Staten Islanders launch gym for people with special needs

STATEN ISLAND, NY – Nina Romano, a recreational therapist, said that entering a fitness center to stay healthy and fit can be very intimidating for people with special needs.

“Exercise is really both for physical and mental health. Since working with people with special needs, I’ve learned the importance of fitness transforming not just the body but the mindset, ”said Romano, who is currently doing a Masters in Occupational Therapy at Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey

“So many personal trainers and gyms really don’t have what it takes to make people with special needs comfortable,” she added.

Rob LaRocca and Nina Romano opened Uniquely Fit, a fitness studio for people with special needs. The room is part of LaRocca Fitness in Charleston. (Staten Island Advance / Alexandra Salmieri)

That’s why she has teamed up with Rob LaRocca, the owner of LaRocca Fitness in Charleston, to open a new gym called Uniquely Fit Inc., specially designed for those with special needs.

“Rob and I are friends and we thought it would be great to start Uniquely Fit to help the community, especially during COVID,” she said.

“During the pandemic, we realized that there was a great need for recreational activities for individuals in the community with special needs. So we really wanted to create a safe, inclusive place for them to come, Romano added, noting that the new gym will be operated within LaRocca Fitness.


The plant is a completely ADA [Americans with Disability Act] accessible facility.

“There are no stairs to enter our facility. We have a lawn floor. So it’s easily accessible to the community. We also have the upper part, which is intended for individual training; It’s a safe place outside of the main gym, but it’s in the same building and is a separate room, ”said Romano.

“All persons with impairments of the lower extremities, wheelchair users or even walking aids have access to the entire fitness studio on the ground floor. And then anyone who really wants that private one-on-one care has access to use the upstairs facility, ”she added.

Uniquely fit

The fitness studio offers both individual and small group training. (Staten Island Advance / Alexandra Salmieri)


Uniquely Fit offers both individual and small group training for people with special needs.

“We take each individual through an assessment. Hence, every person who comes here will be rated based on their strengths or areas they would like to work on. We see what their goals are and then we create a training plan for them based on that, ”said Romano.

In addition, Uniquely Fit has employees who are trained and certified to work with people with special needs.

“I think it is important that you have people who are specially trained to work with people with such needs. We are compassionate and understand what it is like to be in a position that can be intimidating, ”Romano said, noting that the gym accepts payments through person-centered care services.


Romano used to be a rehab worker at A Very Special Place, a non-profit that provides services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She also worked as a recreational therapist for Staten Island University Hospital in Ocean Breeze.

In her work as a recreational therapist, she often found that many places and facilities are inaccessible to people with disabilities.

“From my experience as a recreational therapist, I would do things such as community integration skills. So we went into the community with customers and I found some places that are not ADA accessible. Sometimes we need to make various changes to educate individuals and help them participate in society, ”said Romano.

“As a recreational therapist, I’ve worked with stroke patients. I’ve worked with people with MS [Multiple sclerosis]. I’ve worked with amputees. So, through all of this experience. I’ve always had the urge to really help people in need, ”she added.


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New Businesses in Focus is a weekly column that tells the stories of new business owners in Staten Island.

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Tracey Porpora is Business Writer and Sunday Manager for Island Advance.


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