Personal trainer with autism Mark Fleming turned into a trailblazing entrepreneur when he opened Equally Fit, a fitness studio for people of all abilities.
It takes strength and determination to break down barriers—sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally.
In Mark Fleming’s case, it was both.
Mark, a personal trainer with autism, discovered his calling in undergrad at the University of Alabama. He earned a bachelor’s in exercise science, then achieved his master’s degree in human performance.
The initial goal was to train professional athletes, but Mark’s purpose shifted while he was volunteering for the Special Olympics. He saw firsthand that athletes with autism had little to no viable support to continue their fitness and training after the event. He also noted there were few gyms or trainers who specifically knew what people on the spectrum needed in terms of environment and motivation. The gap was obvious, so Mark decided to fix it. He turned his focus to fitness for people with disabilities.
When he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at 11 years old, Mark found himself suddenly thrown into the world of being labeled as different. As often happens with people with disabilities, the world at large decides what she or he can and can’t do. Mark wasn’t having it.
“I think it is important to help others on the spectrum to achieve the life that they desire, and exercise is a great way to do that.”
“People try to push people with disabilities into certain careers and certain jobs,” he says. “I think it is important to help others on the spectrum to achieve the life that they desire, and exercise is a great way to do that.”
After years of a successful private client personal training business, Mark opened Puzzle Piece Fitness in Tampa, Fla., the first gym in the country owned and operated by a trainer with autism that catered to people with special needs. In time, Mark realized that people with other types of disabilities were also being left out of traditional gym and fitness centers. He rebranded to Equally Fit, launching virtual classes in addition to providing onsite workouts. Equally Fit remains one of the only gyms in the country created by and for people with special needs.
“It makes me proud because I get to see the individuals accomplish things they and their parents never thought they could,” Mark says. “It’s really heartwarming. Seeing people get healthy, it’s awesome – the healthier these individuals are, the more likely they are to live their best lives.”
We applaud Mark Fleming so enthusiastically for including people with special needs that it should count as cardio. Awesome job, Mark for building a world where we can be Equally Fit.