We are so proud of our Special Olympics Pennsylvania athletes, families and volunteers in Columbia/Montour who have been coming together almost every week to participate in a walking club led by Athlete Leaders. What began as a group of friends walking together in the mall has now become a wonderful addition to their trainings and health and fitness routines. They have found ways to add fun to their weekly walks such as including balloons into their walking to help work on their balance.
They also have enjoyed socializing together after their walks and have even celebrated birthdays together. The have recently moved their walking to the local YMCA. Way to go Columbia/Montour walking club on staying active and fit!
Athlete Leaders, called Health and Fitness Coordinators, can plan and offer year round walking clubs. By offering a club, athletes, unified partners, coaches, families and volunteers have the opportunity to become more healthy and fit where they live, not just at Special Olympics Pennsylvania events. Local and ongoing opportunities are where people will experience a difference in their health and fitness!
If you would like to start a walking club for your local program consider becoming a Health and Fitness Coordinator. Like any Athlete Leader, a Health and Fitness Coordinator must also have a Mentor. If you don’t have a Mentor, please contact Jordan Schubert at email@example.com as well as your Local Program Manager/Director. Once you have a Mentor, you will then be given instructions on next steps towards becoming a Health and Fitness Coordinator.
FUNfitness was developed in collaboration with the American Physical Therapy Association and provides athletes the opportunity to be screened for flexibility, functional strength, and balance. The screenings are provided by physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, or physical therapy students.
Special Olympics Pennsylvania developed a unique partnership with American Physical Therapy Association- Pennsylvania to provide volunteers for the FUNfitness events.
Special Olympics Pennsylvania also partners with universities to provide student volunteers for FUNfitness events.
This experience provides opportunities for physical therapy students to interact with athletes with intellectual disabilities while also gaining experience in the screening process.
Research shows that over 80 percent of healthcare providers are not professionally trained to treat people with intellectual disabilities. By partnering with Universities, we are directly addressing this issue and providing students with this training and experiences.
We caught up with Natalie Albright, a former student (who is now a PT working with children with intellectual disabilities), to see what she had to say about FUNfitness! Check it out:
Participating in this event made me realize that I may be seriously interested in working with individuals with intellectual disabilities one day. This was something that I had only briefly considered previously because I was never sure if I would be able to do it.
Overall, it was really awesome to get to be a part of something bigger than myself and to see how much the Special Olympics clearly means to all those involved
I feel as though I was able to learn a lot through experiencing new situations firsthand (which is my favorite, most effective way to learn), while also helping a fantastic organization. I appreciate any opportunity to apply what we have been learning about in our classes to real-life situations because it serves as reassurance that all the lectures we sit through really do matter and will benefit us in our careers. I regret never getting involved with the Special Olympics before this point, but I am grateful to have had the chance to get involved now and I hope to return to volunteer in the future.
Special Olympics Pennsylvania is so excited to announce the new offering of the Strong Minds discipline at Healthy Athletes events going forward! Strong Minds is an interactive learning activity focused on developing adaptive coping skills. Leading our new discipline is our new Clinical Director, Dr. Adam Assoian. Learn more about Dr. Assoian and Strong Minds by checking out the Q&A below!
Special Olympics Pennsylvania: Describe your job/practice. What do you like best about what you do?
Dr. Assoian: I am the owner and Clinical Director of Ally Psychological Services, a private psychological practice in Bucks County. At Ally Psych we help individuals from all walks of life and backgrounds feel better about themselves and improve their mental health. We also offer evaluations and support groups to those in need.What I love most about my job is being able to interact and get to know so many people. Helping those that are ready for change is incredibly rewarding.
SOPA: What are you most excited about in volunteering with Special Olympics Pennsylvania?
Dr. Assoian: Being able to help the athletes strengthen their mental health and have them feel more comfortable and confident throughout the games is going to be such an amazing experience.
SOPA: How do you see Strong Minds benefiting our athletes?
Dr. Assoian: Whether it’s pregame nerves or post-game emotions, most athletes will experience strong emotions during the competition. Strong Minds can benefit athletes by giving them a place to learn realistic and useful coping skills to make handling their emotions a little bit easier.
SOPA: What is your favorite sport?
Dr. Assoian: My favorite sport is definitely Powerlifting. It’s something I believe is such a great coping skill and something I do in my own life too.
Joe is from Montgomery County. He’s 37 years old and was born with a congenital heart defect. He’s has had several open heart surgeries and pacemakers throughout his life.
Since he was young, Joe’s been an active participant in Special Olympics. But 18 months ago, Joe’s health declined severely. Joe needed a heart transplant. Joe’s liver was also significantly compromised and required a transplant as well. To further complicate matters, Joe only has one functioning kidney.
Joe’s family faced the extreme challenge of finding a hospital system willing to list a high-risk patient with Down syndrome on their transplant list. As time was running out, Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville expressed interest and agreed to evaluate Joe.
Joe spent four weeks at Vanderbilt in the spring being evaluated. Due to the risk involved, they didn’t feel he was strong enough to survive the transplant and created a plan that Joe needed to follow to improve his candidacy. The plan included a physical therapy program and new medicine, diet and exercises to help make him a good candidate. Joe and his family spent the next several months working out and lifting weights (think Rocky IV in the wilderness) and getting in shape.
In early November, Joe was approved for the procedure and officially listed for a heart & liver transplant on Nov. 9.
On Nov. 25, Joe had successful transplant surgery!!
And while his road to recovery is still long and winding, Joe and his family have decided that doing the Fitness Heptathlon will be part of his rehab to help Joe get back to doing what he loves: competing with Special Olympics!
Since it’s a virtual program, Joe will be able to compete in Nashville along with his best friend, who lives in Pennsylvania.
During recovery, Joe has gotten so many messages and well-wishes from the community as well as members of the Philadelphia Eagles. Joe even received a personalized video from his favorite wrestler: John Cena!
According to his doctors, Joe is the FIRST Trisomy 21 patient in the WORLD to receive a simultaneous heart and liver transplant!