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Fit, Happy and Healthy

Supporting the special needs community with fitness and nutrition

By Joshua Nishimoto

Photos Courtesy of Kelli Bult

When Kelli Bult and her husband Jacob had their first son, Caleb, not only was Caleb born 10 weeks early, but he also has a micro chromosome deletion resulting in a plethora of mental and physical disabilities. The new parents met with doctors, therapists and teachers to ensure that Caleb’s initial needs were taken care of, but as their son gets older, they realized that there is a gap to be filled when it comes to special needs fitness.

Kelli and Jacob decided to fill that gap. They started the Unique Center for Athletes of All Needs (UCAN), a safe group atmosphere for adult, adolescent or child with special needs to join and feel comfortable participating, learning and sharing in functional fitness and nutrition.

“We decided to start UCAN because we felt that Sandpoint needed a place for individuals with special needs to learn about physical fitness and nutrition, have equipment that suits their needs, and feel safe and accepted,” said Kelli, UCAN’s founder and full-time certified trainer. “Unique is built into our name for a reason. There is no place like us in the Pacific Northwest. Our mission is to empower special needs.”

While UCAN currently supports special needs students through partnerships, they are looking to serve children and adults with special programming in the near future.

“We plan to start adaptive PE for the high school in October, as well as adult classes with PSNI (Panhandle Special Needs Institute),” Kelli shared. “We plan to offer two hour-long classes a week for both groups, free of charge to start off.”

Their goal is to provide a place where everyone can exercise and feel that they belong, with proper instruction on how to best use workout equipment for effective results. “We would also like to start an open gym for special needs kids one or two Sundays a month in the winter,” Kelli said. “We want kids to be able to come in and play safely.”

UCAN provides physical fitness classes that teach correct movement for everyday life. They also produce quality, easy-to-follow recipes to help improve nutrition, simultaneously building their clients’ confidence as they progress.

“We are using the methodology created by Special Strong for our classes,” Kelli said. “We are targeting four major areas of concentration: 1) core, balance and flexibility. 2) brain and sensory. 3) strength and muscle development. 4) endurance and stamina adaptation. Using these four targets, we will help people gain confidence, strength, mental development and knowledge that will apply to their everyday life and tasks.”

With Kelli’s expertise as lead trainer and her highly trained staff, UCAN is offering a unique opportunity for their clients to not only be happy, safe and healthy, but also the ability to improve their lives.

“Our classes are structured to provide movement standards, and we have enough people watching to make sure everyone stays safe and moves correctly,” she said. “We are going to make a recipe book for everyone. Our volunteers and staff will work to instill confidence in all our members.”

Although Kelli is the creator, founder and president of UCAN, UCAN would not be made possible without the support of the local community.

“We have had a tremendous amount of support from the community in grants to purchase adaptive equipment,” Kelli said. “Some of the local supporters include: CAL (Community Assistance League), Equinox, Selkirk Association of Realtors, Avista, and ICF - Bonner County Human Rights Task Force.”

All of the grant funding helps UCAN take the next step to build the first adaptive fitness and recreation center in North Idaho. UCAN is housed under Unique Fitness, a for-profit barbell club that owns the building. Unique Fitness will provide the funds to keep the building running and keep operational costs down so that UCAN can remain free of charge.

“We would like to fully establish our programs for teens and adults and have a steady flow of attendants,” Kelli said. “We would also like to create a program for the younger children that utilizes therapy equipment and play. We are working toward creating a relay event from Schweitzer to Lake Pend Oreille, with divisions for the special needs individuals. A ‘Special Olympics’ of sorts is also in our plans.”

With a multitude of options for health, wellness and competition training, UCAN is making great strides to make a positive impact in all of their pursuits. With high aspirations, Kelli and staff are being strategic with facility use and times where clients can make use of their exercise equipment and staff’s expertise.

“We are planning to provide two facilities in one. The barbell club will be a place for athletes and competitors to train, and the nonprofit is a place for all special needs individuals to come and have a place to exercise and learn safely.”

UCAN currently has a one-to-three instructor-per-client ratio. Some clients require one-on-one attention while others do not. Groups coming into the facility, such as PSNI or LPOSD, will bring along paraprofessionals and aides to help the staff and volunteers make sure everyone is getting the attention they need.

UCAN’s facility currently provides a 3,000-square-foot space for interactive classes and dynamic movement for adults and teens. They also have a wheelchair arm/leg bike, harness treadmill walker/runner, recumbent bike, and other special needs equipment. UCAN’s kids’ area is 1,400 square feet, separate from the adults. There is a fully enclosed and padded 25x25-foot play place with swings, bouncers, trampoline room, slide and spinners. There is also an enclosed baby/toddler area with a small climber and stuffed animals. The rest of the space is used for open play, with specialized therapy equipment such as a sensory roller, sensory swing, full child protective swing, wheelchair swing, sensory boards, communication boards, and an angled rock wall with impact pads.

If you would like to find out more information about UCAN, please visit their website, If you would like to participate in supporting UCAN, click on their donation button to donate or volunteer your time to support this amazing nonprofit.

“We always appreciate volunteers for special events and classes,” Kelli added. “UCAN is exciting for me because I want to give back to a group within our community that is often overlooked. I love providing a space to make everyone feel equal and accomplished.”

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