According to data from the U. S. Center for Disease Control 2.8 million school aged children have a disability. Seventy percent of these children are overweight or obese. These children become adults and nearly half of all adults with disabilities get no aerobic physical activity. Adults with disabilities who get no physical activity are 50% more likely to have certain chronic diseases than those who get the recommended amount of physical activity. The CDC recommends 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 times per week for a total of 2.5 hours per week to combat this problem.
Joe Jelinski and Chris Engler, the owners of Eruption Athletics (EA) are committed to helping persons with IDD live happier and healthier lives. Their programs, supported by nine years of extensive research, implementation, and relationship building, are designed to give more people the education, knowledge, methods, equipment, and programing needed to succeed.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe in the fall of 2015 and we recently touched base again last month. Once again, I was so impressed with this program I want to make sure all our readers know about it. Instead of another article, this time we’ll be doing a Q & A with Joe Jelinski of Eruption Athletics (EA).
1. What is Eruption Athletics and how did you come up with the idea to start the program?
Eruption Athletics specializes in adaptive equipment, curriculum, and programming for the special needs population to help make EA-xercise for EVERYONE! Chris’ brother is a young man with special needs and he and I both volunteered/coached with Special Olympics and other I/dd related organizations and wanted to find a way to EA-mpower this population through EA-xercise and give them something more consistent and year round specifically catered to them and their needs. We started with a hand full of kids and a great idea and now we license our Full EA program and equipment to Schools and non-profits and are opening more program sites in the area and across the country.
2. How did you and Chris meet?
Chris and I have been best friends since we were 14 years old and met in 8th grade visitation of our High School in Philadelphia. We have traveled the world together and have always stayed in touch over the years. Eventually, we decided to start the business together in 2009.
3. What special skills do you each bring to EA?
A: To work with this population your head and heart need to be in the right place. Luckily we both have a care and concern for the development of these individuals and for making opportunities available to them. We both were high level athletes and know what it takes to succeed physically. Chris grew up with a special needs brother so that teaches you a lot about working with this population. I had always volunteered with this population over the years in many capacities. Coming from a focus and background in exercise science and business combined with the experience of living/working with this population is what prepared us to start and sustain the business over all of these years.
4. Why is physical education important for all children?
A: Where do I start? Over the years for some reason people have forgotten that movement and play are essential for fine and gross motor skill development. In an age where technology is so prevalent, we are being consumed by our devices and forgetting about the world outside, and using our bodies to explore it. Schools are cutting budgets and forgetting that a healthy mind and a healthy body are connected. We are eating worse, playing less, working more, and moving less as a society and it shows. We need early intervention and preventative care to become a focus again for ALL people. There needs to be a balance, and we are tipping the scales in a negative way for our youth.
5. Why is physical education important for special needs children, specifically children with Intellectual Developmental Disorders?
Physical education, is even more important for the Special Needs/IDD community than the typical population. Ironically, there is even less available for those who need it the most. Physically and physiologically the benefits are exaggerated because of the unconditioned state of this population. Then there is the sedentary lifestyles, overeating, obesity, secondary health concerns, etc.…the list goes on and on.
You then have the social aspect, which the typical population takes for granted… being able to associate with those around you and have a common interest to share in. There is a sense of belonging to something awesome made just for you which is why so many programs like Cross Fit, 9 Round, Planet Fitness, etc. are popular today. They make you feel like you are with a group of people who think like you and are striving toward the same goals.
Eruption Athletics is that for this population. I can go on and on about the cognitive and intellectual benefits a structured and challenging exercise program has for an individual. Focus, attention, listening skills, cognitive processing, and the overall mind-body connection is essential for happy everyday living. Add in body chemistry incentives, and I could talk for hours.
6. What do you see as the most pressing fitness problem for the IDD community?
A: Options and Mindsets: They don’t have Options. I am fighting to convince schools and administrators it is important not to only check a box of a requirement or state mandates, but to actually provide something beneficial for this population in the physical capacity. I also try to make parents understand the program sites we have in the community are an option they need to take advantage of before it is too late. They must invest in their child’s health before it is too late. When their child is 24-30 , weighing 200+ pounds, overweight, obese, in a wheel chair, and/or on oxygen, etc. is not the time to start bringing their child to a specialist.
Changing Mindsets and trying to educate parents, individuals, teachers, administrators, the world…that this population is capable of so much more than we give them credit for or ask of them, is also key. With the proper guidance and structure they are capable of great things. We need to stop putting our typical expectations and timeframes on them. We have had individuals participate in the program for 6 months before ever becoming engaged, all the while they were watching, listening, processing and finally the switch flipped. Nobody is ever a lost cause. We just need to remain patient and motivated.
