When the coronavirus pandemic shut down gyms across the country, Florida-based Special Olympics coach and trainer Joe Luther refused to give up on his athletes. Through his nonprofit, Just Right Living, Joe and his team continued to train their special needs athletes, known as the Palm Bay Powerlifters, from home to keep them motivated, strong, and healthy.
We spoke with Joe and a couple of his Special Olympic athletes about how Just Right Living has changed their lives—and how they’re keeping their eyes on the prize despite today’s circumstances.
Tell us about Just Right Living. Why did you create it—and how has it grown and transformed since?
Coach Joe: Just Right Living was born out of a motivational mantra I used when training myself and my mother a couple of years back.
In 2018, my mom was diagnosed with cancer the day after Christmas. At the same time, depression and an unhealthy lifestyle contributed to me gaining 100 pounds.
I got back into training to help myself—and my mom—overcome our circumstances. From there, we wanted to inspire change in other individuals and help them establish healthy lifestyles, self-esteem, and self-respect that prevail despite all circumstances.
We set out with a mission to create a supportive, empowering environment for special needs individuals and those with challenging health issues. It is our goal to give them access to information, education, skills, resources, and local infrastructure that can help them take charge of their lives and give them better opportunities to enjoy a better quality of life.
Since then, it has transformed into a community that serves those who need it the most.
How did the coronavirus pandemic affect what you do—and how did you adapt to support your athletes?
Coach Joe: The initial closing of gyms impacted our team immensely. However, we knew immediately that we had to stay in touch with our athletes to keep them engaged and continue their healthy lifestyles during this pandemic.
We ultimately devised a “social distance-friendly plan” to train our athletes at home. This challenge also gave us opportunities to find new ways to keep our training programs operational outside of the gym, and gave us valuable insight into how people with disabilities who are often stuck at home feel.
We hear that you’ve taken athletes to The Vitamin Shoppe! What do you strive to teach your athletes about nutrition—and why is it important?
Coach Joe: Teaching our athletes about nutrition and health is imperative. Coaching these individuals on how to care for their bodies and feel their best not only helps their physical health, but their mental health, too.
Athlete Timmothy: The more you take care of your body the more you can do. We need to help each other get fit and more active, instead of eating junk food because we don’t know what to do at home. The Vitamin Shoppe has helped us find healthy drinks and foods to eat at home.
What goals are the Palm Bay Powerlifters currently working towards—and why do you think it’s important to continue your work despite the current challenges?
Athlete Timmothy: Our true goal is to get more athletes to join our team so that we can help more people. We look forward to training—and our goals aren’t just about lifting weights, but to grow as people.
Coach Joe: One specific goal our team member Thomas (“The Tank”) has is to win a Special Olympic gold medal in 2022. In the meantime, he’s working towards a personal best bench press of 225 and then 250 pounds.
What are your plans and dreams for Just Right Living in the future?
Coach Joe: My dream is to help EVERYONE have a basic understanding of a healthy lifestyle, so we can all follow the “Just Right Living” mantra.
Our vision is to inspire community-focused projects that can help the most vulnerable individuals enjoy personal and professional development opportunities important for them to lead positive, fulfilling lives.
Athlete Timmothy: We would like to see more people joining our mission to get people with disabilities healthy. I never had coaches, friends, and mentors like I do now. I love Coach Joe and Coach Chris. Just Right Living is about more than fitness. We hang out all the time an go to movies together. I want to help more people get involved.
Athlete Thomas: I would like to see more people in chairs get healthy, gain enough knowledge to help other people in my situation, and coach athletes with Down syndrome.
Follow along with Coach Joe, the Palm Bay Powerlifters, and Just Right Living via Joe’s Instagram, @coachjoe321.