The Ripple Effect: Nic DeCaire

Nic DeCaire, owner of Fusion Fitness is raising funds for an all inclusion playground in Newark.
Nic DeCaire, owner of Fusion Fitness is raising funds for an all inclusion playground in Newark.

Sure, Nic DeCaire fears some things. He’s not crazy about climbing a ladder. And he isn’t thrilled when he has to drive over long bridges.

But present the Wilmington University graduate with a large-scale charitable project, and the man is pretty much fearless.

Take the time last October when the 35-year-old DeCaire and a friend began discussing the need for an adaptive playground for handicapped kids in his hometown, Newark, Del. “There’s no 100 percent, or even 90 percent, adaptive playground in New Castle County,” he says.

The two friends did a little research and found that such a facility would cost about $500,000.

“I said, ‘OK, let’s do it,’” says DeCaire. “How? I had no idea. But we just started raising money.”

Within four months, they had one-tenth of the necessary funding. They hope to have all of it by the end of the year.

The playground is the latest manifestation of a motto DeCaire coined: “Throw the stone, create the ripple. Don’t wait for others to do it.”

He explains the maxim this way: “I believe people want to help, but maybe they don’t know how to get involved. I do. I’m not afraid to step up and say, ‘let’s do this.’ I’m not afraid to say, ‘let’s build a half-million-dollar playground,’ even if I have no clue about how to go about it.”

DeCaire’s extensive charitable work emanates from his business, Fusion Fitness, on Newark’s Main Street. He opened it in 2006, a year after graduating from WilmU, where he learned the basics that have helped the gym thrive.

“Early on,” he says, “we were looking for a house charity.” Among his members was a Newark policeman who mentioned the department’s need for K-9 dogs, an expense not funded by the city’s budget. DeCaire immediately latched onto the cause.

To raise money, he organized The Main Street Mile, a race from the Newark Library to one of the town’s landmarks, the Deer Park Tavern. It’s an easy, flat course that’s welcoming to beginners, and it attracted hundreds of runners.

Three years later, he launched a related event, The Battle of the Bars, in which community leaders act as guest bartenders at area establishments and compete for the most tips and drink sales. Over the past decade, the race and the bar battle have raised approximately $100,000 for the K-9 fund. “Each dog costs between $10,000 and $12,000,” says DeCaire. “That includes equipment, ongoing training, etc.”

Demonstrating the ripple effect, The Main Street Mile gave birth to another charitable cause. Two years ago DeCaire received an email from the father of Andrew Peffley, a youngster who suffers from myelomeningocele, a type of spina bifida. Andrew can’t walk, but he uses a hand cycle to participate in races. The father explained that area races wouldn’t allow his son to participate because of liability issues, and asked if Andrew could take part in the Main Street Mile.

Naturally, DeCaire said yes, and he even walked with Andrew during the race. “I saw the joy on his face and watched how everyone cheered for him,” he says. Moved by the experience, DeCaire made some inquiries and found out that Andrew’s adaptive bicycle had been donated by Preston’s March for Energy, a non-profit based in Wilmington. Named after 17-year-old Preston Buenaga, who suffers from mitochondrial disease, which affects the brain, nerves and muscles, Preston’s provides bikes to children with special needs.

DeCaire looked up the organization on the Internet, called them, and asked how much each bike cost to build. “Eighteen-hundred dollars,” came the answer. “We’ll raise enough money to buy one,” he responded.

He quickly organized a fitness challenge with a “biggest loser” theme among teams made up of Fusion Fitness members. In four weeks, they raised $7,200 — enough to buy four bikes.

And the ripples kept spreading. This time it started with Deb Buenaga, Preston’s mother. “She runs with Preston, pushing him in a stroller during the race. It’s called inclusion running,” says DeCaire.

One day last year, he says, “Deb called me because she was upset that a local race had turned them away, saying it was a liability.”

Appalled, DeCaire — as usual — sprang into action. He and Buenaga organized the Inclusion Means Everyone 5K, held on the Fourth of July last year at Delaware Technology Park in Newark.

The name of the race is meant literally, says DeCaire. “No matter what your ability was, you could participate. We had 220 participants, and 25 percent of them were handicapped. Some were amputees. We had wheelchairs, strollers, adaptive bicycles — you name it. And everyone had a good time. It’s going to be an annual event.”

