Building Confidence, Strength and Skills with GiGiFIT Kids!

Today we are welcoming playhouse mom, GiGiFIT Kids leader, and a new member of the Syracuse Board of Managers, Heather!   With incredible volunteers like Heather delivering life-changing programs (at no cost to families), we get to celebrate stories like this each day!  Look out world, Ellie is planning to take you by storm, and we are here for it!


baby girl with Down syndrome smirking


I watched a movie recently that said, “Those who are unique are the ones that change the world.”  This hit hard. It brought me back to when Ellie was born. Before even leaving the hospital, I heard multiple times how hard her life was going to be, because she was unique. How she may not accomplish something because she was born with Down syndrome and a heart condition. It crushed me. She was being judged not even days old. How could they know what she could or couldn’t accomplish? And why would they feel the need to verbalize to me how HER life was going to be like? As I sat in the NICU, watching her sleep, hour after hour, day after day, I told myself, “You will give her everything possible to help her, whatever that looked may look like”.

Over the years we’ve maneuvered our life through her challenges together. Physical therapy and fitness are always at the top of the list. She’s never been a fan of either. Because of this, Ellie became my why I’d work on my fitness daily. I thought, if she saw me doing it, she may want to do it. If she saw me struggle, she’d know it isn’t just her that struggles. Over time, it became much more than that. She inspired me to keep going and even though at first, she didn’t want to join me she’d always cheered me on. She inspired me to do more, to keep going, and with each perfect Ellie hug, followed by a “good job Mommy”, it pushed me harder to want to become the best version of myself. When I stopped focusing on trying to get her to do it with me, she’d jump in and help. Each session she’d do just a little bit more.

GiGiFIT kids registration opened and I said, “Ellie, do you want to do GiGiFIT with me?” A hard no was her answer. A couple of days later I said, “Bugga, do GiGiFIT with me. We’ll do it together, whatever you can do.” She looked at me long and hard, “Ok”.

The first couple of sessions at GiGiFIT were clunky but she gave it her best effort. As she became more comfortable and knew what to expect, she loosened up a bit and had more fun with it. She even started working out with a smile. The workouts were challenging but had multiple modifications to keep it at the level she felt most comfortable. Halfway through she started walking through GiGi’s Playhouse with more confidence, a little more excited each time for fitness. I’d secretly watch her, more and more excited each session as well. By the end of the summer session, Ellie cut 10 seconds off her running time and improved in most areas. Her entire face lit up when I told her how much she improved. I couldn’t believe what 12 weeks had done. The first week off from the summer session and Ellie asked about GiGiFIT. “We don’t have it right now bug,” I said. Her little nose scrunched up and her lower lip pushed out. “Do you want to do it again?” I asked. A hard yes was her answer.

Fall session began. Once Ellie figured out what day it was during the week, she’d ask in the morning, “We have GiGiFIT today?” “Yes” I’d respond. A quick, “YAY!” would follow. She knew what day it was during the week, she just wanted me to say it out loud.

Ellie now greets everyone as they walk through the door. She helps me grab all the equipment and tries to help run the class. She smiles and enjoys each movement, no matter how hard she struggles through it. She tells everyone how great they did when class is over. You can feel her moments of accomplishment. On days that GiGiFIT doesn’t happen, she asks me to work out with her with weights or a stepper. She now tells me that we must work on more fitness.


I can never truly understand the challenges she has or the feelings she has during her struggles. Even being her mom. I can view them, be surrounded by them but I’ll never truly know what she personally goes through. What I do know is how important fitness is and how it positively influences her life. GiGiFIT has created a confidence in her that’s beautiful. It’s infectious to the people around her. Watching someone who smiles through their challenges. I’ve had people ask to work out with Ellie. I always softly chuckle to myself when I hear them ask. Changing the world doesn’t always mean having to do something on a large scale. It can mean inspiring one person who will then inspire another, and then another. Believe me when I say, one day Ellie will run a fitness class and she’s going to make it the most fun kind of class.


Join Ellie in the Spring Session of GiGiFIT! We have specialized classes for Toddlers, Kids, Teens & Adults! Want to keep up with Ellie, if you are on Instagram be sure to follow along with Ellie’s adventures! 


Our FREE GiGiFIT programs combine physical therapy with a strong fitness focus and an ultimate goal of success and improved movement. GiGiFIT was created in collaboration with skilled Physical Therapists who work specifically with individuals with Down syndrome. The GiGiFIT programs are designed to address common issues for individuals with Down syndrome including hypotonia, excessive joint laxity, and decreased balance. Every GiGiFIT program is safe, effective, and progressive. GiGiFIT helps participants build strength, endurance, power, joint stability, balance, and movement control. GiGiFIT empowers participants to be more independent and confident in their abilities while improving their overall health and wellness 

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