“Thank you for Partner Up.”
Special Olympics Forsyth County athlete Lydia Leibee recently moved to North Carolina from Pennsylvania, where she was an active participant in Special Olympics. Due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Lydia is one of nearly 10,000 individuals registered in Special Olympics North Carolina’s (SONC) Partner Up Power Up, a 10-week, at-home fitness program. Through Partner Up Power Up, she joins athletes and volunteers statewide in an effort to stay connected, to stay active and to stay focused on overall wellness goals.
“I did Special Olympics and I swam and I got a medal for the backstroke and freestyle and then I time myself,” said Lydia.
This is traditionally how Lydia prepares for competition, in the pool, timing herself, readying to strive toward another medal. In participating in Partner Up Power Up, Lydia trains through daily fitness activities, recorded on a weekly tracker, and live Zoom sessions. Of all the Zoom sessions offered, Lydia prefers any session where there is dancing to be done.
“She usually dances to worship music, but her favorite song right now is, ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancing,’” said Helen Leibee, Lydia’s mother. “Yesterday, she had to pick four songs for Turn It Up Thursday: ‘Happy,’ ‘This is Our Time,’ ‘What About Us’ and ‘Better When I’m Dancin’.’”
Thursdays, in Partner Up Power Up, are focused on refining training techniques. Led by different fitness professionals, participants practice skills, primarily used for track and field-related events. In one of the Thursday sessions, the members of the men’s soccer team from Elon University, a private university located in Elon, North Carolina, signed on in leading a workout routine.
“The young men from Elon, they actually used the individuals’ names on Zoom,” said Helen. “They said, ‘Good job, Lydia.’ It was fun because she felt like she was a part of it.”
At the start of Partner Up Power Up, participants were asked to identify a goal they would like to achieve over the course of the 10 weeks, which they wrote down on the front of the training playbook they received. Logging in to nightly Zoom sessions have helped to hold Lydia accountable for the goals she has set.
“I made goals and I like making healthy choices,” said Lydia, “Like, be strong and lose weight. But push-ups, that’s hard. I’m going to need help with that.”
Fortunately for Lydia, she has always found enjoyment in making time for physical activity. She makes a conscious effort to spend time outside every day, playing bocce or drawing. Of course, dancing has always come first on her to-do list.
“Lydia wants to be healthy, she exercises every day,” explained Helen. “Whether she is with this program or not, with exercise and dance combined, she won’t let the day go by without it.” To that, Lydia adds, “At least I’m moving.”
In Pennsylvania, Lydia was the first person with an intellectual disability to dance with her company. Becoming a spokesperson for the dance company, Lydia was active in their promotion, once being interviewed on a local radio station. To top off a year of training in jazz, hip hop, contemporary and lyrical dance, Lydia performed in the annual recital.
“I did those for my recital, I had to do a bun and makeup,” said Lydia. “I was nervous a little bit, my teacher was right there, but then I got it and I said, ‘Here I go.’ Lots of people came to see me with bouquets of flowers.”
Now dancing with a group called Leaps Without Bounds in Winston-Salem, Lydia practices with them twice a month, but is looking forward to when those practices will be held in person. That has not stopped Lydia from performing in the slightest. She sent in a video to SONC staff of her singing “Jingle Bells” as she washed her hands, ensuring that she washed them for the appropriate amount of time.
“I better do Jingle Bells this time so I do not forget,” said Lydia.
As a musically inclined individual, Lydia aspires to train and compete in cheerleading with Special Olympics one day. When asked about her interest in trying new sports, like cheerleading, she responded, “Yes, definitely!” For the time being, she is one of the voices cheerleading for those in Partner Up Power Up, attributing to a widespread sense of optimism.