Photos courtesy of Mark Oliver. Mark Oliver started the Specially Fit program that now has over 400 clients with nine training locations.

Mark Oliver has always defied the odds, persevering in many different situations in his life.

His mother had him at the age of 14, and he grew up in a working-class neighborhood. Not only did he make the USF football team as a walk-on after previously being cut, but he was the first in his family to graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree.

The former USF football player went on to start his own gym right out of college, and became ranked among the top one percent of CrossFit athletes in the country in each of the last five years.

In January, Oliver, a personal trainer, started the Specially Fit nonprofit program that trains people with intellectual disabilities how to effectively stay in shape year-round, with lessons on a weekly basis. Specially Fit now trains over 400 people at nine different training locations, including the Brandon Swim and Aquatic Center. His powerlifting team, which is the largest in Hillsborough County, competes in Special Olympics events year-round.

“When I started the Specially Fit program, I got really close to the families and it really reminded me of my childhood,” said Oliver. “I found out that there’s so many people that are overlooked and underestimated.”

Oliver is happy giving an opportunity to his clients, who remind him of himself growing up.

“All I needed was a football and a coach,” he said. “These individuals just needed opportunities and support to become more active and live a better life.”

Oliver has always been keen on helping others. He has taken several clients with special needs under his wing and has trained them for free. That desire to help people has led to Oliver’s decision to run for the Florida House of Representatives, District 59 as a Democrat.

“I have dedicated myself to providing young people with disabilities the opportunity and support to overcome obstacles and fulfill their promise. I will do the same for the people of District 59,” said Oliver.

Oliver never thought that he would run for office. It was never a dream of his as a kid. He decided that he wanted to run when he got closer to the families with special needs. According to Oliver, the area is ranked 48th in the special needs community. He said that he spoke to several legislators about the special needs community and he wasn’t satisfied.

“At that moment, I felt like this was my calling,” said Oliver.

On Saturday, October 19, Oliver will host a campaign kickoff party. For more information, visit MarkForFlorida.com.