ENCINO, Calif. — It's been the year of Zoom, but college student Ethan Epstein has found a way to escape the never-ending screen time through ZOOZ — a workout studio in Encino.
But ZOOZ is far more than a workout studio, and Epstein isn't a typical college student. He has autism and has faced challenges with speech, cognition, and coordination, he said. He is enrolled in a UCLA program specifically for people with special needs. When he and his mother Jill heard about ZOOZ fitness specializing in working with people like Ethan, they were thrilled, and he was signed up for classes right away.
"It helps me get stronger and change who I am," Epstein said.
His mother was also relieved the gym and workouts, which happen online or at the studio space in Encino, gave structure to her son's day.
"It's not been challenging for Ethan to be at home, it's just been challenging to find things for him to do, but thanks to ZOOZ, he has something to do," Jill Epstein said. "We are lucky."
Jake Weiner, the owner of ZOOZ, has worked with the special needs population for many years. He's a certified personal trainer and certified fitness instructor through the National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability. He said he loves helping people with special needs overcome challenges and discover their strengths in and out of the gym.
"I grew attached to this population. They are incredibly real, inspiring, and authentic," Weiner said. "When I was thinking about my impact, I kept remembering this population that I love so much. I wanted to get them moving and saw there was a need for this."
Traditional gyms can be overwhelming and uncomfortable for people with special needs and autism in particular. Weiner stripped back a lot of classic gym culture. There are no mirrors at ZOOZ, no flashing lights, and no loud music.
"No one with any sensory issues is going to come in here and say, this is not for me," Weiner said.
He has developed workouts that cater to different strengths and weaknesses in his clients. With Epstein, he uses colorful markers to help him with coordination. All the equipment in the gym is adaptable to accommodate any physical challenges.
Weiner loves seeing his clients get stronger but says it's about far more than muscles.
"There are these negative stigmas around disability, but they are able to do everything and more. They are able to rise to the occasion, whether it's fitness, academically, [or] socially, when given the proper opportunity."
During one of his workouts, Ethan came up with a motto, "there are no excuses, and there is no quitting."
It's a lesson he learned working out at ZOOZ, and it's a motto he brings to life.