Fitness trainer inspired by client with Down syndrome to help others with developmental disabilities

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Four years ago, fitness trainer Roberta Hughes was asked to help a young woman named Brianna lose weight. Brianna has Down syndrome and was severely obese.

"I was actually afraid of working with someone with a disability." Hughes said. "I didn't feel like I knew a lot about her and I was worried about hurting her or not doing things correctly."

Over the course of two sometimes frustrating years, Hughes figured out what worked and did not work for Brianna.

The result: Brianna lost 108 pounds and Hughes inadvertently discovered some effective fitness practices that she decided to open up to all adults with developmental disabilities, a program now called The Healthy Me Project.

"Sometimes our athletes will lose weight,” Hughes said. “Sometimes they will just gain strength. Sometimes they gain social skills like confidence, like the ability to just walk through the door and feel like they belong here."

The program consists of a group workout each Saturday and a weekly one-on-one session with a personal trainer.  Athletes are also paired with a mentor who helps with things like nutrition education.

Denver7 contributor Hanna Atkinson has been in Healthy Me since the very first class in 2014.

"I gained a sense of strength and independence as well,” Atkinson said. “I learned good nutrition from Roberta Hughes, as well."

There is a big need for a program like this.

An estimated 78 percent of adult men with Down syndrome are overweight compared with 93 percent of adult women.

Katrina Klotzbach is one of 15 in the current session. Atkinson asked her about the changes she’s made because of The Healthy Me Project.

“I eat less food,” she said. “More fruits and vegetables."

Klotzbach’s proudest moment? When she lost ten pounds.

The program costs a $100 a month to join. Hughes says it makes no money, but says everyone is richer because of it.

Hughes says she envisions The Healthy Me Project in all 50 states, and the program was just awarded a $10,000 grant which will be used in part to try to expand.

But for now, the focus is on those who are working out today.

The next session starts this week at locations in Centennial and Colorado Springs.

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