Jon Fried exercising at FCAP
Jon Fried exercising at FCAP

Jon Fried’s foot hurt.  It was 2009 and Jon was competing at the Special Olympics XPerience Tennis Tournament in Charlottesville, Virginia, which attracts the country’s top players.  Jon’s mother Barbara Fried remembers that when physical therapist David Luedeka examined him, “Jon could not point to exactly where it hurt.  But, David could see and feel that it was his toe.  That led to a real examination that determined Jon has what is sometimes called turf toe – an arthritic condition that incapacitates the toe, preventing it from bending.  That condition had in turn impacted his hip as his body tried to compensate.  What is so frustrating is that Jon had been seeing the same podiatrist for 20 years treating that same toe for another condition, but he had never noticed the problem.”

Jon became a celebrated international Special Olympics tennis champion in spite of his physical disabilities, which include monocular vision. He competed in the 1995 World Games in New Haven, Connecticut; brought home gold from Shanghai, China in 2007; and won silver in Singles and Bronze in Mixed Doubles at the 2011 games in Athens, Greece.  In 2022, at age 60, Jon and his friend Chris Raupp won the national Special Olympics doubles tennis tournament in Orlando, Florida.

Luedeka observes that “Jonathan is oftentimes much more disabled than the people he’s playing against. To watch Jon play tennis is really to realize his genius. Tennis is his gift, and he demonstrates that to us every time he plays because he does things he really shouldn’t be able to do.”

While Jon Fried may be an exceptional athlete, his physical challenges are common to the intellectually disabled population.  Since 1982, Jon has lived at Innisfree Village, a non-profit, life-sharing community for intellectually disabled adults, which his parents Mark and Barbara Fried helped co-found in 1971.  Knowing exercise was fundamental to maximizing the structural, emotional, and intellectual well-being of Jon and the other residents, also referred to as coworkers, a gym program was started at Innisfree Village. Upon his arrival, David Luedeka recognized that the standard gym setting was not meeting the needs of the population, as they were unable to independently exercise with appropriate intensity, form, or progression.  He also saw an opportunity to help the intellectually disabled population reach the CDC-recommended exercise levels for longterm health.

The Fried Center for the Advancement of Potential, led by Luedeka, was introduced to Innisfree Village in 2013.  FCAP offered a solution for the growing number of aging residents (coworkers), and some younger residents, who faced significant physical challenges and could not effectively exercise on their own, or even in a group setting. FCAP developed individualized fitness plans for each coworker based on their unique needs, with one-on-one training sessions 2-3 times a week. 

FCAP took a major leap forward in 2015 with its partnership with the University of Virginia Kinesiology Department professor Martin Block, a specialist in adapted physical education and Special Olympics coach.  The FCAP model is labor-intensive; Block and Luedeka recognized an opportunity for kinesiology students to assist FCAP while gaining hands-on experience through an internship program, which they developed.  The results have been life-changing for both the interns and FCAP’s clients

Block was immediately struck by the impact the internship was having on students.  “Students would come back from their day at FCAP full of enthusiasm – I’ve never seen a program that students loved as much.”   Keila Strick, who was part of the first intern cohort and went on to get a degree as a Doctor of Physical Therapy, credits the experience with setting the course of her career.  Strick has come full circle, returning to FCAP to supervise interns and to teach the companion intern kinesiology course at UVa alongside her mentor Luedeka. Meanwhile, Jon Fried relishes his workouts at FCAP, where he jokes with interns, encourages anyone working out alongside him, and amazes all with his strength, stamina, and positive attitude.

Opening In 2023, the Fried Center at the University of Virginia Student Health and Wellness Center will provide the next generation of FCAP interns with a state-of-the art fitness facility to put into practice one-on-one training techniques with their fellow students as clients, all in preparation for continuing FCAP’s work with the intellectually disabled.   As Intern Liz Wombacher observed, “They are an underserved population and we have had the opportunity to see how well they respond. That puts us ahead of the rest of the world in understanding. When we leave and get jobs elsewhere, we need to spread that knowledge. It’s up to us to catch the rest of the world up. We may be the ones to make a change.”