Living Without Limits

By Leslie Chatman and Lisa Sciortino

At the age of 4, Daniel Stein was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Although his parents worked to get their son as much help as they could, including starting him on medications, Stein says he struggled with the condition throughout his younger years. 
Also, “They got me really physically active,” the McKinney resident recalls. “I started (playing) sports and it became clear that when I had a physical outlet, things in my life got better. My ability to focus and socialize with friends improved. My anxiety went down, and these were all things I was experiencing a really hard time dealing with.” As Stein grew older, he began to enjoy fitness workouts and weightlifting. 
 In 2012, after leaving a successful career in the banking industry, he obtained his certification as a personal trainer. Four years later, he launched Special Strong. Headquartered in McKinney, the company operates throughout the country providing adaptive and inclusive fitness training for individuals with special needs and medical conditions such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism as well as working with survivors of stroke and traumatic brain injuries, among others. 
Stein says each client “is going to be helped in a different way. … They just want a better quality of life and there just aren’t many opportunities out there. … We ultimately are … a service to create opportunities for them to live a more abundant life.” 
 Most people with disabilities are likely “always going to have a level of dependence on a caregiver, a therapist, a doctor, a service provider,” he says. “But how can we reduce that level of dependency so they can be more independent? When they can be more independent, it helps everybody. It helps the caregivers at home. … People don’t really think about them, but they need a break too, so it really helps everybody.” 
Special Strong has a national partnership with the 24 Hour Fitness chain that allows its franchisees to train their client using exercises and equipment outfitted with the proper adaptive and inclusive modifications.
“It is much different than a regular workout,” Stein says, explaining that exercises and equipment must be altered to suit that abilities of “the person you’re working with who has a disability. You can’t just throw them on a chest press or a leg press (machine) and expect them to do the exercise. … A majority of the clients that we’re working with may not be able to do that. You can’t just expect them to get on the floor and do a perfect plank.
 “From the most basic movements that most people would never have to do, we have to know how to progress those types of exercises,” he says. “When you’re working with the general public, you don’t usually have to start someone in a position where they’re crawling — there’s just no benefit to that. But you may have to do that with someone who has a disability. That’s why it’s so different.” 
Since founding Special Strong, Stein says he has fielded inquiries from members of the public wanting to donate funds so that more special needs individuals may benefit from the company’s fitness training. Last year, the nonprofit Special Strong Champions Foundation (specialstrongchampions.org) was established with the goal of raising $50,000 in scholarship dollars during its first year. 
The organization reached about half of its target dollar amount. More than a dozen athletes around the country, such as Arizona resident Dakoda Roman, were awarded scholarships to train with Special Strong.

 Roman is a 23-year-old with cerebral palsy who is confined to a wheelchair. During his weekly, 30-minute sessions with a Special Strong trainer, he works on adaptive therapies that allow him to do pull-ups using wrist straps with hooks to prevent him from falling, hand-over-hand rope pulls and other activities aimed at increasing his coordination, flexibility and dexterity. (Videos of Special Strong fitness training sessions can be viewed at instagram.com/specialstrong.)
“Once you are an adult it is much harder to get funding from federal government programs for therapy and wellness because they generally support younger children,” Dakoda’s father, Jason Roman, says. “You can see the passion to work with kids with special needs from the Special Strong franchise owners and trainers. … For a parent of a special-needs child, this means the world to us because they want these kids to succeed in more than just the program. We want them to succeed in life.”
 Members of the Special Strong Champion Foundation’s board of directors are scheduled to meet this month to devise a 2023 fundraising goal and plan events, with the hope of raising a larger dollar amount this year to fund more scholarships. 
“It is really an incredible kind of unspeakable joy to be able to provide this opportunity to people who can’t afford it otherwise,” Stein says. “I’m a huge believer in what we do, and I believe that anyone with a disability can benefit from it.” 
Through the foundation, he says, “It’s so incredible to have people out there that really see the big picture and see how our services can help.”
Leslie Chatman is a writer with a passion for giving back to her community. She has served on several nonprofit teams in Dallas and Collin counties, most currently serving on the State Fair of Texas Chairman’s Task Force.

Lisa Sciortino is the Managing Editor of Frisco STYLE Magazine.

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