As the founder and former owner of World of Gymnastics, Laura Mikszan spent her career focused on physical fitness. After selling her business, she decided to turn her attention to helping those less fortunate and founded the nonprofit Fitfully Forward.
“Since I was a little girl, I remember having a burning desire to help others and make them feel good about themselves,” Mikszan said. “I launched Fitfully Forward with the sole purpose of improving the health and wellness of our community members. We center our efforts on the under-resourced, those who do not have access to facilities or resources — individuals with special needs, underprivileged children and families, the aging and veterans. We exist to ensure these populations receive opportunities for fitness and dance to improve overall health, physically, mentally and emotionally.”
Mikszan gained 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in April 2021, and she and her team developed three main programs to achieve Fitfully Forward’s mission.
- Warriors of Wonder (WOW). The WOW program uses fitness as a mechanism to stimulate discussions for future planning and goal setting for high-functioning adults on the autism spectrum.
- Pay it Forward. The Pay it Forward peer facility program is for individuals on the autism spectrum who are aging out of high school.
- Outreach. Partnering with community organizations through the Outreach program, Fitfully Forward staff members serve local children, seniors and veterans to bring fitness programs to their location.
Fitfully Forward also is involved with the Special Olympics, and has gained team status under the umbrella of the DanceSport division. Mikszan’s connection with Louis Van Amstel from “Dancing with the Stars” inspired this involvement. Van Amstel is the creator of the renowned dance fitness program, LaBlast. Van Amstel created LaBlast after seeing dramatic body transformations that some of his dance partners achieved while on the show. Mikszan, a certified LaBlast instructor, was named 2020 Instructor of the Year and uses this method of dance in her fitness programs.
Van Amstel held open LaBlast classes at Madlife Stage and Studios in Woodstock, as well as the Cherokee Recreation Center, with Mikszan before her nonprofit gained official status. He came to Cherokee County to help implement a pilot program in Georgia and to help raise funds and awareness for Special Olympics DanceSport.
“Dance is such a powerful way to unify people across age, fitness level and abilities,” Mikszan said. “The LaBlast fitness program works great with our participants. It is easy for them to catch on and, at the same time, provides a great workout.”
Van Amstel, three-time World Dance Champion, has been named the Special Olympics Dance Ambassador. He joined forces with celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenagger, Jason Mraz and Princess Charlene of Monaco to celebrate the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. “I’m so proud of all the athletes involved in the Special Olympics. They might be diagnosed with a disability, but they sure focus on their abilities!” Van Amstel said. He is returning to Madlife on Jan. 28 to raise funds for the Special Olympics DanceSport team.
Fitfully Forward’s Special Olympics Cherokee County dance team, led by Cora Browning, is called the Warrior Cats. “I love the Special Olympics dance team, because it offers the opportunity for individuals in my community to express themselves through movement,” Browning said. “I also love being a captain. I have never been one before. Many girls like me, on the spectrum and with Turner syndrome, don’t get the opportunity to be a captain, so it is really cool that I got the chance!”
For more information and volunteer opportunities, visit fitfullyforward.org. Stay tuned for details on the visit from Van Amstel, Dance-A-Thons, 5Ks and more.
– Susan Schulz is a Bible teacher and mentor who lives and plays on the Etowah River in Canton. Connect with her on social media or at susanbrowningschulz.com.