Fit for Autism amazes spectators in Belleville while raising money for a good cause

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

BELLEVILLE, NJ — Fit for Autism, an event created by Victor Martinez in 2007, was held on April 30 at Signature Fitness in Belleville. The event raised $5,000 for Autism Speaks, a nonprofit organization that promotes autism advocacy and research. Signature Fitness, a community gym focused on group fitness classes, has held the event for three consecutive years in honor of National Autism Awareness Month.

The event has been successfully held 10 times between 2007 and 2022. After a hiatus of a few years, the event moved to Signature Fitness.

The most recent Fit for Autism was the most successful.

“It doesn’t matter where we move it to, somebody always knows somebody who’s been affected by autism,” Martinez told the Belleville Post. “That’s why I don’t care if we get 10 people or 100 people — I can give my time.”

Martinez, a competitive bodybuilder, created Fit for Autism with the assistance of his friend and colleague Angelica Driskell, following the diagnosis of his two sons, Justin and Jared.

“It was dark times, because we didn’t have any answers about what their life would be like,” Martinez said. “They’re angels, but it was hard because we didn’t know where to go for help.”

Martinez was inspired to find a way to raise money for the only organization that he felt was providing aid to families facing an autism diagnosis.

“We reached out to (Autism Speaks) and we told them, you know, how we wanted to make this event, and they were like, ‘Yeah, OK, here’s some literature and you can use our logo,’ and so since then any money we raise goes to them,” Martinez said. He elaborated that the money raised is not earmarked for any specific programs or initiatives but goes to Autism Speaks’ overall operating fund, to be used for whatever the organization thinks is best.

William Blazeski, manager and director of strength and conditioning at Signature Fitness in Belleville, was enthusiastic about hosting Fit for Autism at the gym.

“Essentially, Victor would come by Signature Fitness quite often over the past few years, and we got to get a little closer with him on a personal level, and he let us know that this is something that it hadn’t happened for a few years and we were just kind of like organically, ‘Let’s make this happen; let’s facilitate it.’ And it just came to be that way,” Blazeski said. “Since then, we’ve just been trying to make the event bigger and bigger.”

The town of Belleville provided a firetruck for the truck pull, and Belleville Mayor Michael Melham was in attendance to greet participants and spectators. Martinez was extremely grateful to the township for its support.

“You know, these guys are great. They show up — (specifically) the mayor. They lend us the truck and block off the streets. They take pictures with the kids and make it a party,” Martinez said. “Parents get to bring their sons and daughters that have autism to see a bunch of people who care about them. I really take my time with them, showing them the different things we’re doing, and make them feel that we care — the community cares about their families and their struggles.” 

Four types of challenges were held for participants: a group spinning class, a bench press, a deadlift and a fire truck pull. Competitors paid a $20 entry fee per category. Approximately 100 individuals took part in Fit for Autism — about 60 community members and 40 gym employees/organizers. Winners of each category, along with two raffle ticket winners, received gift baskets filled with tools and snacks for the avid fitness enthusiast. Each basket included a weight belt valued at $150, provided by Martinez and his organizers.

Leonardo Berrezueta, who goes by “Coach Trilogy Fit,” placed second in the dead lift portion at the 2022 event, which was his first year competing.

“Obviously this is for a good cause, but honestly I’m just so excited to have gotten to be a part of an event that brings competing and making a spectacle, and I mean that in the best way possible, but that brings a community of people who love fitness and competition together,” Berrezueta said. “I wanted to do the charity aspect but getting to be with a group of people who not only wanted to compete and win but also wanted to raise as much awareness about this condition, autism, too, was just amazing.

“It’s definitely something I want to continue in the future,” he added.

Blazeski has worked with children with autism in the past and is always eager to participate in Fit for Autism.

“I worked at a camp in Connecticut as a recreation director, and I worked with a lot of kids on the spectrum as well. It wasn’t something that directly affected my family personally, but … me and my peers always enjoyed helping anyone and bringing a smile to their faces,” Blazeski said. “And there’s a magic involved; a spectacle is the word we use. So every year, I pull the fire truck at the end to see all the kids’ faces.”

The best part, according to Blazeski, is hearing the children in the crowd saying, “That’s amazing, wow, look at that!” repeatedly.

“That’s really why I want to make it as big as we can,” Blazeski said. “To hear and know that Victor’s kids are on the spectrum, it’s just something really personal that we get to help with.”

Fit for Autism 2023 is already scheduled to be held at Signature Fitness in Belleville on the last weekend in April. In the meantime, Martinez will be raising even more funds for Autism Speaks at his “Victor Martinez Legends” event on Aug. 27 at Hostos Community College in the Bronx, N.Y.

Photos Courtesy of Leonardo Berrezueta and William Blazeski