When Special Olympics Wake County Dennis Blair approached the platform at the 2023 Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC) Summer Games powerlifting competition, he was prepared to give his best. And his best only keeps getting better. Since 2018, he has lost nearly 50 pounds, an achievement he attributes to his training with Special Olympics. In the past year, his weight loss has continued through his involvement with Partner Up Power Up.
SONC’s Partner Up Power Up program is an eight-week Unified Sports® training and fitness plan that can be completed from home, without access to internet. From home, Blair tracked his progress, submitting weekly updates to his local coach. As a result of his consistency, completing each daily activity assigned throughout the eight weeks, Blair’s commitment was recognized on the SONC Summer Games awards podium.
“I won three silver medals and one bronze medal, it felt pretty good,” said Blair. “My goals within the next year are for me to increase my muscle mass and maintain or lose weight.”
Partner Up Power Up will return for its seventh season in the fall of 2023, preserving the ability for people with intellectual disabilities to engage in the physical activity, sports and social connections foundational to the Special Olympics mission.
“Partner Up Power Up reminds us to be healthy and I am very thankful that this program was developed,” said Blair. “Before the pandemic, I was overweight. Partner Up Power Up has inspired me to lose the weight, even though it was progressive over time.”
“Six in 10 Special Olympics athletes are obese or morbidly obese,” said SONC Health Director Vicki Tilley. “This puts them at a much higher risk for health problems, like high blood pressure, diabetes or heart and lung disease. An athlete can feel better, physically and emotionally, and reduce their risk for serious illness by becoming more active, eating healthier foods and leading a healthier lifestyle.”
This heightened risk for chronic health conditions elevates the need for accessible programs that promote fitness and wellness. To address the health disparities athletes face, SONC is working to build better, healthier communities through a more holistic approach to health, fitness, nutrition and inclusion. Regardless of medals and ribbons won in competition, athletes are redefining what success means in their sport.
Competing in the 2023 SONC Summer Games, Blair’s success materialized in the form of three silver medals in deadlift, squat and triple combination and one bronze medal in bench press. That success also materializes in a less tangible form. For Blair, that is reflecting on photos from his past, accentuating how much his health has improved since.
No finish line in sight, Blair is committed to a lifelong focus on adapting healthier habits. He is in the gym, day after day, striving toward his next personal record. Part-time, he is employed as a bagger at Harris Teeter in Holly Springs, North Carolina, where he, quite literally, wears his pride on his sleeve. Following his triumph at the 2023 SONC Summer Games, his medals were added to his uniform.
“I had to think about this because with the way I position my badge and my nametag, my medals would obscure my nametag,” explained Blair. “I’m thinking about positioning my nametag higher.”
Always work left to do, Blair is vocal in the movement to inspire healthy practices among his fellow athletes. The feeling of empowerment is the healthiest contagion. For athletes looking to power up, to scale up, Special Olympics is their best partner.