Special Olympics North Carolina has many voices. One of those voices belongs to Special Olympics Gaston County athlete Jae Huffman. Ever fervent in their words, Huffman’s reverence for the mission of Special Olympics is, quite simply, undeniable.
Through the Global Messenger program, athletes, like Huffman, are trained to be spokespersons for Special Olympics. Global Messengers are ambassadors for the organization and can recruit potential athletes, volunteers and sponsors through public presentations. In addition to this role, Huffman is a member of the Athlete Council, which is made up of active SONC athletes from across the state. These athletes meet quarterly to provide input to the president of Special Olympics North Carolina on issues in the movement.
Through their positions as Vice President of the Athlete Council and trained Global Messenger, Huffman exemplifies the importance of athlete leadership among their peers. Weathering the course, a leader maintains strength through times both good and bad.
For the times that are seemingly unprecedented, as with adapting to limitations imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, a leader remains resolute. Huffman is unwavering in their attempts to bring a sense of normalcy to their fellow Gaston County athletes.
“Jae was asked to lead a weekly athlete exercise program to benefit the athletes during this downtime when we cannot offer sports,” said Special Olympics Gaston County Local Program Coordinator Ashley Anderson. “Jae is a natural leader, Global Messenger, serves on our local committee, and many athletes look up to them.”
On Tuesdays, Huffman has begun leading weekly exercise videos via webinar. These 30-minute sessions are a tool in motivating athletes to stay focused on their wellness goals, even at home. Savvy in integrating marketing with technology, Huffman has even designed custom graphics to brand their video series through social media.
“We are using the Fit 5 flashcards with the Fit 5 Challenge,” said Huffman. “Basically, last week, we did a combination of a lot of them.”
The Fit 5 Challenge is a 30-day guide based on three simple goals of exercising five days a week, eating five total fruits and vegetables per day and drinking five bottles of water daily. With all these pieces contributing to the wellness puzzle, Huffman has set their focus on the fitness component.
“We started out with warmups to get our muscles going,” said Huffman. “We did jumping jacks, quick punches and marches. For strength, we practiced push-ups on the wall and on the ground. We did core work with sit-ups, and for flexibility, we worked on calf stretches.”
Equipped with a screen and Huffman’s commands, Gaston County athletes are empowered by the instilled sense of community and the reinvigoration of their goals. They have a friend, a leader and a mentor in Huffman, all responsibilities that they do not take lightly.
“Jae jumped in right away with volunteering to do this for our program and has been very instrumental in leading this for the athletes,” said Anderson. “Some parents have even joined in as well.”
While the unprecedented nature of these circumstances remains steadfast for the time being, Huffman anticipates leaving a lasting impression on their fellow athletes in keeping their wellbeing top-of-mind.