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Fort Lewis College students, Holly House clients benefit from adapted-exercise class

After 32 years of teaching an adapted-exercise class at

The clients come from Holly House, which offers a day program for adults with disabilities, Durango School District 9-R and home-schooling programs. The FLC students master the use of diagnostic techniques – such as assessing physical abilities, including strength, speed, cardiorespiratory endurance and balance – and learn to work with clients who have cognitive disabilities.

The concept of adapting applies to both the FLC students and their clients.

“We talk about physical fitness,” Simbeck said, “and we also talk about behavior management techniques, how to motivate people. We have clients who would do whatever you ask of them, but they’re not necessarily able to. Or clients who are very able, but they don’t want to do it. We have to adapt for them.”

Laboratories aren’t just for science. Working with the clients is considered the experiential laboratory for classroom instruction in exercise science, where students have been learning concepts about exceptional conditions and disabilities that affect individuals in exercise programs.

In addition to learning about assessment tests and diagnostic strategies, students study legislation that affects adapted-exercise programs.

The students plan to use what they’re learning in myriad ways, including as personal trainers, K-12 physical education teachers, physical therapists and coaches.

Simbeck, who is a certified adapted physical educator, is also a Special Olympics coach in several sports. Many students continue working with their clients with cognitive disabilities after the class ends, whether it’s with Simbeck to coach the Special Olympics volleyball team in the fall and the basketball team in the winter or volunteering with the Durango Adaptive Sports Association.

“They have a community requirement,” said ASA Program Director Ann Marie Meighan, “and getting motivated students – getting the people we work with paired with young, fun, enthusiastic volunteers – adds a lot.”

The class is part of a Fort Lewis initiative called Community-based Learning and Research, which requires students to either do research or be hands-on with a community group. After Meighan signs off that the FLC students have met their 25-hour requirement, many continue to volunteer for ASA, some for many years, she said.

“I think Cathy’s class exposes students to people with disabilities and makes it not a scary thing,” Meighan said. “They feel comfortable with the population we serve.”

The 20 or so students who volunteer for Special Olympics often travel to a tournament in Grand Junction or Denver with their partners, Simbeck said.

“They spend real time with them, and they get to see their determination, that they try hard and give it their best,” Simbeck said. “They get down when they’re losing and are happy when they’re winning.”

Simbeck first became involved with adaptive sports during college, when she worked with the recreation department for the County of Los Angeles and “was volunteered” to work at the International Special Olympics, which were taking place there.

“I felt like I had a knack for adapting things for people with different abilities,” she said.

For her contributions, Simbeck has received a 20-year Anniversary Award from Community Connections, which runs Holly House, in recognition of her commitment to improve quality of life for people with developmental disabilities.

The adapted-exercise class is a requirement for three of the four specializations in the Exercise Science Department at Fort Lewis.

“I like this class because everybody wins,” Simbeck said. “Working with Holly House helps my students learn better, reinforces what they’re learning in class and become more adept at working with those with disabilities, and at the same time, we’re doing something with the community. These individuals get to come up on campus to do fun activities with students, and they get to spend time with people they might not interact with otherwise.”

Simbeck also considers herself a winner from the adapted-exercise class.

“I have the best experience,” she said, “because I learn more than what most teachers get from tests. I get to see my students as encouraging, kind, caring to these people.”


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