Michael Shipper, a native Upper West Sider, has been working with special needs athletes for about 15 years, starting right after college as a teacher at Manhattan’s Rebecca School.
His journey into this field of work started when he himself was diagnosed with a learning disability at the age of five, at which point his parents decided it would be best for him to attend a special needs school.
His time at Eagle Hill in Greenwich, CT, equipped him with skills he’s brought into adulthood — and injected into his business, Empowered Sports & Fitness, which works with neurodiverse athletes who may have learning disabilities like ADHD, may be on the autism spectrum, have mobility issues, or may suffer from anxiety or depression.
While he launched the company close to eight years ago, he opened his space at 117 West 72nd Street in 2021.
The 1,400 square foot ground floor studio (located behind the Juice Generation) is ADA compliant and features amenities such as a rock climbing wall, basketball hoop, and bench press / squat rack and peloton treadmill. Calming tones of blue and yellow create a peaceful environment for athletes to excel.
The purpose of the inclusive studio is to provide athletes of all abilities and backgrounds the opportunity to be active, have fun, and take part in a program that understands their needs.
Since its inception, Empowered Sports & Fitness has catered to athletes as young as five years old — and soon they’ll be rolling out toddler classes. But adults (21 and up) with learning disabilities, mobility issues, anxiety or depression find the sessions provide tremendous support in building not only physical, but social and emotional skills and strengths, which they’re able to carry into other aspects of life.
Athletes can choose from group and individual fitness classes which teach them how to move their bodies through primary movements like pulling, pushing, squatting and more. Squats are helpful, for example, because they teach full body movement and build core strength.
Another exercise, “carries,” involve holding a sandbag to the chest and walking laps around the gym. This helps athletes focus on body awareness, posture, core strength, and working the lower and upper body together.
It was always Shipper’s goal to open up a space in the city; he tells us he got lucky when he found a “for rent” sign outside the 72nd Street building last year.
He’s hired four coaches so far, all of whom are Autism Fitness certified and Physical Literacy Specialists.
Some neurodiverse individuals face what Michael calls a “cliffhanger” once they enter adulthood; this refers to the disappearance of certain support systems they depended on during childhood. Empowered Sports & Fitness is that support system, and it’s available for those who wish to attend the 72nd Street studio and those who cannot.
Virtual sessions were launched during the pandemic, and the studio continues to offer them to this day. These remote sessions have allowed Shipper and his team to reach and help more athletes.
If you’re in the metro area but can’t make it to the studio, the team also offers at-home sessions (as well as outdoor park sessions, weather-permitting). They are also planning to open more locations around NYC in the future.
The first step for new Empowered Sports & Fitness clients is an assessment; this allows Shipper and his coaches to immediately identify his or her strengths and deficiencies, which in turn helps them create custom programs to set up each athlete for success.
Empowered Sports & Fitness is currently offering a $50 assessment discount for first-time clients; the price is normally $175, but the price for new clients is $125.
Learn more at empoweredsportsandfitness.com.