Marc Sickel founded Fitness for Health – an indoor “playground”/therapeutic children’s fitness center in the Washington, DC, area in 1989 to fulfill his dream of helping special needs children maximize their physical potential. Since then, his innovative and creative approach to fitness has helped kids – and adults – of all ages and abilities enjoy the benefits of physical activity—and have fun at the same time. By blending trampolines, glow-in-the-dark climbing walls, exergaming technology and regular toys, Fitness for Health is a kid’s dream come true and a cool place for Sickel and his staff of fitness trainers to work.
BusinessInterviews.com: How did you come up with the concept behind Fitness for Health? Did you have an “aha moment” or was it more of a gradual process?
Marc: I have always known that I’ve wanted to help people deal with their struggles. I created Fitness for Health based on my own challenges. Since I’ve been able to turn my struggles into positive and productive experiences, I want to share that knowledge to help others overcome their learning and/or physical disabilities. I intrinsically know what some people are going through in order to increase their athleticism and self-esteem. Because I can empathize, I can better relate and form stronger bonds with my clients while making the fitness experience fun.
BusinessInterviews.com: Can you talk about the process of developing such an innovative approach to fitness and any early challenges that you faced?
Marc: Because I always knew the basic, business concept for Fitness for Health, I attended trade shows for continuing education credit and looked for fitness equipment that I could manipulate to better help the children and adults who need my services. Equipment manufacturers may have a wonderful machine to provide a great workout, but may not realize that their apparatus could be tweaked to provide visual perception training or sensory and motor integration for the special needs community. Because cutting-edge fitness equipment is very expensive, my biggest challenge was obtaining the capital to purchase machines.
BusinessInterviews.com: How has Fitness for Health evolved since first launching back in 1989?
Marc: Before I started Fitness for Health, I provided individual training for mainly adults and the business was called, “Fitness by Marc.” Then, I partnered with a local physical therapist in order to extend my audience and named that portion of the business, “Skill Builders.” As my audience and clientele grew, I needed to add additional staff and “Fitness by Marc” was no longer applicable. I needed a name that encompassed my growing offerings. I renamed the business, “Fitness for Health” and began individual and small group training for adults and children – both neuro-typical and special needs. Today, Fitness for Health provides occupational therapy, physical therapy and fitness instruction for ages 2 ½ through adult and summer camps partnering with speech and language pathologists to help children/teens increase their motor and social skills. We have also recently added a Mommy & Me fitness class for babies up to 12 months old and a physical education class for homeschoolers.
BusinessInterviews.com: You’ve managed to foster special partnerships and work personally with equipment manufacturers to design cutting-edge and multi-sensory programs. Can you talk about the importance of developing these partnerships and the impact they have had on your fitness facility?
Marc: My business relies on my ability to provide to innovative technology for my clients. The fact that I repurpose athletic equipment previously only used by NFL or NBA athletes makes my fitness center one-of-a-kind. Where else could a child train on the same exercise equipment as their sports heroes? By partnering with equipment manufacturers, I impact their research and development and can help them realize the machine’s capability to help special audiences. I can provide feedback to help them refine attributes to improve vision tracking and ways to use cognitive skills while exercising. Fitness for Health is often a Beta site for these companies and that gives me a market edge. Fitness for Health is usually the only exercise center to offer these machines to non-professional athletes. For example, I worked with a manufacturer that created small parachutes for high-end athletes and I created a press event at Fitness for Health to show how the parachutes could be used to help middle and high school athletes increase endurance and build resistance. Media coverage appeared in “Washingtonian” and I grew my business serving tween athletes. Business increased so my revenue increased.
BusinessInterviews.com: What are some trends in the health and fitness industry that you’re excited about?
Marc: The fitness industry is growing by leaps and bounds each day. It is a very exciting time in fitness technology. I am looking forward to the increased use of heart monitors in personal conditioning. New Zypher monitors also act like bio markers which can record and track your physical health. This allows the wearer to know exactly how their body is reacting to their workout routines and helps fitness trainers better create personal exercise programs to meet that individual’s unique goals. Additionally, exergaming (the use of technology in exercise) is continuing to become more mainstream for adults and for children. Fitness for Health was one of the first fitness centers to use Trasers and Fit Lights, but now more schools and medical practices offer this equipment in order to make athletic rehabilitation more productive and fun.
BusinessInterviews.com: Which professional milestone has felt the most important on your journey so far?
Marc: I look forward to coming to work each day because I know that I’m improving people’s lives. A few years ago, a young woman with dwarfism was brought to Fitness for Health by her mother. She wanted to learn how to ride a bike. Because she needed to approach this seemingly everyday activity a little differently than most people, she lacked self-confidence. We worked together to create an out-of-the-box approach to improve her balance and her self-esteem. I remember her mother weeping when she saw her daughter happy and proud of her new skill. I’m happy to play a small part in changing lives by helping one child – or adult – at a time.
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