Creating an inclusive fitness community through adaptive training

A mural in the adaptive weight room shows a disabled woman running through a public park. Photo by Dominic Crenshaw


Santa Ana College is growing a kinesiology program that provides a safe network for the physical and social growth of adaptive students.

“Our role is trying to bring people together and be that hub for adaptive sports,” said Dean of Kinesiology Courtney Doussett.

Doussett oversees the kinesiology program at SAC, but also experienced extensive hands-on training as a student aide for adaptive students while at her previous institution, College of the Desert.

Now, with her oversight, SAC is looking to replicate the success of the program from her former campus. 

The Disabled Student Programs and Services office works with students of various disabilities, whether visible or not. They also have strong connections with the veteran offices. 

This adaptive program intertwines two classes, both run by Dr. Brian Sos. 

The first class is for student aides, allowing them to get hands-on experience with an array of disabilities including mental, behavioral, physical or any combination of the three.

The second is a single credit course for DSPS students to weight lift with adaptive equipment, under professional supervision.

The main goal of combining the two classes is to provide a way of networking. Some DSPS students who went through the program became interested in becoming student aides. 

The program at COD is self-sustaining. Within two years, it grew from a cohort of four students to a full class of 25 students, according to Doussett.

Doussett’s former student Adrian Robles is an example of the program’s self-sustaining structure. As a former veteran and physically disabled student, Robles found his way to the student aide class, where he saw remarkable growth.

Robles saw how positive reinforcement, proper training, and the right equipment could change someone’s outlook on their limitations.

“I saw students functionally do exercises they didn’t know they could do,” said Robles. 

One of the students who had a spinal vertebrae fusion was able to deadlift weight after extensive work and detailed care in the adaptive weightroom.

“Never tell someone they can’t do it, no matter their limitations,” said Robles.

As a social component, the adaptive fitness program allows DSPS students a chance to receive more attention outside of the DSPS offices. They can develop their personality, while being respected and embraced for their uniqueness.

Since the adaptive class was not in an academic classroom setting, students welcomed the difference. 

“Physical activity programs help with achievement, retention, and success,” said Doussett.

The program yielded great results, leaving Doussett to further her ambition to the growth of disabled students at more developmental ages.

At COD, interns were sent to developmental centers where they taught children at a young age. Their goal was to adapt within the setting, not removing students from classes with their peers. They wanted to prevent ostracizing children.

By hosting adapted sporting events with the YMCA they brought a wider community together of all ages.

DSPS students and their families could participate, food was provided, and many games were played as a whole. 

Boccia ball was popular amongst wheelchair users and their families, while beatball was played amongst the deaf. 

Robles said he even participated in adapted scuba diving. 

Festivities will begin on the SAC campus with their first adaptive sports fair. The community event will include bocchia ball and beatball. 

Adapted fitness instructors have a chance to earn pay at these events. They get hours towards their curriculum, as well as the opportunity to apply these events to their credential in which they would work closer to a degree. 

As for Santa Ana College, the success of the program is being banked off the experience from Doussett. 

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In 2012, Dr. Sos worked on an internal grant funded project for re-envisioning Career & Technical Education (CTE) related programs. The department decided to use the funds to elevate the Fitness Specialist certificate program to create space for Adapted Kinesiology classes.

The adaptive weight room at SAC was equipped with the money from that grant. 

In the adaptive weight room there is a TRX S-Series and multiple Sci-Fit machines that are adapted for wheelchair users. 

There is also a beautiful mural painted by the gallery production department at SAC. 

The most moving part of the mural is a woman running with a metal leg, in the midst of an active park. It serves as a reminder that disabled people are an active part of society with aspirations of their own.

Specific to the TRX S-frame, the frame itself serves as a portable anchor point, and the adjustability of the strap length on the actual suspension trainer and supplementary anchors accommodates all heights, making it usable if one is in a seated position.

“Inside TRX we have been working on content specific to the Adaptive Athlete and aim to launch this content and programming in 2023,” said Brynne Elliott, representative of TRX.

As of March 2023, the company still has not launched this adaptive athlete content.

While SAC has the equipment in place, they still have obstacles to overcome.

The DSPS offices are understaffed, meaning that these exciting ideas will also add burden to an already overworked office. Doussett wants to honor their time, but also see growth in the adaptive fitness center. 

Santa Ana has a great model to copy from at COD, but the building of the program will take time. 

The program is extremely new. In the Spring 2023 semester, they launched their small cohort of students into the program. There are 10 students in total, six are adaptive students. The other four are general students who likely will fill into the adaptive program.

From there, with the spread of word, the program hopes to grow to a point where adaptive workshops and game clinics can be hosted often.

On May 13, 2023, Santa Ana will be hosting an adaptive fair with boccia ball, hand cycling, beatball and soft archery. Student athletes will be sent to help organize and run these games, along with building rapport. 

Bagels & Brews will be providing bagels in the morning for breakfast along with orange juice. Attendance will be free for everyone, along with breakfast and lunch. 

By spring of 2024, Doussett hopes to host a special olympics on campus at SAC. The local community colleges could join together and compete. 

Bill Shumard, the president of Special Olympics Southern California, will be partnering with SAC to organize this event.

Just like at COD, a small cohort of a few students can truly grow into a self sustaining and powerful community of caring individuals. 

“The idea is not that you can’t do it, but you just need to find an adaptation…we’re only limited by our level of creativity,” said Doussett.

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