Frontline Initiative Healthcare

Project HEALTH:
Helping every ability learn to be healthy


Megan Graf, BA, ACSM, CPT is the Coordinator for Project HEALTH

Mark Buckner is a 47 year old that enjoys hip-hop music, watching the news, and hanging out with his friends. Mark happens to have Down Syndrome. Mark lives at home with his mother and attends a state-funded day program during the week. Mark has lost 22 pounds in less than two years. Mark has been sharing his story of improved health and is an inspiration to many. Sports 4 All Foundation recently named Mark the 2012 Spokesman of the Year. 

Sports 4 All Foundation is a nonprofit based in Nashville, Tennessee and serves individuals with disabilities. Kris Salisbury is a devoted mother of a daughter with a developmental disability. Kris was appalled when she noticed that her daughter’s friends did not have the right equipment for competing in athletic events. They tried to compete in jeans and frequently did not have athletic shoes. They were often without the sport-specific equipment they needed. Kris noticed the same issue on several occasions and decided to take action. Kris formed Sports 4 All Foundation in 2005. Sports 4 All has dedicated its efforts to provide sporting equipment to agencies supporting people with disabilities. 

Sports 4 All has worked hard to equip athletes of varying ability levels. But a more significant problem exists. People with disabilities generally have limited opportunities to participate in health-enhancing activities. Sports 4 All took action against this injusMark Buckner, right, accepting the Sports 4 All Foundation Spokesman of the Year Award tice and created Project HEALTH (Helping Every Ability Learn To be Healthy) in 2008. The goal of Project HEALTH is to provide adaptive fitness and nutrition classes for people with disabilities. 

Project HEALTH works to break down barriers to fitness and health often faced by people with disabilities. Some of these barriers include transportation, limited finances, and existing health condiPam Brooks, center (in chair), takes time to smile with her friends at a Project HEALTH community class tions. Through community classes offered in a variety of neighborhoods, Project HEALTH has been able to provide free adaptive fitness classes to over 800 Middle Tennesseans like Mark, the Spokesman of the Year.

Project HEALTH classes incorporate fitness, nutrition, fun, and friendship into an inclusive hour of health-improving activities. A key component in the success of the program is a partner that participants hang out with on a day-to-day basis. For many participants, their partners are Direct Support Professionals (DSPs). 

Mark’s DSP, Pam, played an integral part in Mark’s weight loss success. Mark and Pam attend and participate in Project HEALTH as a team. As Mark wipes off beads of sweat from his forehead, Pam does too. If Pam feels exhausted and wants to take a break, Mark motivates her to keep going. To watch this partnership in action is truly inspiring. 

The vision of Project HEALTH is to see more successes like Mark and Pam. What if every DSP encouraged healthier activities like Pam does? What if every agency supporting people with disabilities had ongoing opportunities for adaptive fitness classes? What if people with disabilities were no longer classified as “having higher rates of obesity?” What if EVERYONE had greater opportunities to live a healthy lifestyle? This vision IS possible. Everyone has abilities. Now let’s see to it that they have opportunities!