Listen to the community spotlight segment with Special Strong 89.7 WAY-FM
Transcribed interview with Special Strong 89.7 WAY-FM
Welcome to the community spotlight here on 89.7 WAY-FM, I’m Brian Johnson. Today I’m joined by founder of Special Strong, Daniel Stein. Daniel, thanks so much for being with us. Yeah, thanks for having me. Absolutely. Well, I’m excited to dig into what Special Strong is all about what you guys are doing in our community, the awesome work that God is doing through your organization. So let’s just jump right in here. Tell me what the mission is of Special Strong. Yeah, that’s a great question. So our mission was actually founded from a verse of Scripture, John 10:10. Jesus says, the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy, and I came that you may have life and have it more abundantly. So in essence, what our mission is, is we want to empower the special needs population with the strength and confidence to live an independent and abundant life.
And unfortunately, there are too few opportunities for this population to live a truly abundant life. And so that’s ultimately why we created our company and why we exist. Yeah. So let’s clarify for our listeners what exactly it is you do. If you were to sum it up quickly, you would basically say we do specialized personal fitness training for the special needs community. Correct? I would say this definitely a component of what we do more than anything. I would say that we provide health and fitness services to the special needs community, and so what that looks like practically is we provide one on one personal training all throughout the DFW metroplex. We also provide boot camp classes, which should be five or more individuals with special needs. We do that at churches. We do that at corporations therapy centers, and we even just do that at local facilities.
And then lastly, we do nutrition coaching. Very big need. You know, registered dieticians are very, very important. And our staff who are our RD’s – they specialize in diets for special needs, which are very different than your traditional diet. I love that. Well, let’s dig into the history a little bit then. When did you start Special Strong? What inspired you to start it? Tell me a little bit about your personal story and background and what led to Special Strong happening. Yes, so the official launch of Special Strong started in 2016 and I had absolutely nothing to do with the idea or the creation of the entire company and so I’ll get into the story behind that, but it’s truly 100% God. When I was four years old, I was diagnosed with ADHD, a learning disability, and so I had a really, really hard time in school, made fun of a lot.
I didn’t really fit into any particular classes or groups and one thing that I always did that helped me so much was exercise and I can’t tell you why, but I was always drawn to go to the gym and exercise. Now, I had no idea what I was doing when I worked out, but I knew this. I felt better after I worked out and my behavior, these meltdowns that I used to have were all impacted by exercise. I continued doing it all throughout middle school, high school. And then when I got out of high school, it just so happens that through an interaction at the gym, someone invited me to church. And so I came to know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior in 2009 and immediately started getting mentored by someone at the church. And fast forward to November 11th, 2011 pretty easy to remember because it’s 11- 11-11 right?
So rob my mentor, he sits down with me, and he says, Daniel, God gave me a vision for you in the vision. You are a personal trainer for individuals who had disabilities. I was floored. I was confused. I mean, of course at the time I was not a trainer. I don’t even know that I had spoken to anyone with disabilities or special needs. It was just not a people group that I was attracted to for some reason. And so frankly I thought two things. Number one, this wasn’t God. And I also didn’t know God could speak that way at the time. So I was very skeptical. And the other thing I thought too was there’s no way that I could ever do that. If you knew my background before Jesus, you would know that I was very unqualified to work with anybody with special needs.
The next day I go to my apartment, I opened the mailbox and sure enough, there is a personal trainer magazine that was sent to my mailbox. It has someone else’s name on it, which meant it went to the wrong mailbox or did it go to the wrong mailbox, right? It was a divine piece of mail for me and that was the confirmation I needed to get rid of all the skeptical and unbelief thoughts that I had before the magazine. And so when I got that magazine I said, you know what? I’ve got to go get certified. This has to be God. I don’t know what this looks like yet, but I’m going to get certified. So I got certified. I had a great career in banking. And so while I was at the bank, my last year at the bank, two people came into the bank to open a bank account.
