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New viral challenge #SweatForCP puts spotlight on NJ special needs exercise program

RAMSEY, N.J. — Michael Fondecaro never allowed his diagnosis of glutaric aciduria, a genetic disorder that affects his muscle tone and control, from calling the shots.

The 19-year-old stays active and fit with the help of his trainer Russ Van Ness.

The health and physical education teacher is the brains behind Gifted Fitness — a program that provides unique fitness and exercise training to those with special needs.

The training all takes place at New Jersey Sports Advantage in Ramsey.

“I think people see the wheelchair and they see the disability and I see the opposite,” Van Ness told PIX11 News. “I see a very capable human being that when they're motivated they could do anything they put their mind to.”

Despite societal standards which typically relegate disabled individuals to the sidelines, clients at Gifted Fitness are never underestimated.

“Training with Russ has given me full control of my left arm and more control of my entire body,” Fondercaro said, communicating through a computerized speech generator.

For Athena Manewaring and daughter Eleni, the surge in confidence is just one of the many benefits that training at Gifted Fitness has brought to the 10-year-old girl.

“If I say I’m going to do something, she immediately responds like ‘I am going to something,’” Manewaring said, referring to how her daughter is more assertive when seeing others undertaking tasks.

Sean Boyle, 13, was born with cerebral palsy, but according to his mother Jenn, it hasn’t prevented him from pushing the limits of the condition.

“When he comes in here he surprises us with what he’s able to do,” she said. “The other day he was doing some walking and Russ asked him ‘I know you’re tired but how about you take 2 more steps.’”

“Well Sean did two more and he kept right on going and he took a total of 22 steps because he decided that he wanted to do that.”

In the month of March — Cerebral Palsy Awareness month — Van Ness is on a mission to get people sweating for CP.

It’s a simple challenge complete with a hashtag — #SweatForCP.

“There’s 31 days in March, we don’t have to do 31 days of exercise but 31 reps of any exercise we want – whatever it is all to prove and promote exercise, we can all do it,” Van Ness said.

If you want to learn more about Gifted Fitness and how you can sweat it out for CP, visit their Facebook page.

Gifted Fitness’ GoFundMe page is raising funds for new equipment and a new facility.