New Ability Fitness Center Serves Loudoun’s Physically Challenged

When Freddie Hetzel was paralyzed in an golf cart accident in 2011, he received intensive therapy in Atlanta and Louisville. Any of the improvements he’d made were reversed when he returned home to Loudoun because of the lack of accessible exercise.

But that’s about to change for him and others in and near Loudoun who are physically challenged.

The Arc of Loudoun at Paxton Campus has officially opened Ability Fitness Center, a nonprofit therapeutic fitness and wellness center for people with neurological and developmental disabilities.

The center is open on the Paxton Campus at 601 Catoctin Circle NE in Leesburg, and in a ceremony today, the center’s board members officially broke ground to kick off the renovation of its permanent facility.

The program is focused on activity-based interventions for individuals with spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, balance disorders, developmental disabilities, and other neurological conditions. Clients of Ability Fitness Center pay a monthly membership fee and receive access to the center’s specialized equipment, as well as one-on-one sessions with the center’s neurological physical therapist. Need-based scholarships are also available.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Billy Grey, who was paralyzed in 1989 and is a board member of the Ability Fitness Center.

He, Hetzel and others have worked toward opening a fitness center for people with physical and neurological disabilities for five years, holding frequent fundraisers to drum up support. Grey said the idea became a reality when the Paxton Campus and The Arc of Loudoun agreed to partner with them and house the facility on their campus.

Melissa Heifetz, executive director of The Arc of Loudoun, described the new relationship as a win-win. “We, The Arc of Loudoun, are thrilled to partner with AFC, to fill a need in the community with fitness and wellness to a new population that The Arc has not worked with in the past. … We are also excited that the students with autism and other developmental disabilities from The Aurora School are receiving one-on-one fitness instruction in daily sessions in the new center.”

The center already has 10 clients from the community and another 16 children who attend The Aurora School on campus.

Helen Parker, Ability Fitness Center ‘s clinical director and neurological physical therapist, said the center will be a life-changer for many people. In her 18 years working as a physical therapist, she saw countless patients have to stop exercise when their insurance ran out.

“It is just not right and it has always killed me to the core,” she said during Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony. “They need a center like this that they can use as long as they want to maintain their health.”

Ability Fitness Center is open and is operating in a nearby building while the center’s permanent home is being renovated. Construction is scheduled to wrap up by February. For more information on Ability Fitness Center or to donate to the project, go to

Groundbreaking ceremony for Ability Fitness Center.
[Danielle Nadler/Loudoun Now]

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