Their names were Mike and Sharyn. Mike was in a wheelchair. They came in and they said, hey, you know, we’d like to open up a nonprofit business account today. And so I was the one that was asked to open their account. They sat down, they said, sir, we’d like to open a business account for fitness for individuals with special needs. And I said, guys, listen. I said, I don’t know you guys at all, but I have to tell you this and if it freaks you out, I’m sorry. But I had this mentor in 2011 actually give me a prophetic vision for what you guys are doing right now. And it was just one of those divine Aha moments for everyone in the room. And they said we want you to be our first contractor for our company. So I opened the nonprofit for them and they gave me my first special needs client that I had ever worked with in my entire career.
His name was Dakota, loved Dakota. He was a quadriplegic. But through that experience, I came alive like I had never experienced before. So what I did was I prayed. I said, Lord, the vision that you gave, rob helped me if you gave me the vision, provide the provision. It was shortly after that that one of my private clients, Melissa, Melissa, said, Hey Daniel, I want to connect you with my husband, Josh. And I didn’t know anything about her husband, but I met with Josh and Josh is a very successful serial entrepreneur. And I told Josh about this 2011 vision. And he said I want to help do that. He said, we’re going to meet every couple of weeks and I’m going to give you the roadmap to starting this company. And he would tell me what to do. A lot of what he asked me to do was very uncomfortable, meaning lots of money that I didn’t have, but the Lord provided.
And so through those interactions with Josh, I was able to start Special Strong. And I ended up leaving my full-time job, which was a huge leap of faith to do that. But Josh had given me what I needed to start the foundation of the company and ultimately led to starting special strong in 2016 that’s a powerful story, man. Thank you for sharing that with us. Yeah. Thank you for allowing me to share. Absolutely. Again, we’re talking with Daniel Stein, founder of special strong. Now Daniel talked to me about the staff that is involved with special, strong. How many do you have on staff and what kind of roles do they fill? Yeah, so we have about ten people on staff. We have an operations manager, we’ve got an accountant, bookkeeper, and an office manager, and then we’ve got about six personal trainers on staff.
Excellent. So let’s talk about the specific programs and services. I know as we talked earlier, you said it’s not just about physical fitness, we’re also talking health and nutrition. Talk to me about the specific programs and services that you offer, the people who you work with at special strong. Yes, so we offer private one on one training. We do that through partnerships that we have with gyms in DFW. We’ve got about 15 gym partnerships. They’re all-inclusive environments, and so the gym members are very accepting of the special needs community that comes in. And so we will pair a private training client with a trainer based on education based on demographics, and they will go through a training session, and they will decide if it’s something that they want to continue. Our training model is unique because there’s not a lot of education out there for personal trainers to actually work with a special population group like this.
So what we’ve been able to do as a company is actually create an accredited curriculum for all of our trainers. They’ve all been through this accredited curriculum. There are about 75 plus years of combined education that’s went into the development of the curriculum, and through that, any client that comes through our program will be getting some of that curriculum training into the program. So it makes us very different because everyone knows what a personal trainer is. Our one on one training is very different than your standard one-on-one training that you may just get at a regular gym. We have very special ways of targeting the brain. And so there are actual exercises such as crossing over the midline top to bottom exercises. These exercises promote something called neurogenesis, which is the formation of new brain cells. And so when new brain cells actually form in the brain, we see unbelievable things take place in these individuals’ lives.
It’s amazing. That’ll happen in our private one on one sessions. And then in our boot camp sessions, we do the same thing. The only difference being with the boot camps, they’re in group settings. And so those are typically five or more people. And the nice thing about the group settings is there’s a really fun socialization aspect, which is very much missing in this community. And they also get in the private training because they socialize with their instructor and other members in the gym because it’s an inclusive environment. And then lastly, the virtual nutrition. One of my favorite services because it’s virtual and so for our parents who already have to drive all over the place for therapies, they don’t have to drive anywhere to work with our nutritionist because she’s virtual. We’ve got some great software that allows us to do that and so she’s able to make recommendations, diagnoses, and give proper diet plans when necessary all virtually, so it makes it really convenient for our clients.
