BREVARD, N.C. (WLOS) — A local partnership may take Transylvania County Special Olympics athletes to the next level.
Last month, The Fitness Factory Owner Phil Kitchen began offering free weight and cardio training to the athletes, to help them prepare for competition and improve their quality of life at the same time.
"Oh, it's a great feeling," said Kitchen, our News 13 Person of the Week. "It's nice to know you're contributing back and giving someone the opportunity to actually improve their wellness and overall health."
No matter what sport they play, no matter what level they're at, it takes a village to help athletes reach new heights.
"I think that's one of the things that makes our county so special," said Parks and Recreation Director Jared Mull. "The ability for multiple people and organizations to come together and kind of collaborate. And, obviously, this wouldn't be possible without Phil's generosity."
"Working out!" athlete Avery McKeller explained. "They invited me. They invited me to work out."
Avery was at the gym with friends and fellow competitors, including Tyler Smith, Mandy Buchanan and Steven Kimbrell.
"Yeah, I like being here with 'Pork Chop,'" McKeller said, referring to her buddy Steven.
"I love this place and with the coach," Mandy said, explaining how staying active has made her stronger. "Yes I am. Because I lost 20 pounds."
"So you wanna hold it like that," Parks and Rec Program Coordinator Chase Lance said, helping them use the equipment properly. "And you're gonna go up nice and slow, just like this, OK?"
County Commissioner Page Lemel saw an article describing a similar effort in Mecklenburg County, inspiring the idea in Brevard.
The limited access to equipment often takes a health toll.
According to the National Center for Disease Control, adults with intellectual disabilities are more likely to be have issues like obesity.
"Our Special Olympic athletes and special needs population really needs to have the same access you or I could have," Mull stressed.
By doing his part to level the playing field, Kitchen believes everyone wins. Together, everyone involved can make an impact that transcends sports.
"They're enjoying it, they're having a good time and working hard," he told us.
Next month, Transylvania County Special Olympics will hold its annual Polar Plunge fundraiser.
It will be noon-2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at Lake Atagahi in Connestee Falls.