7. There is a wide spectrum of ability (physical/emotional/intellectual) within the IDD community. How can your program be adapted to meet these different abilities?
The EA program consists of equipment, curriculum, training, data collection and analysis, and on-going consultation and support. This on-going consultation and support is how we make sure we address the wide spectrum of individuals that may join the program in or out of a school setting. Our program is made to cover the lowest physically/cognitively capable all the way up to the highest physical/cognitively capable.
8. How many different program levels do you currently offer?
We have our current sites in McMurray and Bridgeville (South Hills of Pittsburgh) that we have had for a decade. We are expanding our local sites to Zelienople, Gibsonia, and Mars in the North Hills of Pittsburgh. And, Robinson west of the city, Monroeville east of the city and Washington far South Hills. We are always looking for more potential trainers to get involved; we currently have a lot of Slippery Rock APA (adapted physical activity) grads getting involved.
We also license our Full EA program to schools and non-profits in and out of state. We usually have sponsors who will support the cost of the EA program in these sites (New Balance Foundation, Ronald McDonald House Charities, DCU4kids, Jeffreys Drug Store, Merrill Lynch, etc.). We are always looking for more sponsors like Dicks, Giant Eagle, PNC, PPG, and the Pittsburgh Foundation etc. to get involved and help us spread this necessary program to those who need it. We have licensed our Full EA Program as far as Massachusetts so far and locally in areas of Pittsburgh.
9. How can a parent/legal guardian have their child accessed to see if Eruption Athletics programs are a good fit?
They can reach out to me or look at our website to see the closest program site. We have some preliminary paperwork to fill out including a doctor’s visit to make sure they are healthy enough to get started. Then, they are invited to attend 3 free sessions as a trial. Next, they can sign up and become an official EA Member. Pretty simple process
10. Tell our readers about the programs you have available in the Pittsburgh area that are not connected with schools.
We have Program Sites in: Bridgeville (Fritz Physical Therapy Center), McMurray (Ultimate Dance Complex), Washington (Romesburg Physical Therapy and Sport Fitness), Robinson (All-Star Athletics and Gymnastics), Gibsonia (Anytime Fitness), Zelienople (Siri’s School of the Performing Arts), and Mars (The Training Centre). These sites all offer evening sessions various days of the week. We are looking to open more soon, so let us know where we should go next.
11. Why are you now concentrating on starting programs within school districts as opposed to setting up program sites in already existing businesses in local communities?
Most parents do not bring their child to our evening program until after they have aged/phased out of school supports and services and we wanted to focus on Early Intervention and Preventative Healthcare to help them earlier in their lives. We also noticed we could help schools and APE (adaptive PE) teachers by providing our equipment, curriculum, and program to them to give them an instantly structured system and routine that is easy to follow and yields amazing results that are research and evidence based rather than just figuring things out as they went. But to go down this path with schools we need sponsors… because of budgetary restrictions of schools and the fact that physical fitness for the population is not a priority,but again it is something they need more than anything else.
12. How can members of the IDD community benefit from EA programs as opposed to mainstream physical education?
The big push these days is for inclusion, which I am not opposed to. The EA program can be Inclusive to everyone, by having a buddy system or 1:1 ratio in the room or by simply having individuals of both ability levels working out side by side.
The reality of the situation though is some individuals will grow and learn better in an exclusive adaptive environment where the pace is slowed down and the individuals are not overwhelmed to the point where they shut down. Doing this for more than 10 years has shown me that a good majority of kids can be in an Inclusive program while many need something more. An Exclusive or Adaptive, specifically made program which caters to their specific needs and ability level with the proper supports and services will encourage and support individual development and progress.
13. How can the principles of EA programs be applied to mainstream physical education programs to benefit all ability levels? Reduce injury? Improve technique? Improve mastery? Make exercise more enjoyable?
Every Gym class and every student can use our Volcano PADD (Physical Activity Development Device). An EA patented interactive exercise mat that provides spatial awareness, visual cues, movement lines, and injury prevention parameters. It is a smarter more versatile exercise mat that has so much utility. Whether the focus is aerobics, plyometrics, balance, coordination, yoga, Pilates, stretching, karate, kickboxing, dancing, Zumba, sport specific training, or weight lifting routines, you will find the Volcano PADD to be a necessary tool for development.
Overall for this population though upper and lower body stability, core strengthening, balance, coordination, and overall muscular endurance training is essential to living a happy and healthy life whether as a bagger at Giant Eagle, a bus boy at Eat N Park, a factory worker, a secretary, laborer, etc. They will perform better in school, their job or career, or life because of the focus of fitness in their lives. As far as injuries are concerned, everyone knows the best ability is availability, so the key is to stay healthy and injury free.