Yeah, absolutely. I love that. Again, we’re talking with Daniel Stein, founder of Special Strong. Now, Daniel, this is one of my favorite portions of these interviews here. Digging into the heart of what you do by talking about stories, testimonies of people who have been impacted by the work that you are doing in the work God is doing through Special Strong. If you can think of, let’s say two stories of impact that has happened through Special Strong, I’d love to hear about those. Yeah, I’ve got two really good stories. The first story is Josh and Karen. Karen started seeing us about two years ago and she came in with her son, Josh, mid-twenties, diagnosed with down syndrome, depressed as Karen put it. He had no life. Those were Karen’s words. He had just lost the life in him. So they, they heard about us, they started seeing us and what ended up happening through Josh was nothing short of a miracle.
So Josh worked with us for almost two years and one of the videos I have interviewing his mom, his mom just started crying because she said, Daniel, my son has come back to life. And here’s when she knew this happened. She knew her son came back to life when she went to church and Josh went up to the altar to pray for other people because Josh used to always do that. But when Josh started with me, he had gotten out of that. He was very depressed. He was not praying for people anymore. And by the time he finished with our program, he was a completely different person. And so it gets better. Josh had never had a job in his life. Never through our program and through some of the brain integration techniques that we performed on Josh, he was able to get his first-time job through an employer getting paid part-time job.
And I’ve even got a picture of him with his boss and he got employee of the month and he’s just, he’s just loved by his employer and his staff and just as coworkers and impacted the whole family. Karen and her husband, they are big outdoor people and they love to go hiking. You know, one thing they were never able to do with Josh was go on hiking trips because when they would go on hiking trips, Josh had a really, really hard time keeping up because no stamina and no endurance. And so they actually showed me a picture recently where they did go on a hiking trip and Josh actually led them, meaning he was in front of them and they were following him on the hiking strip. And then I think one of my most favorite parts about this story with Josh is the horseback riding.
Because I mentioned, you know, the whole family is really outdoors-y and Karen has owned several horses and she loves to just go horseback riding. It’s one of her hobbies and she has been able to do that with Josh in the past. But Josh always needed help because he didn’t have the core strength to keep his body upright, which meant he could fall off the horse. So very recently his mom said that for the first time ever in Josh’s life, she was able to literally have him ride a horse with her separately and she didn’t have to do anything to help him. He was able to keep his body upright. He was able to balance on the horse. So the picture there is, I just see Jesus, the picture of a father and a son. In this case, it’s a mother and a son, but it just points to the father because there is nothing more precious for me than being able to see a picture of Jesus because Karen is able to just do things with her son Josh that she could never do before.
It’s so beautiful. I mean, getting a job. All those other things are great, but for me personally, that was really touching when I found out that they could go horseback riding together. That family bond, that family connection is priceless. Yeah. Another story, one of my other favorite stories is about a young man named Robert. I started training Robert a few years ago and Robert had severe meltdown problems. He was diagnosed with autism, mostly nonverbal. His speech is getting better, but he had major, major meltdown problems and he trained in our company for about two years. He’s still with us, and the biggest improvement with Robert is his meltdown frequency has significantly reduced. Now that may not sound like a big deal, so I’m going to put it into perspective what his meltdowns used to look like. When Robert used to have meltdowns very frequently, not only would he hit other things, but he would bang his head very, very hard against the wall against any object really, and he would really hurt himself.
And Robert’s a big boy. He’s over six foot tall, weighs over 200 pounds. He can really do a lot of damage to himself by having these types of recurring meltdowns. And so by having exercise as an outlet in our program and by some of the brain integration exercises we’ve done, you know, Robert has much less frequency of meltdowns today, which literally if you know about concussions in football, if you think about football concussion, that literally can damage the brain. And Robert was getting to that point where his parents were having to put football helmets on him because it was either, you know, damage your brain or put a helmet on and get protection, right. So even if it just reduced five meltdowns a year, there’s no price that you can put that because those five reduced mill downs could have been one of the meltdowns that caused permanent seizures or permanent brain damage.
