Everyone in the Special Olympics Alleghany County Healthy Athletes Challenge smiles when 20 year-old Zack Kupner moves to the front of the class joining the instructor demonstrating new moves. Kupner definitely feels comfortable at the Alleghany County Wellness Center but that wasn’t always the case. For the first three weeks of the Healthy Athletes Challenge, a fitness and nutrition based program, funded by the NC GlaxoSmithKline Ribbon of Hope grant to Special Olympics NC, he was content to stand in the back of the class and observe.
“Zack is a homebody and it takes him awhile to trust others and adapt to his environment,” said his mother Melinda Kupner. “But we kept bringing him and were just so happy when he got involved and then to see him go to the front was just amazing.”
Kupner, who only got involved in Special Olympics two years ago, now associates the Wellness Center with Special Olympics. He heads to the Center twice a week for the fitness and spinning classes and he has also started swimming lessons. He also competes for Special Olympics Alleghany in bowling and athletics.
“He really likes to exercise now,” said his mom. “He’s always had some foot problems and I’ve noticed his strength and endurance are much improved. We walked all around Grandfather Mountain and Linville Falls one day last weekend and he handled it all just fine! I was so surprised.”
Kupner’s self-confidence has also increased and he’s learning to work with a volunteer at the Wellness Center.
”This Challenge has also given him a good routine and some responsibility to plan for his own day. He’s been able to meet some new friends too so he doesn’t have just his family in his life. And everyone is so encouraging which he really needs. It’s just been a great experience!”
Kupner’s family is very grateful for Special Olympics and has gotten active in the local program as well.