At just six-years-old, Special Olympics Forsyth County athlete TJ Gerald is a force to be reckoned with. Participating in Special Olympics Young Athletes, an early childhood play program for children with and without intellectual disabilities, TJ continues to grow his social, emotional and motor skills through Special Olympics North Carolina’s (SONC) Partner Up Power Up fitness challenge.
Pairing athletes and volunteer partners on teams, the 10-week program engages participants in daily exercises, virtual workout sessions, and weekly fitness challenges. TJ’s mother, Fentress, is more than appreciative of this daily interaction, keeping sport readiness as a priority for the entire family. “I can’t say enough about it,” she explained. “He was so excited to get his Partner Up Power Up packet in the mail. Just to get something in the mail with his name on it, that was exciting for him.”
This packet, sent to all registered participants, contained a playbook with workout routines and program guidelines, resistance bands, and an SONC-branded sweatband. A schedule of Zoom sessions, included in the playbook, featured login information for nutrition sessions, yoga classes, dance workshops and, of course, the celebratory dance party at the conclusion of the program.
“He loves to socialize,” Fentress continued. “This is giving him an opportunity to check a couple of boxes as we require him to exercise daily for his health, and he is satisfying fitness requirements from his teachers as well.”
As part of his nightly routine, TJ completes his Partner Up Power Up daily exercises before dinner. Throughout each day of the challenge, he has set a goal to drink at least five bottles of water, a challenge he takes quite seriously. Fentress noted, “He is counting his bottles of water, but I keep trying to remind him that he doesn’t have to drink them all at one time.”
Though the Gerald family has been involved in Special Olympics for nearly four years, they are already anticipating the day when TJ is old enough to advance from Young Athletes and compete in Special Olympics swimming, softball or basketball. The Partner Up Power Up weekly objectives are effective in holding TJ accountable for learning how to set goals for sports training and healthy living.
“Special Olympics does such good things for a segment of the population that truly benefits from these health and nutrition initiatives,” said Fentress. “That is very special to us.”