Act of kindness toward Burrillville man draws widespread attention, praise

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WOONSOCKET – The manager of a Woonsocket gym has drawn widespread praise and attention for his decision to perform a spontaneous act of kindness for some visitors from Burrillville this week.

Lisa Simpson documented her visit to Planet Fitness in Woonsocket on social media after gym manager Dan Cote surprised her and bought Christopher Wagner Jr. – a 23-year-old man with Down syndrome in her care – a new pair of sneakers.

Simpson had reportedly been having a bad day, and says she had forgotten to grab Wagner’s gym sneakers on her way out the door. Worse, she had forgotten her wallet, leaving her just enough gas to get back to Burrillville.

Wagner, she thought, would just have to exercise lightly in boots.

As of Thursday, Feb. 28, her video documenting what happened next had been viewed more than 100,000 times.

“A couple of minutes later, Daniel Cote, the club manager, came walking over with a brand new pair of sneakers that he had run out and bought a couple of stores down at Olympia Sports,” wrote Simpson with the post, shared on Facebook. “People like Dan restore my faith in mankind and he is the reason I will drive a little farther to the Planet Fitness on Diamond Hill Road.”

The video shows Cote actually kneeling down to put the new shoes on Wagner.

It’s not the first time Cote, the manager of the facility since 2017, has been in the news.

Cote’s battle to turn his life around and lose more than 200 pounds with help from the gym was documented two years ago in The Valley Breeze.

This week, he told NRI NOW that his struggle before and during that time is what motivated him to help Wagner.

Cote grew up in group homes and weighed 398 pounds by the age of 17 due to a combination of an injury that put him him off his feet and depression.

He credits the gym and its staff, which also eventually helped him to start his career, with his transformation. And now, he says, he lives a life of gratitude.

“it started soaking into me,” Cote said of his positive experience at the gym. “I started giving back so much more.”

He notes that once, his children were Adopt-a-Family recipients. Now, he looks for others to help.

“It’s my time to give back for all the help I received,” Cote said.

Of the decision to help Wagner – known as CJ – he said, “He’s a great kid and I could tell he didn”t really enjoy working out it boots.”

Cote said he didn’t realize Simpson was recording the spontaneous act, and has been surprised by both her and others’ reactions.

“I didn’t expect her to cry,” he said. “I hugged her.”

When Cote spoke with NRI NOW the pair had returned to the gym and both, the manager noted, had become members. Local news teams were on site, he said, and still calling.

Simpson noted online that Cote deserves the praise.

“CJ and I are so appreciative of every smile and fist pump and we are his biggest fans,” she wrote. “This world is a better place with Dan in it and I wanted you to know.”

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