Telegram - Serving Metropolitan Detroit Since 1944

By Renee Summers
Telegram Reporter 

Team GUTS Brings Physical Fitness to an Overlooked Population


Team GUTS summer camp is for youth and adults with special needs.

Brothers Todd and Paul Tuner established Team GUTS in 2014, a non-profit organization designed to bring much-needed fitness and athletic programs to the special needs community. Inspired by Todd Turner's young daughter who has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism, Turner says they looked around and realized that there were few options for physical fitness programs for the special needs population. Area gyms and community recreation centers do hold fitness programs geared towards special needs but they tend to be seasonal or infrequent. "They are definitely forgotten and it's sad, so there is a need for what we do," saysTodd Turner, adding that Team GUTS is the only year-round indoor facility dedicated to the special needs population.

At Team GUTS the emphasis is on improving the fitness and well-being of children and adults with special needs and disabilities, all while having fun. GUTS stands for the Ground Up Training System, the philosophy used by the organization to promote physical fitness and health. "We build each client from the ground up. Everything we do is evidence-based and based on science: how we train these kids, what we do," says Turner. "Each client is different and we modify it; we do a lot of one-on-one training as well, that is our big thing."

Turner has a background and training in Exercise Science and the organization works with an advisory board which includes Dr. Dale Ulrich of the University of Michigan's School of Kinesiology. Together, they develop exercise programs to serve the special needs community, as research indicates children and adolescents with physical limitations and intellectual disabilities are at greatest risk for obesity. The risk is often attributed to a sedentary lifestyle, low motivation to be active, and lack of resources and opportunities to be physically active.

The Turner brothers and Team GUTS seek to provide a resource and opportunity for physical fitness. They do this through fitness classes and outdoor summer camps where clients participate in dancing, soccer, martial arts, and drumming, to name a few. Summer camp also includes arts and crafts and healthy snacks, with emphasis on healthy eating. Programs fulfill a social component as well, says Turner, as participants build both friendships and self-confidence. "They feel like they fit in and belong somewhere," he says. All clients are treated with respect regardless of age or physical ability.

Previously based in Ferndale, Team GUTS closed its facility there due to COVID-19. The organization has since been continuing to hold fitness classes online for its most devoted clients, including a 92-year old Florida resident who works with a Team GUTS trainer for strength training. Martial arts classes have been held online, but beginning Saturday, May 15, martial arts class will be held outdoors on Saturdays at Martin Road Park, located at 1615 E. Lewiston Ave., in Ferndale. On May 15 and 22, guests can attend the class for free to see if they would like to continue and participate in more that Team GUTS has to offer. All fitness levels are welcome.

Weeklong summer camp programs begin the week of June 21 and will run for five weeklong sessions through July 30. Summer camp will be held at Harding Park located at 989 Mapledale Street, in Ferndale. Cost is $250 each week, but Turner says scholarships are available to families thanks to grants and corporate sponsors. COVID precautions will be taken at all classes and events, and fitness instructors and assistants are fully vaccinated.

Team GUTS programs fill a social component for the special needs population.

"What we do is a place where parents and kids can feel comfortable; it's their own," says Turner. Like any fitness related activity, Turner says it's best to start a fitness routine early in life. "The earlier we get them, the better," he says. "Especially with autism, they get into routines so the earlier we can start them where this is part of their life, chances are it's going to continue." Turner says they have clients with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism, and even those with visual impairments. "We want to help everyone, it doesn't matter the disability or ability, our big thing is that there's an athlete in all of us."

To find out more about Team GUTS and its programs, go to or call Todd Turner at 248-701-3067.


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