TIGARD, Ore. — Brad Franklin always had a dream, a dream so strong that he talked about it way back on his first date with the woman who's now his wife.
And unlike most dreams, his had very little to do with him, and everything to do with helping other people live better, fuller lives.
A little over two years ago, Franklin started Every Body Athletics, a small group exercise program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Using both individual and small group exercise activities involving physical and social instruction, EBA provides adults the opportunity to achieve success and growth in both their fitness and social-emotional needs. Each class is an hour long, with focuses on both physical and social strengthening.
"We obviously do a lot of physical exercises, being an exercise class, but also a lot of social exercises, too," says Franklin.
Franklin first realized this need while studying disability service gaps when he was in college, and later confirmed its importance during his time as a special education teacher.
"I noticed that once my students graduated from high school, it was just tough to match that five days a week rigor and routine that school brought," says Franklin, "So you did tend to see sometimes that physical and social regression."
Franklin’s observation is backed by mounds of unfavorable statistics. Adults with disabilities are more likely to lead sedentary lifestyles, and seven times more likely to report inadequate social and emotional support. Furthermore, 69% of adults with disabilities are still living in their childhood homes, with limited physical and social opportunity.
That’s where the importance of strengthening your muscles and your mouth comes into play. At EBA, athletes answer conversation starter questions before beginning their circuit training.
"Before you can do your exercise, there's a question that you have to answer with your partner," says Franklin. "And that's just a great way to draw out conversation, draw out some words, and just build that social-emotional piece."
Every Body Athletics currently offers 13 classes a week, with each class comprised of 6-10 adults with disabilities. EBA is an inclusive program, so each session also has a 1:1 ratio of teammates without disabilities working out alongside of each athlete.
Delana Lincoln is one of Franklin's 140 volunteer teammates, most of whom are upperclassmen in high school or college students.
"It's super unique because you don't know what you're coming into because you're always working with someone different," says Lincoln, a freshman at George Fox University. "But the relationships are so easy, they're not forced and they're so genuine."
One of the genuine relationships that she has built is with Jonathan Weitz, a 40-year-old athlete who comes to Tigard from Milwaukie to work out every week. He wants to get his arm strong enough to join a softball team.
"I come here to do grow my muscles and work on my throwing with my right arm," says Weintz, fresh off a tossing session. "Every day I get improvement from that, and I get a lot better."
Athletes are eligible to join EBA after they exit out of school services, which usually happens at age 21. While most athletes are in their 20s and 30s, EBA also boasts a few elder statesmen in their 60s and 70s. Jack Crandall is one such statesmen, participating in a weekly class at age 73.
“I love it here, and I do a great job,” beams Jack, who has lost over 30 pounds since joining the program. “EBA has helped me choose to be healthier. I love to stay fit, and spend time with fun people!”
Franklin’s program is growing, and is now being offered at three different locations: Tigard, Beaverton, and Hillsboro. EBA currently utilizes borrowed spaces in these areas, but Franklin visualizes his own gym space as the next big step for the program.
“In order for us to continue to grow and be successful in offering our adults exactly what we need, we need our own gym space. Everything is so individualized and tailored to the specific needs of our athletes with disabilities, so our own space is the next crucial step to making sure that everybody is included. It’s right there in the name!”
And when pressed about bringing up his dream of starting Every Body Athletics on his first date with his wife?
"Honestly, I was just trying to think of a way to get a second date with her, so that’s why I brought that up," he says with a smile.