John Campbell’s weight loss journey

This year at Indoor Winter Games, John Campbell was very proud of himself. He was proud not just because he won a gold medal in bowling but because he had recently lost 150 pounds. John is a Delaware County Athlete. He has participated in Special Olympics Pennsylvania for many years as an athlete, and has volunteered on committees, such as the Fall Festival committee. After taking a few years off from competing during the COVID-19 pandemic, he returned this year to participate in bowling. John plans to participant in softball this spring.

It was last Summer that John decided he needed to change his habits and really started considering the impact his weight had on his health. At the time he weighed 415 pounds. On his own, knowing his family has a history of diabetes and heart disease, he decided to make diet changes and start increasing his exercise. He started by cutting back on portion sizes, he cut back on his intake of extra carbohydrates and increased his fruits and vegetables. He stopped eating late at night and stopped drinking soda and energy drinks and switched to water. John also started going to the gym three times a week. He works in photography where he walks around for many hours and believes those extra steps also helped him in his weight loss journey.

With all those healthy changes to his diet and lifestyle John now weighs 265 pounds. While his weight loss of 150 pounds is a great accomplishment, he knows he has more weight to lose. John’s goal is to continue to lose at least another 50 pounds.  

John is drinking more water, eating more fruits and vegetables and staying fit and active by exercising throughout the week. John is happier, healthier and more fit.

We are so proud of John for his accomplishments and commitment to his health. We hope other athletes are inspired by his story and work towards their own health and fitness goals. We encourage all athletes to talk with their coaches and caregivers about participating in Athlete Performance Training and visiting Healthy Athletes when they are available at events. We know improving your health and fitness not only improves your sports performance, but it can improve your life, and John is an example of that!

SOPA Welcomes Four New Clinical Directors!

Healthy Athletes are non-invasive screenings designed to offer additional support at no cost to our athletes and their families. They are designed to improve athletes’ health and fitness in order to enhance their ability to train and compete in Special Olympics. Each discipline is led by a dedicated volunteer, a Clinical Director, who spends months planning and organizing for the event.

Special Olympics Pennsylvania is thrilled to share that we have expanded our Clinical Director team. The additional Clinical Director volunteers will allow us to offer more healthy Athlete screenings in the coming future and in return help provide much needed health education and care to more athletes.

Each clinician has completed their training required by Special Olympics International to take on this role and we are so grateful for their time and effort. All four new clinicians will be joining us at Summer Games, June 8th-10th at Penn State University.

Dr. Jenni Waters: Special Smiles (dental)

Dr. Waters resides in Allegheny County. She is a pediatric dentist with Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. She attended Allegheny games last May and most recently Fall Festival this past November. She is also a coach for Allegheny County in multiple sports , but her favorite sport is soccer! Dr. Waters says she “really enjoys working with SOPA, from the athletes to the staff and everyone in between. I love what SOPA stands for: inclusion, acceptance, family, healthy living and support. The athletes are truly amazing, and I love getting to impact their lives in a positive and healthy way.”

Dr. Michelle Sparks: Fit Feet (podiatry)

Dr. Sparks resides in Armstrong County, she is a board certified podiatrist/ foot and ankle surgeon and the owner of Ankle and Foot Care, a private medical practice that specializes in Podiatric medicine and surgery. Dr. Sparks was able to attend Summer Games 2022 and is excited to return this summer. She is excited to be part of our Healthy Athletes program. Dr. Sparks says she is “inspired by the Athletes and the effort they put into their sports. I appreciate the chance to offer them my expertise to support them to be the best they can be, while promoting healthy participation. By offering screenings for potential risk and education, it allows them to focus their energy on performing at their highest.” Dr. Sparks’ favorite SOPA sport is gymnastics, her daughter is a USAG sanctioned gymnast, so she knows how much time and commitment it takes. Which is why she is so impressed seeing our SOPA gymnasts and their success.

Dr. Rebecca Van Dyke: Fit Feet (podiatry)

Dr. Van Dyke currently resides in the Lehigh Valley but will be moving to Dauphin County this July! She is a podiatry fellow currently but will be starting her career as a surgical podiatrist and assistant professor at Penn State Health Hershey Medical Center starting August 1st. She is very excited to get involved with SOPA and looks forward to meeting and engaging with our awesome athletes. She hopes “to do this by providing the best foot and ankle care to allow them to play and have fun pain-free.” Her favorite sport is baseball, and we can’t wait for her to check out the softball games at this year’s Summer Games!

Dr. Sarah Wakefield: Healthy Hearing (audiology)

Dr. Wakefield is located in Centre County. She is a clinical audiologist with Mount Nittany Physician Group ENT. She has previously volunteered with Special Olympics Florida and is thrilled to join our team at SOPA. Dr. Wakefield says she “loves the energy of Special Olympics and getting to share in the excitement that the games bring to the athletes.” Her favorite sport is track and field!

Healthy Athletes will take place at this year’s Summer Games at Penn State University, June 8th-10th. Be sure to stop by to get your free health screenings and meet our wonderful volunteers.

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.

Mental Health Action Day

On May 20, we are proud to join forces with MTV and hundreds of global brands, cultural leaders and other nonprofit organizations for the first ever Mental Health Action Day. Our goal is to help athletes make emotional well-being a priority.

There are many tools available to assist you or your loved ones in promoting well-being, reducing stress and improving coping skills and resilience, including our Strong Minds resources. Emotional well-being is just as important as physical health. Check out these tips to help manage stress:

Inclusive Health Spotlight: Columbia/Montour Walking Club

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 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.

Please visit this link for more information!