TAMPA, Fla. — Rachel Barcellona wanted to get in shape for the upcoming Miss Florida competition. She wanted a personal trainer who understood her needs.

Enter Mark Fleming.

“I’ve tried a lot of other gyms, but I just don’t think they were working for me,” she said. “It’s my first session and I’m liking it so far.”

Barcellona, 22, has epilepsy, autism and hemophilia. She chose Fleming’s Puzzle Piece Fitness because he understands how she feels.

“There are no role models for people with disabilities who may be into other things,” 30-year-old Fleming said.

Fleming, who attended college at the University of Alabama, fell in love with personal training early in life. He wanted to spend his career working with professional athletes. A college course on adaptive physical education opened his eyes to a bigger calling.

“I realized I could work with that population,” he said.

Fleming opened Puzzle Piece Fitness LLC on Feb. 23. He is a fitness pioneer who saw a need in the community he felt he could fix. He is the first trainer with autism to open a gym for people with autism in Tampa Bay.

“How (people with special needs) live isn’t as great because they’re just sitting at home and they’re not doing anything,” he said. “This hopefully can help their life that way and maybe help them get a job, become more social, just all the aspects that getting active can help with.”

Fleming used to run a mobile, in-home fitness business. He decided it was time for a physical location to host his growing list of clients.

“I think there needs to be more representation everywhere and if you can do that in the gym, then yes!” said Barcellona.

Puzzle Piece Fitness is located at 12651 Race Track Road in Tampa.

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