Athletics for All
As 2023 resolutions continue into February for many, it is common to focus on health and fitness goals for the new year. Texarkana presents two viable physical fitness options for individuals with special needs, from organized sports to personal training opportunities. All Abilities Adaptive Fitness, owned by Whitni Allen and Chase Livingston, and TOPSoccer Texarkana, run by Hillary Cloud, serve those with varying abilities in Texarkana.
All Abilities focuses on functional fitness exercises to help prepare individuals of all ages with autism and other special needs for real-life movements such as walking up stairs, carrying heavy objects such as grocery bags, and many other daily life skills. The goal is to create a comfortable, supportive environment for the athletes. Whitni Allen and Chase Livingston formed All Abilities to bring inclusion and success to everyone.
“We have both been in gyms for the better part of our adult lives,” Whitni said, “and we have noticed that not all gyms/fitness classes are inclusive. Our classes include a social component that makes it more than just a fitness class.”
All Abilities classes incorporate social skills such as turn-taking, partnering with other athletes, and general communication. Many athletes enjoy and appreciate the group conversations and friendships formed during the classes. Lastly, all sessions end with a fun group activity to conclude positively.
Whitni Allen and Chase Livingston bring experience and passion to All Abilities. Allen, a certified fitness and nutrition specialist, is a personal trainer and adaptive special needs instructor focused on individuals with autism and other special needs. Livingston is a certified personal trainer, behavioral change specialist, and certified nutrition coach.
“We accommodate a wide variety of challenges, including Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and stroke recovery,” Allen stated.
Allen and Livingston tailor workouts for individuals’ needs to boost confidence, independence, and socialization in an accessible and safe environment.
With a similar mission of providing physical fitness opportunities to all, TOPSoccer is a soccer program for kids with intellectual or physical disabilities, ages 5-19. With TOP standing for The Outreach Program, TOPSoccer is a nationwide program formed under US Soccer. TOPSoccer Texarkana is led by local soccer enthusiast and former Texas High Girls Soccer Coach Hillary Cloud. TOPSoccer was formed to perpetuate the US Youth Soccer mission statement, which is, in part, “to foster the physical, mental and emotional growth and development of America’s youth through the sport of soccer at all levels of age and competition.
“My mission for TOPSoccer Texarkana is to make the beautiful game accessible for children with diverse abilities,” Cloud said. “I volunteered for this program as a college athlete in Mississippi,” Cloud continued. “There were hundreds of kids involved. The kids didn’t have the same opportunity to join a soccer league as kids without disabilities. It’s an incredible experience being able to normalize that for them.”
TOPSoccer Texarkana participants are paired with a buddy for the season. The buddies assist them during soccer practices and games, and the coach/coaches lead the practice and a scrimmage. Sessions consist of 30 minutes of practicing soccer skills and 30 minutes of a soccer game.
US Soccer granted permission to bring this program to Texarkana. With the help of local high schools, Cloud has had exceptional volunteers and facilities at her fingertips. “I think one of the ways this program is unique is the bond that these volunteers and athletes form,” Cloud explained. “The athletes show up eager to see their buddy. Being able to have a consistent person for the athlete is something special for both the athlete and the buddy.”
TOPSoccer Texarkana has its eyes set on the future. With two sessions in February and four in June, the TOPSoccer athletes will have the opportunity to finish their season at a National Symposium in Kansas City.
“I hope our current athletes continue in the program,” Cloud remarked. “We currently have 17 kids registered, and I hope we attract more athletes. We’ve had an incredible group of volunteers, and I want to continue growing that group and being able to have consistency with our buddies for our athletes. We aim to continue offering this program for free to our athletes and their families.”
All Abilities is focused on finding their “home” as they have numerous programs and classes that they want to bring to the Texarkana community. All Abilities meets at the Southwest Center every Thursday from 4-5 pm.
“All Abilities has the ability to bring inclusive fitness and programs to our community and to offer jobs to individuals with special needs,” Allen stated. “Upon finding our new business home, we hope to offer jobs including personal trainer, group fitness instructors, front desk work, and more.”
While physical fitness for all abilities is essential, it is encouraging to understand the emotional impact and sense of community these offerings have on the participants.
“I love working out with Chase and Whitni at All Abilities,” participant and athlete Kayla said. “I really look forward to each workout and cannot wait to go. They encourage you to do your best, and it is fun! I also love working out with all my friends and meeting new people.”
An avid TOPSoccer Texarkana volunteer, Trent Chambers, gets to experience TOPSoccer with his son, Kellan. “I feel like every parent, and maybe selfishly so, wants their child to be interested in the same things as they were growing up,” Chambers expressed. “Having grown up in Texarkana and playing soccer from grade school to the college level, I was thrilled when my youngest child decided to play soccer. When Kellan, my oldest, wanted to play, too, I was gutted when I told him he could not play. When Kellan asked why he could not play, I really did not have a good answer. A few months later, Hillary Cloud explained TOPSoccer, and I was sold. It has allowed my son and me to bond over something we would not have otherwise. Bigger and more important than that, the project fills a void in our community.”
All Abilities Adaptive Fitness and TOPSoccer Texarkana provide the community with additional services and opportunities that would otherwise be unmet.