Jenny Harkins

Treadfit Owner Jenny Harkins is offering free online classes for athletes with special needs during the COVID-19 crisis. The workouts, which are about 15 minutes long, are available on Facebook and YouTube every Friday, she said, and are suitable for people who have various types of special needs. (Review photo)

Jenny Harkins would normally be spending part of her day teaching students in the special-education program at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences.

With COVID-19 shutting schools statewide, however, Harkins has turned to her other job, owner of Treadfit, a fitness studio in Beverly, to help people with special needs.

Harkins has partnered with Special Children’s Charities/Special Olympics Chicago (SOC) over the last month to host free weekly online workouts for athletes with special physical or mental-health needs.

Every Friday, the workout is posted on Treadfit’s Facebook page and YouTube.

“I know right now, it’s just been very difficult for our special-ed population, just because for them, school’s a big part of their day,” Harkins said. “With after-school activities, such as Special Olympics, canceled as well, it’s just a really challenging time for them and their parents. We just thought this might be something great to offer the athletes.”

Treadfit classes usually offer interval training on a treadmill coupled with full-body strength training.

The videos for athletes with special needs, Harkins said, offer a “short, simple, online workout,” and no equipment is needed. Each video is 12-15 minutes, and exercises are modified to make sure “everyone can participate.” Warm-up, cool-down and stretching exercises are included.

Harkins, who is the instructor in most of the videos, hopes that for athletes, the workout “gets their heart pumping” and allows them to “get some activities in for the day.” In some ways, it replaces their physical education classes.

“I’m happy to do it,” Harkins said. “I think Special Olympics is obviously just a phenomenal program in our city. They do such a great job.”

According to officials, 7,500 athletes participate in SOC programs. Harkins said one video received over 2,000 views, and she hopes to collaborate with other Chicago Public Schools teachers to increase access for students.

She plans to offer the program until activities for athletes with special needs resume.

Treadfit also has locations in Western Springs and Palos Heights, and Harkins said it is “very challenging” to have her brick-and-mortar facilities closed during the stay-at-home order.

However, Treadfit is open online for all clients, as Harkins is offering six or seven live classes per day. Clients gain access through a private Facebook page.

“That’s been great because that’s a way for us to get some income during this time,” Harkins said. “But, it also been great for our clients who were looking for that structure, feeling like they were in a class setting again, and just making that face-to-face contact with our clients.”

For her strength classes, the routine remains the same, with a 45-minute full-body workout. For 30-minute running classes, clients can run on their treadmill or follow along on headphones while running outside.

Harkins debuted Treadfit in Beverly in 2015, with the local facility now at 10458 S. Western Ave. She said there is “nothing like this neighborhood”—especially during the COVID-19 crisis.

“You can’t replicate it,” Harkins said. “”This neighborhood’s just unbelievable.”

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