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Zoom screenshot of fitness instructors demonstrating three modifications for an exercise
From left to right: Student volunteers Rachel and Allison Au-Yeung, YMCA Livewell specialist Olivia Hinks, and student volunteer Jasjeet Chhoker, demonstrate different variations of exercises to ensure the virtual fitness program is accessible to all children.
June 23, 2021

Virtual fitness program takes youth with disabilities around the world

Many exercise and social opportunities for children – especially children with disabilities – have been put on hold during the pandemic, including an in-person gym program run in partnership with Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre (RJCHC), the YMCA and McMaster University students.



But 17-year-old Giancarlo hasn’t slowed down thanks to an online version of the program. In January 2021, partners transformed the program into a 10-week virtual version run by physiotherapists at RJCHC.

“The connection I had in seeing other youth and friends participate via Zoom was the best feeling ever in that I knew I was not the only one feeling alone and mentally stressed,” he says. “It was a great stress reliever after a trying day doing virtual school.”

Learning activities from around the world

The online fitness program, named FLYFIT4U, allowed youth to work out “around the world.” Twenty-five participants ages 10 and up signed up to receive weekly video installments of fitness programs with modifications so they could be performed while standing, sitting, or with the help of a caregiver. Videos include warm up, strength, and cool down components, focusing on activities from different parts of the world each week.

Participants “visited” ten countries in total, and were able to learn about and exercise according to different activities such as canoeing, handball, Muay Thai, rugby, Zumba, and yoga.

To help keep track of their progress, they were mailed passports and were encouraged to stamp them each week.

While some preferred to work through the videos on their own, many chose to attend the weekly livestream.

Recreating a valuable experience

Jessica Doody

Jessica Doody

“The new online program aims to get children active in a fun, adaptable way, showing them the joys of fitness and demonstrating that our youth can be physically active while at home – no matter their abilities,” says physiotherapist Jessica Doody, who works in the Developmental Pediatrics and Rehabilitation program at MCH.

The Developmental Pediatrics and Rehabilitation program is located at Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre (RJCHC). The program provides outpatient services to children with developmental, behavioural, physical, or communication needs and their families.

Giancarlo has been attending the program since he was two years old to help progress his fine and gross motor skills, resulting from a rare genetic condition.

Virtual programs offer flexibility

When the in-person program was paused in March 2020, youth and volunteers who had been participating in the popular community-based program at Hamilton’s Les Chater YMCA were missing their weekly workout crew.

The online version offered a way for youth to stay active and connected to others, plus more flexibility for parents.

“Though the program was initially designed to help children stay active during COVID, families appreciated the flexibility of a virtual offering, eliminating travel, costs, and scheduling barriers,” says Doody.

The hospital is hoping to continue offering a virtual option and is dreaming up a potential trip to the animal kingdom in the fall. “After all – everyone needs physical activity to keep healthy,” she says.