Laura Vernon has been active in the Special Olympics movement since she was two years old. After relocating from Virginia to Greensboro, North Carolina, nearly three years ago, Laura’s parents, Teena and Keith, began immediately searching for options to get involved with Special Olympics locally.
“You like Special Olympics, don’t you?” Keith asked Laura.
“Yeah,” Laura responded.
Wanting to stay connected, healthy and active through Special Olympics during the coronavirus pandemic, Laura registered to participate in Special Olympics North Carolina’s Partner Up Power Up at-home fitness program. For 10 weeks from March 2 to May 14, more than 10,000 athletes and volunteers statewide unite in their own homes to complete daily fitness activities and optional Zoom training sessions. All activity is accounted for on weekly trackers, keeping participants accountable for working toward personal health goals.
“We really like the tracker,” said Teena. “I think that has been the best thing. Every evening, we go over the tracker and she checks the activities off and that has been a motivating tool for us.”
In a typical year, Laura would be training to compete in basketball, in person. This year, she has been resourceful in sticking to a regular training regimen. When the weather is nice, Laura is outside practicing on the family’s basketball goal. And on Tuesday evenings, she logs in to Partner Up Power Up’s Training Tuesday live, fitness sessions.
“Sometimes we will participate,” said Teena. “If we are in the room with her, she wants us to do it with her, she is really into it.”
Outside of her more structured training sessions, Laura walks in her favorite park or laps around her house. Equipped with her Fitbit and music, she counts three laps around the house as a tenth of a mile, which helps her keep track of overall distance. On solo walks, it is the music that keeps her going.
“The Beatles, all kinds of music,” explained Laura when asked about her taste in music.
Though her overarching goal for the program was to stay active and lose weight, a goal she is successfully advancing toward, the benefits of Partner Up Power Up extend far beyond fitness.
“Socialization is the biggest thing for her,” said Keith. “In terms of seeing other people and being able to interact, that’s what we need more than anything.”
Seeing other Special Olympics athletes on the Zoom sessions has brought back a sense of connectedness for Laura. She fosters an appreciation in connecting to her own mindfulness through her diligent practice in yoga. Every night, except for Friday, Laura completes two yoga videos on YouTube. Fridays are reserved for homemade stromboli and family movie nights. A stromboli aficionado by night, Laura has a part-time job cooking up treats of the canine variety by day.
“She works three days a week at arcBARKS®,” said Teena. “They make dog treats through The ARC of Greensboro with peanut butter and pumpkin. They send them all over the United States and have stores in Virginia and North Carolina.”
Outside of work, Partner Up Power Up has provided Laura with the tools to stay active and connected to her fellow athletes, continuing to make long-lasting Special Olympics memories. Many of Laura’s most-cherished memories are related to Special Olympics. Of them, carrying the Law Enforcement Torch Run® (LETR) for Special Olympics Flame of Hope in her local Spring Games in Radford, Virginia. The Vernon family is thankful for the opportunity to continue making those memories through Partner Up Power Up.
“It’s definitely been a positive,” said Teena. “We love Special Olympics, we are definitely big Special Olympics supporters.”