Despite unprecedented changes to their fall training season, Special Olympics Gaston County athletes are, quite literally, rising above to stay focused on all aspects of health. In addition to registering for the Special Olympics North Carolina’s (SONC) Partner Up Power Up fall sports challenge, athletes took part in a five-week fitness course, in partnership with Special Needs Community Initiative, with Gastonia’s RyzAB0VE Fitness beginning in September.
Dedicated to maintaining his overall health and many friendships through Special Olympics Gaston County, athlete Jason Rowe became one of the athletes to “Ryz AB0VE.” A certified athlete ambassador for SONC, Rowe is accustomed to embodying the mission of Special Olympics not only on the field of play, but through a variety of public appearances.
Rowe has trained and competed in basketball, bowling, soccer and volleyball through Special Olympics. With this fall training season taking on a newly-modified look, Rowe was eager to stay connected with his teammates in a newly-modified way.
“RyzAB0VE Fitness classes are similar to a Special Olympics practice, but delivered in a different way,” said Special Olympics Gaston County Local Program Coordinator Ashley Anderson. “They are ready and excited because it is a new opportunity, mostly because it is in person.”
Providing fitness opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, RyzAB0VE Fitness promotes healthier living and the embodiment of inclusion through fitness. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, all small-group and one-on-one classes are held outside, requiring that all participants wear face masks and practice safe social distancing.
Small-group sessions joined Special Olympics Gaston County athletes with members of a disability housing initiative. Equipped with a water bottle, towel, yoga mat and face mask, all participants partook in a warm-up, fitness-focused games and conditioning exercises to improve strength, agility, coordination, balance and teamwork.
After the first session, Rowe remarked on the various exercises introduced to the class – sit-ups, jumping jacks and stretches. All exercises he was familiar with from his experience as a Special Olympics athlete, Rowe was reminded of a typical soccer practice. When asked about his thoughts on the sessions thus far, Rowe answered, “I love it.”
To conclude the first session, Special Needs Community Initiative provided goodie bags to each participant and Anderson distributed the materials needed to tie-dye provided face masks. Equipped with a sense of accomplishment and a souvenir to wear home, Rowe was already looking forward to hitting the yoga mat the next week.
Rowe’s father, Kevin, was among the many supporters watching the session from a safe distance. He was especially intrigued by the mock football drills led by the trainer, including the proper technique for throwing a football.
No longer linked only by a web address or Zoom call, Rowe and his fellow Gaston County athletes are remembering the footwork to their favorite exercises, together as a team.