Aishwarya Sabharwal playing with a child at GigFit
Aishwarya Sabharwal was inspired by her mother, who was a school teacher for individuals on the autism spectrum to follow a similar career path.
Courtesy of Aishwarya Sabharwal

Aishwarya Sabharwal, a junior majoring in exercise science in the Department of Kinesiology and Health, has teamed up with her classmates to run GigiFit programs for kids, teens, and adults with Down syndrome. The goal of the program is to help improve movement skills, strength and fitness.

This opportunity is the result of a cross-collaboration between the Child Sensorimotor Development, Kinesiology, and Health Initiative, directed by Lisa Rossman Murphy, an assistant teaching professor at the Department of Kinesiology and Health, and the nonprofit organization Gigi's Playhouse, which offers free programs and services for individuals with Down syndrome and their families. The students in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University-New Brunswick are gaining valuable experience while applying principles learned in class.

We sat down with Sabharwal to find out more about her experience.

Tell us about the GigiFit Program and what you and your fellow students are doing.

The GigiFit program at Gigi's Playhouse is a beacon of inclusivity and empowerment, designed to enhance the physical abilities and confidence of individuals with Down syndrome. As a student volunteer, I am deeply involved in the adult GigiFit program, which is part of a broader initiative encompassing sessions for children and teens as well. Our aim is to leverage movement skills, strength, and fitness to bring about a significant impact on the lives of our participants.

Students in the GigFit program
The goal of the GigiFit program is to help improve movement skills, strength and fitness.

What’s your favorite part about running this program?

My favorite aspect of running the GigiFit program is the joy and satisfaction derived from employing my group fitness trainer skills and the knowledge gained from GigiFit training – crafted by a physical therapist – to creatively enrich the lives of young adults with Down syndrome. Witnessing their enjoyment and their ability to incorporate these new physical activities into their lives is incredibly rewarding. The opportunity to teach them skills that they can share with their families extends the impact beyond the sessions, fulfilling my desire to contribute positively to the lives of others. The strength and potential these young adults possess are eye-opening, affirming the belief that with the right resources, they are capable of achieving great things.

Has this program contributed to your career goals?

The GigiFit program allows me to apply and adapt exercises developed by physical therapists into fun, engaging activities that promote a sense of achievement among participants. This experience aligns perfectly with my lifelong dedication to working with children on the spectrum. Growing up with a mother who was a school teacher for individuals on the spectrum, I developed a deep admiration for their unique qualities and knew I wanted to make a difference in their lives. My Sunday sessions with these incredible people are not only fulfilling but also reaffirm my passion for this career path. Feedback from parents who observe the sessions and express their appreciation for the activities further motivates me, underscoring the tangible impact of our efforts.

Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you and the GigiFit program?

It's important to highlight the patience and adaptability required in this program. Each session with these incredible young adults is a learning experience, filled with joy, challenges, and unforgettable memories. I'm eager to see more student volunteers join us in making a difference through the GigiFit program at Gigi's Playhouse. Our collective efforts contribute to a supportive community, fostering growth and unlocking the potential of individuals with Down syndrome through physical activity and engagement.