In perusing Special Olympics’ SOfit’s Facebook page, visitors experience a photographic gallery of nutritious meals, screenshots of pedometers, the sharing of caloric intake calculators and various at-home workout routines. Comments of accolades accompany each post, celebrating a job well done. For Special Olympics Durham County, it is a stiff competition in creativity for those working towards their athletic goals.
The COVID-19 stay-at-home order significantly impacted Special Olympics across the state, including the health and fitness classes led by Special Olympics Unified partners, Emily Hamilton and Caroline Ryskiewich. Routinely, the class would meet once a week, but the last two classes were quite unusual; everyone was isolated at home. Leveraging the competence of social media and virtual resources, Hamilton and Ryskiewich were able to rise up to the challenge.
Ryskiewich created a Facebook group prior to the current health pandemic in order to encourage participation outside of the classroom. “Having the virtual space not only holds the class accountable of weekly goals, but also it gives me an opportunity to still guide them on how to implement workout and wellness routines,” Ryskiewich said.
In addition to reminding the class of the weekly goals, virtual applications, like Zoom, provide opportunities for the class to communicate with everyone . “I had utilized Zoom in other capacities so I thought this would be a great way to maintain positive peer-to-peer motivation,” said Hamilton, an occupational therapist with Skills for Life.
For some, finding online resources is not a simple process, so learning how to research virtual fitness classes or meal prep videos can certainly be helpful in a time like this. Hamilton implements some of her occupational therapy practices into the Zoom meetings to better cater to everyone’s abilities.
Ryskiewich and Hamilton have worked hard to promote class engagement through Facebook and Zoom. Feeling lonesome is common in practicing social distancing, so giving athletes a welcoming and accessible way to attend class increases engagement.
“You don’t have to have an aspiration to be a professional athlete or a marathon runner to have a heathy balanced lifestyle,” said Ryskiewich. “If you choose achievable and accessible goals and fun things to incorporate into your pre-existing routines, you will make a big difference in your physical and mental health. During a crisis like this hopefully we are making a big difference in our class.”
Competitions may not be on the near horizon, but with the help of virtual resources and the spirit of camaraderie their training is still going strong!