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Rappahannock Area YMCA breaks ground on outdoor tennis courts to honor Special Olympics gold medalist Jon Fried

Free Lance-Star - 9/26/2017

Sept. 26--When Jon Fried was born with developmental and physical disabilities in 1962, physicians prepared his parents for the worst.

"He's not going to walk or talk," they told them.

Fried's parents were not willing to accept that prognosis and did everything they could to make sure their son overcame his genetic obstacles and had a chance to thrive.

Today, Fried is a two-time gold medalist in tennis at the Special Olympics World Games.

On Monday, the Rappahannock Area YMCA broke ground on an outdoor tennis facility at the Massad branch in southern Stafford County that will be named for Fried. He played tennis in the Y's indoor facility with a few members after the groundbreaking while guests ate lunch and watched the exhibition.

Jon's brother, Adam Fried, is the chief executive officer of Atlantic Builders, which is donating the profits from a new house to the Y. About $125,000 of that gift will go toward the $450,000 tennis court project.

Atlantic made a similar donation to Loisann's Hope House earlier this year and the proceeds from that home were $200,000, said Gene Brown, vice president of Atlantic and a former president of the Y board. He said he expects a similar amount for the Y house and the remainder of the gift would be used for a planned refurbishment of the Massad Y's three gymnasiums.

Jon Fried's mother, Barbara, spoke Monday about the importance of inclusiveness and giving people the chance to excel. "Inclusiveness doesn't mean being invited to the dance," she said. "It means being asked to dance."

She asked the crowd of about 75 people to forgive her for bragging about her two sons, Jon for his athletic achievements and Adam for his philanthropy.

Adam Fried said he envisions his partnership with the Y helping to broaden fitness opportunities for special needs adults, a segment of the population that often leads a sedentary lifestyle. He also donated a specially designed exercise machine that the Massad Y will use to help Special Olympics athletes train for their events.

Rick Jeffrey, president of Special Olympics Virginia, attended Monday's ceremony and echoed Adam Fried's sentiments. He said more needs to be done to battle obesity and associated chronic health problems in the special needs adult population, and he commended the Rappahannock Y for its long-standing commitment to Special Olympics and people with disabilities.

"Getting people out to do more means more volunteers and more places like the YMCA," Jeffrey said.

Anysia Alhanati, special needs coordinator, said the Y serves more than 200 special needs adults each week through a variety of special exercise classes. More than 60 of the adults also volunteer to tend a community garden behind the Massad Y and help with special events such as the Creepy Crawly Carnival and the Turkey Trot.

Alhanati will begin training the local Special Olympics ski team next month using the machine donated by Fried. The local Special Olympics tennis and swimming teams also will be using it.

The tennis complex will offer more courts to get people of all ages and abilities swinging a racquet.

Barney Reiley, executive director of the YMCA, was inspired to expand the tennis offerings several years ago when he attended a tennis tournament at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in Washington. During the event, clinics were held for youth from all over the city.

He envisions replicating that by bringing children in from Fredericksburg-area communities who have not been exposed to tennis and by hosting tournaments that will bring visitors to the community.

"It's projects like this that bring us together," Reiley said. "We can do what I can't."

The Y has raised about $325,000 for the five-court project and needs about $125,000 more to construct restrooms and a concession stand. Site work will begin in October and Reiley said he expects people to be playing matches at the complex in March.

The Y's tennis director, Jim Light, said the prospect of the outdoor tennis center influenced his decision to accept the director job last fall. "We're really excited about the opportunity we're going to have to offer more programs for youth," he said.

That outreach into the community is part of the Y's core mission.

Atlantic's Brown, who has coached basketball at the Y and cheered for his own children in league games, said it's hard for him to put into words what the Y means to him and the impact it has on the community.

He said he can recall coaching a 9-year-old boy whose Y membership was covered by the organization's financial assistance program, which distributes $1 million in aid each year. The child's parents weren't very involved, but other players' parents made sure the boy always had a ride to practice and to games.

That relationship continued as the boy grew up, and Brown's former player recently drove to Emporia to watch one of Brown's children play in a softball tournament.

Brown, who helped bring Atlantic and the Y together for the tennis court project, said he can't wait to see it all come together.

"The YMCA's mission and Jon's story and this project are a match made in heaven," he said.

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(c)2017 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.)

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