For Sam Smith, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. He’s run seven of them.

“Marathons are very very difficult,” Smith said. “At the same time, marathons are a foundation to set an example as a leader.”

Smith, who has autism, is a certified running and strength and conditioning coach at SPIRIT Club in Kensington, Maryland. He’s an example that even if you have a disability, you still have the ability to achieve your goals.

“A lot of people think people with disabilities can’t necessarily work out,” SPIRIT Club owner and founder Jared Ciner said. “And you know Sam I think proves that wrong.”

In 2013, with Smith’s help, Ciner founded SPIRIT Club. Ciner was working for Jubilee, an organization that provides assistance to people with disabilities, and as a personal trainer – he combined the two jobs to help people with disabilities have access to exercise. He realized they just needed a better environment to work out in, and Smith showed him that he could make that work.

“He’s really inspiring to me in terms of kind of showing me that everybody can participate in fitness,” Ciner said. “Sam’s spirit is definitely the spirit in SPIRIT Club.”

Smith was the first person with autism to teach a class at SPIRIT Club, but Ciner says that now about half of the 15 trainers that work there have a disability.

“Sometimes they just need to go to a place that makes their life better, like for example right here at SPIRIT Club,” Smith said. “We can make their life better with their fitness and mental health right here.”

SPIRIT Club provides individual and group workout opportunities, as well as in-person and virtual options.

“It really does feel amazing when I can get out of the day-to-day and look at what’s being accomplished and how many people are having a positive experience,” Ciner told WDVM.

Smith and Ciner are both glad they can now provide virtual opportunities, which they really ramped up during the coronavirus pandemic, but are thrilled to see people back in person again.

“When you realize there’s a positive effect on the people that come to our classes,” Smith said. “It’s like you feel really good about it because you just think about it and you feel that they’re feeling good.”