BLOOMINGTON — Sometimes, exercise benefits the heart beyond making it stronger.
Just ask eight adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities who worked out Tuesday with guest trainers — members of the Illinois State University volleyball team.
“They’re both nice,” Jeremy Woolard, who lives in a Marcfirst apartment in Bloomington, said between sets of his workout with Jaelyn Keene of Jacksonville and Elianna Lovejoy of Bettendorf, Iowa. “It’s more fun when they’re here.”
The eight Marcfirst residents are among 40 clients of Marcfirst, which provides programs for people with disabilities, and their support people who are participating in a private/public partnership to improve the health and fitness of people with disabilities. The Partnership for Health Pilot Program includes Marcfirst, Advocate BroMenn Health & Fitness Center in the Center for Integrated Wellness (where the workouts happen), the McLean County Health Department, Advocate BroMenn Charitable Foundation and the McLean County Board for the Care and Treatment of Persons with a Developmental Disability.
The partners announced last week that, seven months into the program, at least half of the participants have experienced a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and waist circumference; emergency room visits are down; and the endurance, mobility, social connectedness and mental health of participants have improved.
But Tuesday was about more than numbers.
“To be great leaders, you serve one another first,” ISU volleyball head coach Leah Johnson said before Tuesday’s workout.
“We have so much to be thankful for,” Johnson said. “We receive a lot of support. This is a way for us to support others. My guess is we’ll be equally inspired today.”
In addition, with the team beginning Missouri Valley Conference Tournament play at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Redbird Arena, Johnson thought that Tuesday’s volunteer training would take some pressure off the third-seeded Redbirds.
“The best way to take the pressure off is to serve someone else,” she said.
As they walked around the track, Woolard told Keene and Lovejoy how he qualified for the Special Olympics state bowling tournament in Peoria in December.
He held their hands as they walked, then Woolard put their hands beside his heart.
“I love you guys,” Woolard said.
“That was so sweet,” Lovejoy said later. “It makes me feel we’re doing something right.”
Lovejoy said she learned Tuesday that having a disability and being a support person take patience.
Trainer Cody Haenitsch smiled and high-fived Woolard between sets of his weightlifting. “I’ve never seen him work this hard,” he said.
“We struggle with the same things: How much weight do we lift? How many reps do we do?” observed guest trainer Courtney Pence of Springfield. “But we all get through it. Having someone at your side helps.”
Pence and Kendal Meier of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, were guest trainers for Marcfirst resident Sarah Sprague.
“I play volleyball, too,” Sprague said. “I play every position for SOAR (Special Opportunities Available in Recreation). “I go to the (ISU volleyball) games. I like it. They’re winning.”
Later, after completing sets of arm curls, Woolard turned to Keene and Lovejoy.
“I’m stronger,” he said. “Can I have a hug?”