By Ellen Oliver
While a student at Nashoba High School, Brendan Aylward split his time between academic pursuits, representing the Chieftains on the basketball court, and working with students through the Best Buddies program. Now Aylward merged his passion for working with special needs individuals, and promoting fitness for all, into one new gym, Unified Health & Performance.
At Unified HP, now open in Lancaster, one can find the trainers, programs, and equipment available at most gyms, but they also offer programs and classes for people with intellectual and physical disabilities.
“While pursuing a degree in special education and a certified trainer and working with several unified sports programs, I saw the need for specialized training regimes tailored to people with intellectual or physical disabilities,” said Aylward, owner and founder of Unified HP. “Working from the concept of the unified sports programs, where athletes of all abilities are on a common team, Unified Health & Performance is a gym and training center where the needs of all individuals can be met with respect and support.”
One of the members of the new Unified HP training center is Stow resident Nick Giovinazzo, who has been a member of the Special Olympics basketball teams coached by Aylward, and he partners with Aylward in the Best Buddies bike race challenge.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Giovinazzo said of his workouts at Unified HP where he takes classes with other special needs athletes. “Brendan really helps; he really does a great job.”
Giovinazzo is working with Aylward on his general fitness, but he also has a few specific goals that Aylward has worked into his routine.
“I want to get stronger. I want to get better at doing situps,” explained Giovinazzo. Fortunately for him, part of the program Aylward has developed to build strength and speed includes Nick’s favorite fitness exercise: riding the stationary bicycle.
Unified HP also has plenty of ways for athletes to target performance in a specialized area or improve their overall health, beginning with a fitness assessment.
“We’re not a gym where someone comes and walks on a treadmill for an hour,” explained Aylward. “We work with you to develop a structured program to meet your goals.”
Members can execute their customized program at the gym or take part in classes such as a distance running class, where the athlete’s needs are blended with the inspiration of a group. Aylward said he developed a strength training program for a woman wanting to qualify for the Boston Marathon and there are many members taking part in the youth fitness and speed classes catering to middle and high school athletes.
Justin Peirce, a junior at Nashoba from Bolton and a member of the Chieftain’s basketball team, was part of the Nashoba strength program Aylward ran at Nashoba. According to Aylward, Peirce was the first one to sign up to become a member of Unified HP.
“Brendan customizes different workouts, it’s not just you working out with a bunch of machines,” said Peirce. “He definitely knows what he’s doing. If you want to get faster, he’ll set up workouts that will benefit you most. He wants the best for his clients.” Peirce related how Aylward’s care for his clients includes attending Nashoba basketball games, checking out his athletes performance in real time.
The programs at Unified HP are led by Aylward, who holds a B.S. in Special Education along with certifications as a Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Speed and Agility Coach, Youth Strength and Conditioning Coach, and Neuromotive Coach. Aylward is also director of the Central Massachusetts Special Olympics program, coaching soccer, basketball, baseball, and golf.
Joining Aylward on staff at Unified Health and Performance is Noah Peduzzi, a Nashoba graduate and certified and licensed athletic trainer at the Rivers School in Weston, Mass.
Since the gym opened on July 5, Aylward reports about 50 people have signed up and about 70 stopped by the open house July 9, where attendees met Dick Hoyt of Hoyt’s Racing Team and got to test the equipment and tour the gym.
Unified Health and Performance offers strength and conditioning services, group classes, distance coaching, and individualized programs to provide a safe and effective training environment for individuals of all abilities to reach their fitness goals. Unified HP is also holding classes in the area including one for the Seven Hills Foundation, targeted classes through Massachusetts Special Olympics, and a youth strength and speed camp. Learn more at www.unifiedhp.com. Open six days a week, the gym is located at 121 Mill Street in Lancaster.