Folks with special needs build strength at JCCs

Jeri Raimondi, 60, has been struggling with chronic back pain since 1991. In October, she began attending the arthritis swimming class at the JCCSF’s Koret Center for Health, Fitness and Sport.

“People who live in chronic pain can’t live without water exercise,” said Raimondi. “It is a fantastic facility, unimaginably clean and new. The instructor gives positive reinforcement. When you live in pain it is something that is needed.”

In the course of a year the new Jewish Community Center of San Francisco’s fitness center has attracted 7,000 adult members, about half of them Jewish. An estimated 5 percent of the members have special needs — from recuperating from cancer and its treatment to the challenges of physical disabilities.

The pool class for people with arthritis, Aqua Fit, is increasing in popularity. Four new classes have been added, with about 20 in each class.

Raimondi wants to graduate from the class to using the fitness center. “I’m just getting now to the point where I might be able to use the treadmill. I’ve improved over the few months I’ve been here,” she said.

“The challenge is working with everyone at the level that they’re at,” said Tom Nelson, fitness center director: “We work with individuals. You might have a disability but be in better shape than someone who is just really out of shape.”

The Koret Center strives to design programs for those with specific needs. Nelson cites as an example a member with cerebral palsy who is working one on one with a personal trainer to learn how to fall properly and to overcome the fear of falling. Often members with disabilities choose to work with one of the fitness center’s 24 personal trainers, such as another member who has multiple sclerosis and is focusing on stretching.

Upon joining, every new member participates in an orientation, when medical and exercise history and fitness factors are evaluated. In the orientation, personal goals are established. If a member chooses to continue to work with a personal trainer, the fee is $63 a session, in addition to the $79 monthly fee. Seniors receive a 10 percent discount.

“Something we take extremely seriously is people’s medical background and if they have some sort of risk,” Nelson explains. “We work with their doctor or physical therapist and find out limitations and the best way to help them. The trainer takes that on.”

The Laurence Myers Cancer Supportive Care Program designed for survivors with all cancers is one of many programs established to aid people with special needs, such as chair and gentle yoga classes and aqua exercise in the warm pool. Along with a general exercise program, the program also offers group support and “Living With Cancer” lectures.

“This program has a pretty specific appeal to a population that is not as likely to come out and exercise,” says Nelson.

A number of other JCCs in the area also serve people with special needs, and the new Peninsula JCC in Foster City offers a pool program called Pace for people with arthritis. The center also has back care, prenatal and gentle yoga classes, and a Light and Easy class that is easy on the joints.

In the fall, when the Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center in Los Gatos, opens its fitness center, plans are to serve people of all ages with disabilities. Hal Bordy, the executive director, plans on using a Canadian program, “Fun and Fitness with Friends,” as a model.

“It is a recreational program for children with moderate disabilities. They are matched with volunteer buddies for swimming and time in the gymnasium,” he said.

Meanwhile in San Francisco, the Koret Center is planning on continuing to expand programs for those with special needs. It is considering proposals to work with local hospitals to establish cardio-rehab programs and weight loss programs for people with severe obesity. The center is also considering an adaptive swimming class, for general disabilities or discomfort.