Little Friends in Big UFC Gym

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Little Friends of Naperville visit the UFC Gym owned by Matt Kuschert and Ricardo Lamas for an afternoon of hard work and laughter.

Sometimes a gym… is more than a gym.

Matt: We are eternally humble that people trust us to do a good job with this. It is something that we take very, very seriously. And a lot of thought goes into it. And we just want to make sure that people are training safely and getting results.

Matt Kuschert is a co-owner of the UFC Gym in Naperville. Along with UFC-Star Ricardo Lamas, they haven’t just opener their doors to the public, but to Little Friends – a non-profit organization serving people with developmental disabilities, in a joint effort to bring exercise to the individuals in the program.

Ricardo: Every time they’re here, every one of them has a positive mindset, they’re all smiling, they’re cracking jokes with us. They just enjoy being here. I think it’s a chance for them to get out and try something new, get a little workout in and help them feel good about themselves.

The partnership is unique, and also unexpected. UFC, or Ultimate Fighting Championship, is an often-bloody sport where many of the world’s great martial artist battle in the octagon. And it’s that stigma that makes it difficult to sell the gym’s values of health and empowerment.

Ricardo: One of the hurdles we had to get over are the letters there on the brick façade. UFC. People see that and they think of people punching each other, blood, and violence and that’s not what this gym is about. They is a family-friendly gym, 98% of our members will never step foot inside a cage in their life. But they come here to get a good workout and empower themselves and feel better about themselves. And use our training modalities to help reach their fitness goals.

Matt: The overwhelming majority of our members are just trying to stay in shape or empower themselves, or learn how to defend themselves. Or find a fun way to work out that kind of breaks up monotony of tradition fitness.

Nicole: You hear UFC gym and you think oooo you’re hesitant to make that move. So we talked to our guys if they had any interest and believe it or not, a lot of our guys were interested – wanted to come, check it out.

And so they did. Nicole Fox and her staff buss 10 to 12 members to the gym and have been doing it for months… to rave reviews.

Steven: It’s nice, it’s a lot of work if you like running and stuff like that. Just getting together with great people in here and stuff like that, I enjoy it, I really do.

Nicole: They’re looking forward to it everyday and they’re feeling good about themselves, they’re feeling healthy. They come back talking about it and they talk about it for the rest of the week. So it’s been a lot of fun.

Keone: They come in here with an amazing attitude, and they show they can do anything. It cool to see them do things that most people don’t think they can do. They come in here ready to work and listen very, very well and they respond very, very well too.

Keone Dorain is relatively new to the gym, having just graduated from Elmhurst in the spring. He’s been working with Little Friends, as well as other local groups.

Keone: Being able to work with Little Friends, I’ve actually done a few work outs with the marine recruiting stations here in the area as well too. So it’s really cool to see different people come to us or us come to them and show them what we have to offer and show them a great time.

The gym is also a hub for people from all walks of life. A place to get stronger, in more ways than one.

Matt: Nothing moves me more than watching somebody who walked in here with maybe their shoulders down, their head down and lacking confidence and then to see them in just a few weeks time hold themselves a little higher, chest is out a little bit, head is up, a smile on their face.

Plenty of smiles, plenty of sweat and plenty of high fives highlight a fun day for Little Friends at the UFC gym. Which is more than just your average gym.

Reporting for Sports Story Sunday, I’m Kevin Jackman