Proceeds went to supporting instruction of adaptive physical education in Delaware schools. “Not every school knows how to teach adaptive P.E.,” says DeCaire, “so a child with a disability sometimes has to sit on the sidelines. And we don’t want them sitting on the sidelines because they’re at higher risk for obesity and other health issues than other kids.”

The response was overwhelming. “So,” he says, “we set up another race in October outside the Christiana Mall — a 5K loop.” Again, the event generated a large, enthusiastic crowd.

Inspired, Deb Buenaga and DeCaire met following the race and hatched the idea for a completely adaptive playground. Since then, they’ve been able to secure the land from the City of Newark.

“It’ll be 8,400 square feet with a completely rubberized surface, as opposed to sand or mulch,” DeCaire says. “It’ll have handicapped ramps all throughout it, so kids can go from one end to the other on wheelchairs. After we build it, we’re gifting the land over to the city and they’ll maintain it.”

Born and raised in Newark, DeCaire says both of his parents were major influences on him and his two older sisters. He seems to have inherited the charitable gene from his father, Xavier, a partner in an insurance agency, who was heavily involved in Operation Smile when Nic was younger. Xavier made eight trips to Bolivia and Ecuador for Operation Smile, which provides cleft lip and palate repair surgeries to children worldwide. He subsequently became involved in Kids with Confidence, which makes funds available to kids in the greater Delaware Valley to help correct physical differences that weaken their self-esteem and confidence.

The path that led DeCaire to Fusion Fitness started as a teenage passion for powerlifting and bodybuilding. Both sports can be self-involved under-takings, so it’s somewhat surprising that he now spends so much time helping others.

He explains his attitude this way: “Those sports taught me discipline, not arrogance.”

He did well in bodybuilding, winning state and local titles, and even better in powerlifting. At 17 and 198 pounds, he won national recognition, bench-pressing 300 pounds, squatting 500 pounds and dead-lifting 500.

After graduating from St. Mark’s High School in Wilmington in 1998, he became a personal trainer, and his client list quickly increased to the point that he was working 60-hour weeks. That was great for his bank account — he was able to buy a house when he was just 20 — but not for his education. He had enrolled at the University of Delaware, but found himself falling asleep in class. He discussed his situation with his parents, and decided to drop out of UD after a year-and-a-half.

He continued to train clients. “But,” he says, “I knew I wanted to someday open my own fitness center.”

To do that, he felt a need to complete his education. “I knew having a degree was going to be important if I went for loans and that kind of thing. Plus, I knew fitness, I knew the body, but I didn’t know business.”

In 2003, he decided to enroll in Wilmington University after hearing about it from a friend. “I really didn’t know much about it,” he says, “but he told me it would be the perfect fit for somebody with my schedule.”

DeCaire found a welcoming environment. “Everyone — the staff, teachers, even the students — were very friendly,” he says. “Everyone there kind of has the same mission. We’re working adults, many with kids, trying to balance education and a career.”

He enrolled in General Studies. “I wanted a broad range of courses related to starting a business, like marketing and finance.”

With a schedule of weekend and block classes, DeCaire was able to graduate in two years. Since then, he has worked with WilmU through the alumni office, helping to organize the Homecoming 5K for the past two years. “It’s nice to be involved with them as a professional after being a student there,” he says.

“Nic has definitely found his purpose through achieving his personal education goals and, just as important, becoming a valuable part of the community,” says Dr. Doreen Turnbo, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Wilmington University is proud that Nic chose to make us a part of his life. He sets the bar high for future graduates, as he exemplifies the kind of graduate Wilmington University strives to produce. I hope Nic is as proud of WilmU as we are of him.”

The University isn’t alone in appreciating DeCaire’s accomplish-ments. Last year he received the Jefferson Award from Newark Mayor Polly Sierer (a Fusion Fitness client) for his philanthropy and for founding the Main Street Mile. And North DelaWhere Happening, a digital magazine, named him and Deb Buenaga among the Top Ten North Delaware Movers & Shakers for 2015.

One reason for the latter award: his work with Kids with Confidence, the charity his father is involved in. “I’m always partial to anything that helps kids,” says Nic.

Meanwhile, his gym is thriving. Staffed by 10 trainers (seven women, three men), it has a predominately female membership, most of whom participate in his charities. “My members are getting healthy and they’re also getting involved in charities that they never would’ve been involved in if it hadn’t been for Fusion,” says DeCaire.

That, he points out, is the power of the ripple effect. “You’re never going to know what will happen if you don’t toss that stone.” Wu