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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

East Coast United Breaks Out of the Box

East Coast United 
Breaks Out of the Box:
Joe Oppedisano committed to spotlighting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
By Mike Lauterborn
(posted to 7/26)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – “It’s live and real, hands-on, with students going through and performing the actual moves,” said Joe Oppedisano, speaking about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, one of several action sports he teaches and offers through East Coast United, a fitness facility he opened at 1496 Post Road in Fairfield Center last May.

The 2,400-square-foot ground level space, which abuts Fairfield Center Jewelers, also features boxing, self-defense, ultimate fitness, cardio kickboxing, muay thai and personal training. On August 15, he will move into a new space at Fairfield’s Sportsplex.

Oppedisano was raised in Westport, where he attended Staples High School and captained both the wrestling and football teams. After achieving FCIAC honors in both sports, he went on to play collegiate football at Western Connecticut. The martial arts enthusiast has spent the last eight years focused on the study, training and competition of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has performed at the highest level at renown competitions like the Pan-American, Naga and BJJ World Championships.

At his Fairfield studio, which encompasses a 1,500-square-foot wall-to-wall mat, Oppedisano guides over 100 clients from all levels of experience on unique strength, technical and cardiovascular training exercises. Students come from all area towns, Trumbull through Norwalk.

Mornings, women participate in an Ultimate Fitness class. Fairfielder Ellen LoGuidice, who has taken the class for the past three months, said it’s very challenging and different than anything else she had ever tried. “In the past, I’ve done step classes and running. This routine changes all the time and intervals are timed. You’d never realize how hard it is to do a certain number of reps for one minute straight.”

Classmate and fellow Fairfielder Kelly Orsoni said her daughter, who is a college athlete, started going to ECU, at night, while Orsoni was going to a local gym. “She told me that what I’m getting is nothing compared to what Joe offers,” said Orsoni. “It’s very intense and he pushes you farther than you can imagine. Joe’s love for children is also incredible.”

Women’s Self-Defense classes meet midday and are led, in part, by Joe’s niece, Gabriella Oppedisano, 15, from Trumbull. She teaches kids ages 5 to 10. “They’re fun and eager to learn,” she said. “I’ve been doing this consistently for a year, and have learned a lot. I feel confident that I could successfully defend myself.”

Sarah Wojnarski, 29, of Fairfield, is just starting to gain that confidence. She began taking Jiu-Jitsu a month ago, though had worked out at ECU for a year prior. “I chose this gym environment over other area facilities like The Edge and Planet Fitness, which are more like social clubs,” she said. “This is a serious setting in which I can not only get a great workout but also learn a martial art and self-defense. I watch the news every night and there’s always some story about a lady getting attacked. I want to be prepared just in case. I want to feel empowered that I can defend myself.”

Wojnarski works out at ECU four days a week for an hour-and-a-half a day. The program is having an impact, she says. “My body is changing so rapidly in such a short period of time. I’m stronger, more toned and more flexible. Joe’s a great instructor. You can see he has a passion for this. Coming to this class, you feel you’re not lost in the crowd – he gives you personal attention and you get a feeling of belonging.”

Fairfielder Alex Leykikh, a state champion wrestler in high school, University of Virginia and Penn State collegiate wrestler, three-time Divison 1 national qualifier and ACC Big 10 champ, said Jiu-Jitsu is a natural evolution after wrestling. “It’s more fun and can be implemented in a real-life situation if ever needed,” he said. “There’s really nothing like it. It tests your will, mentally and physically. Joe’s extremely technical, which makes it very interesting.”

Coming off a soccer injury, Luis Gonzalez, 22, of Tuckahoe, NY, wanted an exercise program that wouldn’t put pressure on his knee and would keep him fit. “The more I learn about Jiu-Jitsu, the more I want to continue to explore.”

Gonzalez has now decided to start training for a Jiu-Jitsu competition next year. “I want to prove to myself what I’ve learned,” he said.

Oppedisano said most students come to him just wanting to feel more confident in themselves. “I have local moms and dads that have come here for specific guidance in defending themselves to protect their family in an emergency situation,” he said. “I’m big on using the body as a substitute for weights. In other words, we tone up just by working with each other and going through the motions.”

Overall, Oppedisano said Jiu-Jitsu grows every day. He competes all over the world every year so that he can be at competition-level readiness, always. “I tell parents all the time, I have the ability to make your child a champion.”

For more information about East Coast United, call 203-355-1871 or visit

Sundays are Super at Mahackeno Outdoor Center

Sundays are Super at Mahackeno Outdoor Center
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Happy squeals of kids splashing around in a pool, the drifting smell of burgers and hot dogs on a grill, and the thunk of arrows hitting a target. It was Summer Sunday once again at Mahackeno Outdoor Center and area families were taking full advantage, making the best of a sticky, humid afternoon.

This was the third Sunday of July the event had been scheduled and there would be just one more for the summer – July 31 – in a first-time program hosted by the Westport/Weston Family Y at the 37 Rices Lane facility. Families could engage in a wide range of activities including archery, horseshoes, canoeing, a playground, basketball and swimming, as well as enjoy a barbecue lunch. These Sunday events are free for Westport/Weston Y members and just $20 per family for non-members.

“The pool has always been open during the summer for members only, but just the pool,” explained Shelley Moll, Health & Wellness Director for the Y. “Now we have opened up more of the facilities for everyone’s usage.”

Enjoying the pool with her family in tow, Fairfielder Melissa Flanary said her son Sean, 7, goes to camp at Mahackeno and really wanted to show everyone what the facilities were like. “Today was a good opportunity to do that,” she said.

Melissa’s husband Mike was especially grateful to be in the pool, noting, “I was one of the unlucky commuters on the train Friday that broke down between Westport and Green’s Farms, five minutes from my stop. I was stuck on the train for an hour and a half and another hour waiting at the station for another train to take us out. It was torture, essentially being stuck in a metal box in the sun.”

Amanda Beall of Fairfield, whose daughter Lilly Chin is a Mahackeno summer camper as well, was loving the pool, too. “We don’t have other access to an outdoor pool,” she said. “It’s been so hot that this is a great way to cool off. It was this or the movie theater. This won out as it got started earlier and we can take greater advantage of the day.”

Scott Smith, the Y’s Communications Director, said the pool had become the more popular activity of all those offered because of the lasting heat spell. “The first couple of Summer Sundays, our archery, climbing wall and canoe station were mobbed with people as the temps were cooler and because the activities are not common to most people’s experience,” he said. “Now we’ve got this humid weather and everyone wants to stay in the pool. This is the only shaded public pool in town, so it’s a popular destination.”

Watching her son, Evan, 8, shoot arrows into a target in the Center’s archery area, Robyn Defonce of Fairfield remarked, “We did this last weekend and the kids had so much fun that we decided to come again. Twenty dollars is a great value for lunch, swimming and all the activities.”

Playing basketball with his six-year-old son Kyle, another Mahackeno summer camper, Weston resident Kevin Barry said, “We thought we’d enjoy the facilities together on a hot summer afternoon.”

Stepping from the pool to the grill, Jeannette Buchanan of Stamford, who was joined by her husband Jim and daughter Kianna, 9, said their friends had invited them along. “What a great way to spend time as a family – a family day in the woods.”

Sunday, July 31, 11am-4pm, is the last Summer Sunday of the year at Mahackeno Outdoor Center, 37 Rices Lane, Westport. For more information, email, call 203-226-8981 or visit