Team GUTS, Inc:  Ferndale, MI

Got GUTS?  Proving That ANY Child Can Be an Athlete

Written by Paul Turner

Please allow me to introduce myself and my partner and brother, Todd. Todd and I come from a marketing and advertising background. However, our passion is, and always has been, working with children and we have been involved with youth sports for most of our life. We get a great deal of satisfaction helping these kids grow in self-confidence and self-esteem.


Over 8 years ago, my brother and my sister-in-law gave birth to a beautiful young girl named Amarissa. Amarissa was born with Down syndrome. When Amarissa was roughly 4 years old, she regressed in her development, especially her speech. It wasn’t long after that Amarissa was diagnosed with a dual diagnosis. She was also autistic. Certainly, it was difficult but it did not deter my brother and sister-in-law from providing Amarissa with the healthiest and happiest life possible.

Team GUTS, Inc.

To that end, my brother and I were intent on creating a fitness and exercise environment for all children with special needs and disabilities. Additionally, we targeted teenagers and adults with special needs and disabilities.

In brief, Team GUTS was created to improve the lives of the special needs population by providing one-on-one training, fitness classes and sports programs. Our goal is to help as many families as possible; no family will be turned away due to inability to pay, and Team GUTS provides financial assistance to those families in need.  

These activities are especially important for the special needs community given the unique challenges they face in remaining fit.  With respect to the Down Syndrome community, research indicates low fitness levels and obesity despite data that indicate physiological gains from physical activity and exercise interventions. Low fitness levels and obesity in individuals with Down Syndrome are thought to be related to sedentary lifestyles, the lack of social and recreational opportunities, or low motivation to be physically active (Volume 12, Issue 1, July 2007, Down Syndrome Research and Practice). Consequently, there is a prevalence of obesity in children, adolescents and adults with Down Syndrome.

The Impact

We discovered that the special needs community is substantial; in Oakland County alone, there are over 20,000 families with special needs family members.  Furthermore, there are limited options for these families with respect to physical activities, especially consistent physical activities throughout the year. 

Our Accomplishments

We are still a nascent company and, as such, we really have much work to do. Even so, we are making steady progress. We offer several classes and programs including martial arts, Zumba, yoga, Hip Hop Dance, Autism Movement Therapy, Sensations Dance, one-on-one fitness training, cycling, athletic training and golf. And, we have so much more on the horizon. For a better idea of what we currently offer, please visit


Here are some stories from some of our families:

The dance student, Chelsea, was sure to tell me that she “dropped 20 pounds from [this] class”! Macy Damon’s parents both told me that they definitely will be back in the fall to Autism Movement Therapy and Kate Israel’s mother, Molly, really wants Kate to continue Autism Movement Therapy as soon as possible. Oh, and the newer student, Lilliana, her mother did mention that she liked (and will continue in the fall) how Autism Movement Therapy was beneficial in a “better way” from her dance class (somewhere else).

One of the Troy school district teachers told me how she had never seen one young man participate as much as he did in my Autism Movement Therapy class. Another one of them said how they couldn’t believe how engaged they were….”they need this instead of gym class”. It was either Troy or Southfield that made this last comment…. 

Melanie Johnson, Dance Instructor

My daughter loved the class. Her dance skills improved, which helped her other activities. She improved her coordination and, most importantly, she had fun. Each week, she looked forward to her Zumba class. She couldn’t wait to get in the car and go. It’s a great form of exercise and a fun activity. Any chance that we have to get our kids moving, plus they enjoy the activity, it is a wonderful thing! Thank you for offering this class. 

Caterina De Falco, Mother

Paige enjoyed the camaraderie of her Zumba Class!  She looked forward to seeing her instructor and work-out friends every week. Physical activity is challenging for Paige and she benefits by having someone other than her parents getting her moving and excited about working out. Thanks for keeping her healthy, see you in the fall.

Kathy Tenjeras, Mother 

Taylor looks forward to his training session with Jake.  He plans his whole day around his workout!

Joanne Spence, Mother 

Gabby and Duncan really loved the yoga classes. Both commented on how much it helped them to calm their brains down.

I’m sure they would love to do it again. They both hope there would be more kids who want to do it too. While they liked the martial arts class they tried, both were overly tired out by it & their brains were racing afterwards. They didn’t like that part.

Their brains race all day. Finding something to calm them is great. Plus, yoga goes slow enough for their slow processing speeds.

Laurel Smith, Mother  

As you probably already know, we love your Zumba classes! Ann Marie is great and the rest of the staff is very friendly and really cares about our “special” kids. 

Peggy Branch, Mother  

He (son) loved everything about the karate class. 

Sandy Hawley, Mother

Jessica really enjoys the martial arts class with Sensei Dave! She was very sad that classes had to stop for the summer. From my point of view, Dave is an incredibly patient person, does a great job explaining techniques, and does so in a positive way, making all of his students “feel” their accomplishments. It is so important for all of us have as many positive influences in our lives as possible, and to be told that we are doing a great job. Who doesn’t like that! I like working with Jessica, and I am learning the art as well. That makes it truly something we can do together. My only complaint is that there is only 1 class each week! Any possibility of adding another day?

With regard to Zumba, Ann-Marie is so fun and energetic! Jessica loves to dance, yet it is often hard for her to complete that full hour immediately following martial arts. I often do Zumba with the class, and I love it! Ann-Marie makes everyone feel welcome, and makes sure all members are involved by talking to them and letting them know they are doing a great job. Again, my only complaint is having only that 1 class & time available.

As a whole, I think the classes are incredibly important, as they help people who may not be able to take traditional exercise/martial arts classes. Jessica is capable of those traditional classes, yet I feel the dynamic of the individuals involved makes the classes offered at GUTS more worthwhile. We are all better people because of our involvement with those who have abilities-not disabilities, that differ from our own!

Aimee Brinker, Mother


How The Community Help?

It goes without saying; every organization needs money to survive. Certainly, we are no different. We are always looking for donations and grants.

Importantly, we need to reach more families that would benefit from our programs and classes. Word of mouth is key. Moreover, it’s always good to share our story via traditional media, social media.

Finally, we are looking for volunteers and instructors. There are talented people that have a unique skill set and experience working with the special needs community. We want to speak with these individuals. So, once again, getting the word out is key.


If you would like to get involved in the Team GUTS, please use the information below to get in touch with the team.

Team GUTS, Inc.

Ferndale, MI