Matthew Santos is a 21-year-old who lives in Lawrenceville, just minutes away from the Special Olympics New Jersey Sports Complex on Princess Road. Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at three years old, Matthew moved to NJ with his mom, Marie, two years later to enroll at Eden Autism Services. He was introduced to Special Olympics when he was eight years old and has consistently participated in Summer and Winter Games ever since.
Matthew has limited spontaneous language and social deficits which make participating in team sports a challenge. His favorite past-time activities were solitary and sedentary. He spent hours watching videos, playing computer games and listening to music. Over the years, this lifestyle led to unhealthy weight gain and Matthew weighed 250 lbs. by the time he was 19.
About this time, family, friends and teachers joined his mom in committing to a healthier lifestyle for Matthew. He began attending Tuesday evening “Boot Camp” classes at SONJ with his favorite respite workers. Soon after, Marie, Matthew and their special friend, Kurt, added Saturday morning “family” workouts at SONJ’s Wawa Exercise and Wellness Center.
Matthew became an eager participant in Special Olympics bowling on Thursday evenings. At home, a second refrigerator was purchased and Matthew’s treats and snacks were portioned out daily. Eighteen months later, Matthew had lost an amazing 60 lbs.!!
While Matthew doesn’t articulate how pleased he is with his slimmer shape and increased energy level, it’s clear that he enjoys his new routines. If asked on any given Saturday morning if he would like to stay home and relax or go the gym, he will happily reply, “yes, exercise!” with a huge smile.
In fact, once asked if he wanted to go to SONJ, he said “yes.” When pressed if he planned to use the treadmill, he looked perplexed for a moment and said “I want the popsicle.” This was rather odd since he doesn’t much care for popsicles. It took a few minutes to figure out that he meant the ELLIPTICAL – a machine that he had recently added to his routine.
Matthew now seeks out the Fitness Center staff when he arrives for a cheerful hello or high five. They constantly encourage him and praise him for his hard work at the gym. His coaches, family and friends are very proud of his achievements! Though he cannot express it in great detail, one can sense that Matthew is pleased as well.
WAWA EXERCISE AND WELLNESS CENTER
The Wawa Exercise and Wellness Center at the Special Olympics New Jersey Sports Complex is available to all registered SONJ athletes and their unified training partners free of charge. Our professional trainers are available to help you develop an individualized training program to meet your goals. Come by during our open hours of Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. or Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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