Remembering our friend, Franco Harris

It is with deep sadness that we share that our longtime friend and one of our proudest supporters, Franco Harris has passed away. While many know him for his outstanding career in the National Football League, specifically his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers – during which he was named MVP of Super Bowl IX and later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame – at Special Olympics Pennsylvania, Franco was family. 

Franco’s passion for uplifting Special Olympics’ mission of inclusion and respect never wavered since he first got involved with our organization more than a decade ago. He was a member of Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s Executive Advisory Board, has donated considerable financial support, spoken at many special events, volunteered for the organization in and around the Pittsburgh and State College communities, as well as served as the Official Race Starter of the Beaver Stadium Run since its inception in 2010. Additionally, he was the first recipient of the Beaver Stadium Run Community Hero Award in 2013.

Franco’s commitment to Special Olympics and our mission spanned far beyond time and financial contributions. His love and passion for sport drove him to share that love with Special Olympics athletes around the state. Franco made a point to congratulate every participant as they “Finish at the Fifty” of Beaver Stadium for the Run, shared countless moments with athletes, and inspired all of us with his grace and kindness.  

Franco was a remarkable athlete, businessman, supporter, and friend. His humility, enthusiasm and kindness will truly be missed by all of our athletes, volunteers, staff and event participants. We send our deepest condolences to his wife Dana, his son Dok, the rest of his family, and all those around the world who loved him.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month

During the month of November, Special Olympics Pennsylvania (SOPA) is recognizing Diabetes Awareness Month by helping athletes learn about and prevent diabetes melitus (DM). DM is one of the most common diseases among Americans and affects those with intellectual disability at a much greater rate. Those with intellectual disabilities tend to receive fewer diabetes exams and less diabetes care than those without disabilities. By making healthy choices and making sure you see your doctor routinely you can help prevent your risk for Diabetes.

What is Diabetes Melitus? 

DM is a long-lasting health condition that is related to high levels of blood sugar. This condition relates to a hormone released from your pancreas called insulin, which helps us manage our blood sugar levels. For a person with diabetes, their body does not make enough insulin or cannot use it as well as it should. This can lead to a buildup of sugar in the bloodstream which can result in serious health problems like heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease. 

There are different types of diabetes:

  • Prediabetes: Slightly high blood glucose levels in addition to heart health changes taking place
  • Type 1 Diabetes: A small or no production of insulin by the pancreas. This type of Diabetes is genetic and is not reversible.  
  • Type 2 Diabetes: Not enough production of insulin by the pancreas and the body is not able to use insulin properly. This type of Diabetes can be reversible with healthy lifestyle changes and weight loss.

To help prevent your risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes or to help reverse a diagnosis of prediabetes or Type 2 Diabetes it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Follow these tips below for more details.

Four lifestyle/nutritional tips for preventing Type 2 DM: 

  1. Participate in physical activity: 

Exercise can prevent type 2 DM by helping with weight loss, lowering blood sugar, and increasing your body’s ability to use insulin. Finding the sports and activities you enjoy can help you stay motivated. A goal of 150 minutes of physical activity per week can decrease your risk for Diabetes. 

  • Consume more foods high in fiber: 

Eating enough fiber is shown to provide many benefits like improved bowel movement, weight loss, and lower cholesterol levels! Fiber is also important for those with diabetes because it helps manage blood glucose levels. 

High fiber foods

  • Fruits and vegetables 
  • Whole-grain foods like bread, brown rice, cereals etc.
  • Beans and legumes 
  • Oats 
  • Low fat Popcorn
  • Drink water and sugar free drinks

Sugary drinks and beverages can add to your daily sugar intake and total calories. Extra sugar that you eat can be stored as fat over time. Drinking soft drinks, fruit juice, sports drinks, and other sugary drinks regularly over time can lead to weight gain, which can lead to a higher risk of diabetes.

  • Eat Fruits and Vegetables, 3-5 servings a day

Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber. They can be a filling way to add many vitamins and minerals to your diet and keep you feeling full and satisfied. Filling your plate with fruits and vegetables instead of extra carbohydrates and added fats can lower your risk of diabetes. Eating fruits and vegetables for snacks is a healthier choice than many high fat and high sugary snacks too!

If you or someone you know is diagnosed with Diabetes or Prediabetes it is important to talk with your healthcare provider to help manage your blood sugar and prevent any future problems related to diabetes. If you need help finding a provider in your area, Special Olympics Pennsylvania can help. Check out our Provider Director for Diabetes Self-Management and Education locations in your area.

Fall Fest Stories: Tamba Mbriwa

In a 7v7 gold medal soccer match at last weekend’s Fall Festival at Villanova University, Berks County and Delaware County were locked in an instant classic. Berks County struck first before Delaware leveled the score at 1-1 on a goal by Eric Augustine. After DelCo took the lead in the second half thanks to Webster Quiah, Berks scored the late equalizer to send the game into extra time.

