Special Needs Strong is a non-profit organization that advocates fitness for families who make a difference in the special needs community.
My name is Genevieve Harris. I have always been an avid fitness person; however, after I had my second child in 2005, I gained seventy pounds; double the weight gain of my first pregnancy. I was concerned throughout the pregnancy but used the “eating for two” as an excuse to be indulgent. In reality, I was being careless and harming myself in the process. Two years passed and I was wearing the largest size I've ever been. My son was turning two years old and I realized the “baby weight” excuse for my unhealthy ways was getting old. I did not feel attractive, or healthy enough to play my favorite sports, and always dreaded facing my family and friends who were caring enough to confront me about changing my ways, for the sake of myself, my children, and my happiness. That year, in 2007, I made the decision to hire a personal trainer. In six months, I lost 20 pounds and three pant sizes. I have always had a muscular build, some say “thick”, and smaller-sized clothing was the main factor in me seeing the benefits of eating healthy and making constant healthy food choices a lifestyle as opposed to a quick fix “diet”. I owe a great deal to that first trainer I hired. I continued on with my new mentality. With pregnancy number three, I ran during my first trimester, ate vegan until my third trimester and gained thirty pounds.
In the Fall of 2010, we welcomed the arrival of our third son, Dominic Harris. He was born healthy and his delivery was just as smooth as my pregnancy. At 5 months of age, Dominic had his first status seizure and was diagnosed two months later with Dravet Syndrome, a rare genetic epileptic dysfunction of the brain. Thirteen months after this diagnosis, he suffered a traumatic brain injury also known as Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy. This second blow to our little baby boy was comparable to drowning and surviving, but not without significant developmental after-effects.
For the next five years, my husband, along with our other two wonderful children, got acclimated to living our lives with Dominic's special needs. Ahead of him, Dominic has a lifetime of rehabilitation, therapies to assist his mental and physical delays, a variety of medications to control seizures and constant care & help to bathe, eat, and socialize. Becoming a special needs family didn't come with instructions. It was a very difficult transition. Adjusting to Dominic's needs required us to change our way of "doing things". In these five years, our faith, family, friends, and healthy habits enabled our minds and bodies to discover the strength we possessed to make life work.
Dominic's special needs for daily routines—his health, doctors’ appointments, therapies, rehabilitation, hospitalizations, and schooling—required me to become a stay at home mother in order to devote as much time as we could to learn what is best for his life. Let’s not forget, my husband and I make time for our two older children who deserve just as much attention, energy and love as Dominic. Many hobbies, discretionary expenses, and leisure activities were cut out of our schedules in order to live our new "normal" lives. However, the one activity I never removed was my time to exercise.
During long hospital stays, if someone took over a shift to be with my son, I would go home, exercise, shower and eat a home cooked meal with fresh ingredients. I enjoyed the personal time and physical gains from exercising. I tell professionals, friends, family and my own children so often that the time to be quiet felt like a peace, a stillness and a rebirth as I exerted all the negative, anxious energy I had. After a long distance jog, a gym session or a personal training session (complimentary at times) allowed me to return to my child as a stronger mommy. I became stronger physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I would meditate on God’s Word during my workouts. I would rerun scripture verses when I felt really weak, even crying through some sessions because my workout time had become therapy.
With only positive experiences from health, fitness and peers, I became a certified group fitness trainer in 2014 under a nationally recognized organization. I earned another fitness certification in 2015. There were times when I would bring my children to work and when clients met me, my family, and Dominic cheering me on in his wheelchair, they wanted to learn more about our story. In sharing our lives, I have met other special needs families, Dominic has inspired people from other walks of life to be healthier, overcome their own obstacles, and cherish the short hours and days we get to live. People witnessed our faith and our decision to be bold and brave in our special needs journey. We live strong despite the pain, hurt and weariness we experience from time to time.
In the summer of 2015, my husband and I formed Special Needs Strong (SNS), a non-profit organization that advocates for wellness and exercise for families and professionals who make a difference in the special needs community. Special Needs Strong is a community, a support system and a platform to live a healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise can combat health conditions, boost energy, improve our mood and be FUN at the same time! Fitness can also form relationships within our community which become excellent support circles. We provide all of our classes and clinics for free to the special needs community.
Discretionary income does not exist in special needs families since most resources are exhausted by our loved one’s medical expenses. Time is also an asset, and SNS will work around our recipients’ schedules and provide child care in order to make time for wellness. Clinics include “lifting” for persons who work with loved ones that must be carried and brought to wheelchairs. Our trainer’s experience in weight lifting would be most helpful. Funding is provided by generous contributions and the sale of our fitness products.
Please help us in serving others and spread the information on our free services. Donations and purchases can be made online at www.specialneedsstrong.com. Choose the Fitness Products link. We add new products every quarter such as headbands, active tops, bottoms, and sweat apparel. Contact us on our website, like us on Facebook: Special Needs Strong or at firstname.lastname@example.org.