Submitted by Karen Stallings
Lee Jones’ Down syndrome doesn’t keep him from exercising - or from getting others to join. “I know some people with Down syndrome can be a bit overweight,” said the 31-year old fitness instructor at the Sylvester Powell Junior Community Center in Kansas City, MO, who leads a weekly class of people with disabilities. “I’m trying to get them to shed the pounds by taking the class.”
About half of his students have Down syndrome, a chromosomal glitch that causes birth defects, including learning difficulties and increased likelihood of heart problems and a sluggish thyroid. Others have conditions including Cerebral Palsy and Asperger syndrome, a form of autism.
Jones’ class is especially important because traditional health clubs often ignore people with disabilities,” said James H. Rimmer, Director of the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability at the University of Chicago, Illinois.
The “Fitness with Lee” classes are part of the Mission Project, which evolved two years ago when participants’ parents wrote grants and arranged for their children to live near one another in Mission, with access to groceries, jobs and necessities.
As a member of the Atlanta-based National Down Syndrome Congress, Jones has spoken to groups across the country, and works 25 hours weekly at several jobs. He approaches his fitness class with the same organization and determination that helped him earn a college degree - an achievement that surprised even his parents.
During a water break, Amelia Zang-Carta, 25, gushed about Jones' class. “I like him,” said Zang-Carta, who has Asperger syndrome and is taking classes at a local community college. “I like how this class wakes me up.”
Karen Stallings, Community Liaison NC, is the Executive Director of the Association of Self-Advocates of North Carolina, and is a writer and an actress currently working on her autobiography.