In the second extra period, in a match that seemed destined for penalty kicks, Tamba Mbriwa made an inspired run through the attacking end. Mbriwa – a first-year player for DelCo after moving from Montgomery County – weaved into the box and chipped a shot that was destined for the goal, but a Berks player threw his hands up to deflect the ball. The referee immediately awarded the Wildcats a penalty kick. With a gold medal on the line, the crowd chanting his name, Mbriwa calmly stepped to the spot, took a deep breath and delivered the kick of his life. Final: 3-2 Wildcats. Gold medal secured.

Hear from Tamba about the match of the weekend, in his own words:

“Honestly, it was a rough game. It was rainy, it was cloudy, but we all came out, we all fought as a team and we came out with the win. I’m blessed to have my family, my teammates. Without my coaches, we wouldn’t be here today. …

Going through my head, honestly, I was like ‘I know what’s happening. I know what happened.’ I fell down and I got up and the referee said, ‘penalty kick.’ And I’m just thinking to myself, ‘wow!’ My coach said ‘take it,’ so I took it and I shot it in. My mind was energized and I was tired. I was a little bit [nervous], but I got it done. My teammates were all behind me 100 percent and I got it done for them and my coaches. …

The training was tough. We come to practice every day, we worked hard on goalie skills, training skills, everything. Our coach, he works our butts off every practice. We came out today and we had fans watching us. Honestly, I’m blessed. It’s a great season and we can’t wait until next year. …

My favorite memory is I get to hang out with the college students and I get to meet new people. And these people around me are pretty cool.”

2022 PHLY Insurance Valor Award Winner: Logan Wismer

Each year during Fall Festival, the Philadelphia Insurance Companies Valor Award is given to an athlete whose effort, determination and sportsmanship embodies the power of the human spirit to overcome challenges and inspire greatness.

We are proud and honored to announce that LOGAN WISMER from Team Northampton is our 2022 Valor Award Winner!

When Logan first entered a powerlifting gym, he could barley stand still, let alone walk. Through a rigorous conditioning routine focused on strength and endurance, Logan was able to make exceptional strides in his posture and balance. Two long years later, Logan competed in a USAPL event for the first time and won gold in the deadlift!

Logan continued to collect hardware, including another gold in deadlift at Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s Eastern Fall Sectional, before adding bench press and squats to his repertoire at the Pennsylvania State Coaches Powerlifting Association State Championships, helping his team to a third-place finish!

In addition to his incredible progress and determination in the gym, Logan is also the consummate teammate. There’s never a practice or event that goes by without Logan encouraging his fellow lifters with high fives and fist bumps. He truly embodies everything it means to be a Special Olympics athletes.

CONGRATULATIONS, LOGAN!!

Athlete Spotlight: Damian Smith

Meet Damian Smith.

Damian is an athlete from Bradford/Sullivan County and an experienced Long-Distance Runner. Recently, he competed at Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s Eastern Fall Sectional and won gold in the 5k and silver in the 1500m. And, as a Global Messenger, he also gave an impassioned speech at Opening Ceremonies. Hear more about his experience in his own words:

“I was introduced to Special Olympics in seventh grade. This year will be seven years I’ve been doing it. I started running at Sullivan County High School and pretty much kept it up from there. It was difficult at times because of some of the other schools we ran against. Sometimes we’d come out on top, but sometimes we’d get third or last. …

One of the things that I’m most proud of from being in Special Olympics are the 5k runs I do every year. Because I run long distance, I practice a lot for the long-distance runs. I’ve been wanting to train for a 10k because of one my teammates that I train with is doing a 10k at Villanova this year. I’m going to train a lot during the winter for it so that November of next year, I can try doing the 10k. Just to put myself out there. Get noticed more. …

This Global Messenger class that I’m taking, I’m actually really liking it. I get to meet new people and make new friends. I learned about impromptu speaking, meaning, if someone comes up to you and asks you about a topic and you’re not really prepared as to what to say, you can just talk about things related to that topic. That was kind of hard for me, because I didn’t really know what to talk about. …

I work at a factory making things with leather. I’ve been there about four years. It’s not something I plan on retiring from, but I like my job. I want to work with kids. Being like a Teacher’s Aide. I’d like to eventually be able to do that and also I thought about working for schools, too. I just plan on sticking around until an opportunity like that comes around. …

I used to always have trouble putting myself out there, trying to make new friends, because I was always quiet and shy. I didn’t talk much. But after putting myself out there and meeting new people, I’m kind of used to being around large crowds of people. I just enjoy doing Special Olympics and I don’t think I plan on quitting.”