Peterson Gym is a place to watch volleyball games, attend large lecture classes or stare at while waiting in line for a BCB coffee.
However for many students involved in the Exercise and Nutritional Sciences department, Peterson Gym is home to perhaps one of their most interactive and unique classes.
Tucked in the corner of this large building lies the San Diego State Adaptive Fitness Clinic.
The fitness clinic is a community-based non-profit program that serves individuals with minor to severe physical, developmental and neuromuscular disabilities.
Individuals range from two to 97 years old.
It is a learning environment for students to get actual hands-on experience working directly with clients who have long-term physical disabilities.
Essentially, the fitness clinic is a fully functioning rehabilitation center.
The clinic was founded more than 33 years ago.
According to its mission statement, the Adaptive Fitness Clinic prides itself on providing “safe and affordable access to fitness for people with disabilities, while demonstrating excellence in educational programs and community service.”
The program was developed with the goal of offering fitness assistance to individuals with physical and neuromuscular disabilities and training students majoring in pre-physical therapy and fitness specialist emphasis.
Even though decades have passed, the clinic continues to follow the same morals set during its founding days.
Matthew Soto is the current program director of the fitness clinic.
He is a board registered kinesiotherapist and SDSU alumnus.
Soto is among the trained individuals who help to supervise and guide the students during the rehabilitation process.
He has clinical experience in therapeutic exercise, pain management, and rehabilitation of individuals living with physical disabilities.
“Our clients don’t come here for 12 weeks and then we say ‘see ya later,’” Soto said. “We have clients who have been here for over a decade, so they’re here for good and this is their gym where they can get stronger.”
Unlike other rehabilitation programs, the fitness clinic is designed exclusively for clients with long-term physical limitations.
Many of the clients have suffered from strokes or brain injuries, or are living with conditions like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease.
Unlike acute physical injuries, such as a broken bone or sprained ankle, clients with permanent disabilities need lifelong care.
“It’s important that students can see just how underserved this population is and take that knowledge with them into their careers and lives after leaving this program,” Soto said.
The only other university with an adaptive fitness clinic program is Cal State Northridge.
Similar programs throughout the country are also limited.
Many SDSU kinesiology students are required to participate in the fitness clinic through one of their exercise and nutritional sciences classes.
However, Soto said that the clinic looks for any individuals with an interest in working with this underserved population.
The fitness clinic has taken in pre-med, dental and even high school students from throughout San Diego to work as interns and volunteers.
In most cases, one or two students are paired with a client and work directly with that individual. While they work on building the client’s physical strength, emotional relationships build between students and clients as well.
“It’s a cool thing, we’re pretty lucky to have it and our clients are lucky to have it too,” kinesiology senior Ashley Moylan said.
Moylan volunteered at the fitness clinic during her freshman year and took the class as a senior during the fall 2016 semester.
As an aspiring physical therapist, she said that having actual hands-on experience with clients as an undergrad is something that rarely occurs in other kinesiology programs.
Trained individuals supervise the clinic and are ready to assist the students and clients if needed. The program provides a learning environment geared toward teaching students and rehabilitating clients.
“Obviously we are overseeing the students and educating them, but day-to-day I like to say the students are doing the heavy lifting because they are the ones actually working with the clients,” Soto said.
Students in the clinic are able to see how a particular client has progressed through the notes taken during previous sessions.
In Moylan’s case, her client had been with the fitness clinic for six years.
She was able to see how her client was in the past and use that knowledge to track the progress of the work she performed.
“As students, we are able to build on things ourselves and help is given when you need it,” Moylan said.
When compared to other rehabilitation centers, the fitness clinic is incredibly affordable.
In a semester that is about 12 weeks long, the fitness clinic has approximately 26 sessions.
Each session is one hour and 15 minutes long.
If each session is broken down by cost, clients are paying anywhere from $8 to $16 a session.
“It can be challenging,” Soto said. “Because of the nature and the model of this program, we want to charge a low fee that is accessible, long-term and doesn’t break the bank.”
The Adaptive Fitness Clinic is only partially supported by the university, making donations from the community crucial to keep the clinic running and fully operational.
Soto said that each client has a full session with the complete care and attention from the students.
There is never any passing around of clients and trainers from week to week, and the same faces are always seen.
Compared to other rehabilitation centers targeting this population of clients, genuine and affordable care is rare to find.
“Our outcomes are going to be just as good as anywhere else because us trained professionals are supervising the clinic and more importantly, the client is getting one-on-one treatment,” Soto said.
Soto said that the SDSU Fitness Clinic could charge three times what they charge and still have a conservative cost compared to what’s out there.
However, many clients come to the fitness clinic because they have exhausted their insurance options.
“It’s nice that we have something to provide them at a relatively low cost in comparison to paying for out-of-pocket physical therapy for the rest of their lives,” Moylan said.
Moylan explained that insurance coverage with long-term disabilities is a huge issue in health care.
Long-term disabled individuals often struggle with financial hardships because their physical therapy treatments are needed for far longer than their insurance provides.
“We want to be here and exist low cost, but we also want to be here for the long term because if we were to vanish, a lot of these clients would be worse off and have no where else to go,” Soto said.
The clinic currently serves 135 clients.
However because this type of therapy at a low cost is in high demand, the SDSU Adaptive Fitness Clinic has a wait list of 58 people who cannot get into the program because of space limitations.The population of individuals with long-term physical disabilities has grown, but instead of over-filling class sessions, the clinic continues to keep classes small so the one-on-one relationships will stay consistent.
“This type of program is in demand because people need it and because it’s an affordable program too,” Soto said. “People have to look at their wallets which is unfortunate, but it is a reality.”
While the number of clients has grown throughout the clinic’s existence, the amount of space has not.
Soto said that the clinic hopes to acquire more square footage in fall 2017 to accommodate the wait-listed individuals.