened in Hampton in 2015, its owners already had an eye toward working with people of all abilities.
As an early example, the club integrated a program called Rock Steady Boxing, which employs a non-contact, boxing-based fitness curriculum for those suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
A new offering this spring is Down to Box, tailored toward individuals with Down syndrome. The Delaware-based founders of the program were looking to introduce it to the Pittsburgh area and, according to Fit 4 Boxing Hampton manager Joyce Williams, were given this recommendation:
“You need to call Fit 4 Boxing, because they help everybody.”
And given the club’s history, Down to Box was a natural fit.
“We already had a few people at our gyms who have Down Syndrome, so we said, sure! We’re excited about it,” managing partner Brett Burkhart said. “The workout that boxing provides can really help people from all walks of life.”
The program, held at the club’s locations in Hampton and Murrysville, is taking place in partnership with the Down Syndrome Association of Pittsburgh.
“It’s more geared toward teens than adults, giving them a safe environment to have this fitness opportunity,” executive director Meredith Peterson said. “And Fit 4 Boxing fit that bill. They already have a Parkinson’s program, and they understood the uniqueness of working with someone who has special needs.”
Along with participants gaining skills in coordination, self-defense and physical fitness, Down to Box provides another benefit.
“There are not a lot of opportunities, from what we’ve been told, for children and adults with these challenges to get out into a social setting,” Williams said. “We noticed one girl last night who didn’t want to come through the door. And by the end, she was in the class. She was participating. She was smiling. She was high-fiving. Did she do as much work as maybe her neighbor? No, but the social aspect of it was tremendous and very helpful for her.”
For those who have issues with group settings, Fit 4 Boxing offers private lessons.
“We’re sort of noted around the area for being a gym that helps all different kind of people. We help people who have had strokes, neurological problems, people in wheelchairs,” owner Rich Mushinsky said. “We never turn anybody away. We try to help everybody we can. If they can’t afford it, we’ll pay for their membership. We’ll let them come and work out for free.”
The Down Syndrome Association of Pittsburgh has helped subsidize the first 13-week Down to Box session, which wraps up the last week of July. Another round is planned for the fall, Williams said, and it probably will be divided into a pair of age groups.
The initial session in Hampton went well, she reported.
“We wanted to get their heart rate moving. We wanted them to break a sweat. A lot of them needed this physical activity, and boxing helps with agility and, balance, gait, muscle memory, mind-body memory. It pulled all of that together to help these kids get a great workout and have a blast,” she said. “We finished it off with a dance and a big high-five, and they left here sweaty and happy.”