Sure. And so his parents are so thankful that they took a chance with our services because they had never heard of us before. So naturally, they were skeptical like most people are. And now they look back and they see a young man instead of a little boy. Hmm. As powerful. Ma’Am, thank you for sharing those stories with us. I really appreciate it, Daniel. As we get ready to wrap things up here, let’s talk about your website real quick where people can find more information about what you do. Yeah. Website to find more information about us. Just special strong.com just like what it sounds like, the word special and strong.com. Okay, very good. Then Daniel, let’s finish with this here. Obviously, God has really put a vision and a heart in you to execute Special, Strong. You’ve seen it grow, you’ve seen people be helped in powerful ways.
Where do you find this success? You know others who are maybe interested in working with a special needs population too. We’re really whatever they’re interested in doing. Where do you find your drive to succeed? What pushes you forward? Yeah, that’s a great question and this is without a question. This has been my driving force and if there’s any level of success that I’ve had, it has come from what I’m about to tell you. And it starts with how I start my day and this is every day of the week. But when I start my day, I have a special amount of time and a place that I go to and I have an appointment with Jesus every single day. And almost all of my ideas that our company has come up with have been divinely given to me through the relationship that I’ve cultivated with Jesus every single morning and throughout the day there is absolutely no way that I could ever do what I could do without the empowerment that I received from that time in the morning.
I get people asking me all the time, cause they see me on social media and they see that I’m just all over the place doing new things, meeting new people and people say, how do you not burn out? And Brian, I’ve never burnt out in two and a half years. I do know what burnout looks like because there was a point in my career where I did burn out and that was when I was trying to do things on my own strength and to this day I tell people all the time, the reason why I do not burn out and the reason why I feel like I’m on vacation every day is because I don’t do this by myself. Everywhere that I go, Jesus is with me and I am very aware of that. I would not be aware of Jesus’ presence if I did not start my day with him in his presence.
There are always things pulling my attention, opportunities, and for me, I’ve got to have my first part of the day with my focus on Jesus. Once I do that, it keeps me inwardly focused all day long to the point where if I’m in a meeting or wherever it is I am, I don’t feel like I’m alone. I’m literally conversing with Jesus as I’m in meetings with people asking God questions while I’m in meetings with people. And that has led me to so much success. And most of my failures have come from doing things without Jesus. Because I have a tendency where I think that I can figure everything out. I’m a man, I like to problem-solve. And so the biggest problem for me is when I start to try and solve problems without Jesus, I get in a lot of trouble. My limited intelligence doesn’t come even anywhere close to the unlimited intelligence of Jesus who literally spoke the world into existence.
And so going back to what you said, success for me and how I’ve found and how I’ve done what I’ve done comes from a promise in scripture. Believe as in Matthew. Matthew says that if you seek Jesus privately, he will reward you publicly. This is one of my favorite scriptures because nobody has any idea what my morning looks like. No one knows about it except for me and Jesus and the rewards that I see. People see the outward rewards and they think, oh, how’d they get that? They have no idea that it came from that time that I invested with Jesus in the morning. You know, there’s a threefold process that starts from being discipline with Jesus and then it goes to being a duty and then it goes to being a delight. In 2014 it really became a delight for me to hang out with Jesus and that’s ultimately what’s made me so successful.
If I have any measure of success that people think I have, it’s come from him. Thank you for sharing that with us. Yeah. Thank you for asking. Again, we’ve been talking with Daniel Stein, founder of special strong, if you want to find out more about what they do and maybe how you can get connected with them. Special strong.com is the website to visit against special strong.com Daniel, thanks so much for joining us today, man. Yeah, thanks for having me, Brian. Absolutely, and thank you for listening to the community spotlight here on 89.7
Special Strong provides fitness and nutrition for special needs children, adolescents, and adults with autism and other disabilities. Through our online training platform, we also provide special needs fitness certification courses for personal trainers and service providers who want to work autism and other disabilities.