14. What are the program costs? Can the program be applied to all schools within the district? Elementary, Middle School, Junior and Senior High?
Yes, Elementary, Middle, and High School students can all benefit from the program and curriculum. The Program cost is $10,000-$12,000 for a typical school which includes equipment, 4 years of curriculum, trainer certification and recertification for 2-4 staff involved in running the program, on-going consultation and support, data collection, data analysis, accessories, and motivational tools. Out of state the costs increases to cover travel costs and other expenses. There is a sliding scale of cost depending on additional items needed and costs associated.
15. We discussed reaching out to colleges and universities about incorporating EA training in their education curriculum for physical education instructors and special needs teachers. Why is this important?
Making the connections with colleges is important to me to let people know that we exist and that what we have can help in a big way. It’s all about creating more opportunity and changing mindsets.
16. You are always looking for sponsors to help subsidize the cost of EA programs in the community. What does sponsorship entail and how can an interested individual/business find out more information about sponsorships?
Our Sponsors in the past have all had a specific schools/non-profits they give the money to as a directed donation to implement the Full EA adaptive exercise program. Usually, the relationship starts with us, but since we are not a 501c3 ourselves, once they realize what we are doing is necessary they choose a location in need they want to help. Then, we come in and set everything up for them. For example, when we set the EA program in schools in MA with a directed donation from New Balance we called it, “Eruption Athletics- Healthy Balance” to sure everyone knew the company was responsible for helping to get everything off the ground. To learn more, contact Joe, 215 620 5569, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
17. You and Chris have traveled around the country addressing various organizations at seminars and workshops for the IDD community. What is the overwhelming concern of these organizations in regard to improving the health and self esteem of children and adults with IDD?
Many organizations and schools working with this population, do not full comprehend that what we tell them is possible. We can more than double an individual’s physical ability level in only 6 months time. They remain skeptical and underestimate the capabilities and potential of the IDD community, but we are shattering myths and stereotypes one school, one non profit, one program site, and one individual at a time.
18. Tell us about a couple of your success stories. How has EA impacted the lives of its participants and their parents/caregivers?
We have so many success stories. Our biggest weight loss was a non verbal individual with autism who started our program at 400 lbs.. He was unable to walk, needed a scooter and an oxygen tank, suffered from cellulitis, bursitis, pneumonia, etc. After a year on our program, he’d lost half his body weight (200 lbs.). He is walking on his own, off oxygen, and all of the secondary conditions are gone and have not returned.
An individual with Cerebral Palsy, in a wheelchair, started our program who had been told they would never be able to walk on their own. Within six months, we had them using hand crutches, and within a year we had them ambulatory and biking the trail on an adaptive bike.
An individual with Prader Willi syndrome came to us with very low muscle tone. They could transition into a sitting or standing from a lying position. They had to roll over onto their hands and knees and get up with assistance. After a year of the program she was able to perform 100 sit ups on her own.
An individual with severe Autism joined our program and attended for almost 6 straight months but would not actively participate. We asked mom and dad if they wanted to keep bringing him. They assured he would come around and that they were dedicated to helping him get there. After the 6 months mark, a switch flipped and he went from 0% to 100% participation. Still to this day it was the most drastic immediate change I have ever experienced.
Another individual with Cerebral Palsy was not able to do a Plank at all when they started our program. After a year in the program , they did a 14 minute plank…let that sink in…a 14 minute plank. Please try to do a 14 minute plank.
These stories Prove the Impossible is Possible. We put barriers on ourselves and others around us and hold them back from ever truly realizing their full potential or helping to provide the right path to allow them to succeed.
19. Tell us about your website, www.eruptionathletics.com. What information will our readers find there?
I am always changing and updating the website, but currently you will find photos, success stories, testimonials, news stories, videos, our services, locations, recent projects, history, and info on our licensing options in and out of schools and organizations.
You can also follow Eruption Athletics on Facebook and Instagram. You can follow @Eruptnathletics on Twitter, or you can subscribe to our Eruption Athletics YouTube channel.
20. What else do you want our readers to know about your programs?
We need your help spreading the News and Word about what we are doing to your friends, family, business owners, corporations, gyms, physical therapy sites, dance studios, and potential trainers. We need more families and individuals to know about us, so we can help them. We need more organizations to know we exist so they can refer clients to us or bring an EA program to their site. We need more schools who are interested in providing effective APE and allowing us to help. We need more sponsors whose hearts are in the right place and want to see this population advance physically by making the program available within their schools. Let’s start teaching healthy habits early that will last a lifetime.