When COVID-19 forced Special Olympics Florida to suspend in-person
events, our team jumped into brainstorming mode, thinking of new, virtual programs to serve our athletes and families. Those included:
Fit 5 Like a Pro: Olympic and professional athletes teamed up with Special Olympics Florida to provide 30-days of virtual challenges to motivate our athletes to get moving. Pros included Olympic track & field sprinter, Justin Gatlin, Miami Heat Forward-Center, Myers Leonard, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tight End, Cameron Brate.
- Couch to 5K: A nine-week training program that, through a regimen of walking and running, prepares athletes to complete a 5K.
- Home Fitness: A nine-week program that focuses on cardio health, strength training, and functional fitness.
Miles: A nine-week program that tracks the weekly miles run, walked,
biked, or rolled by each athlete. Designed for athletes of all levels,
the program tallies total miles and adds them to an individual or team
total. Notably, Special Olympics Florida athlete Billy Klingensmith cycled an astonishing 3,521 miles as part of the Amerithon Challenge.
- Virtual Youth Leadership Summit:
This half-day conference featured an all-star lineup of game changers
from sports, entertainment, business and culture. Guests included Mindy
Dentler, an Ironman wheelchair athlete, Daniel Tammet, a best-selling
author with autism, Justin Gallegos, the first professional athlete with
cerebral palsy to be signed by Nike, and Special Olympics International
Chairman Timothy Shriver.
When conditions allowed in September, we again began offering in-person training in some sports (we started with golf and tennis). Coaches received extensive instruction on how to run practices consistent with COVID-19 safety protocols, and all participants were required to adhere to a COVID-19 Code of Conduct. For athletes who were not yet ready to return to in-person training, we continued to offer virtual options.
Our Health & Fitness team focused on wellness programs delivered via Zoom, social media, and phone calls.
- We conducted
virtual screenings across all Healthy Athletes disciplines, including Fit Feet, FUNfitness, Healthy Hearing, Health Promotion, Opening Eyes, Special Smiles, MedFest, and Strong Minds.
piloted a virtual screening program for Special Olympics International,
using Zoom to connect athletes with medical professionals who answered
questions and discussed any health concerns the athlete had.
used social media and Zoom to conduct weekly emotional wellness
sessions, organize fitness challenges, offer nutrition tips, share
healthy recipes, and play games. The sessions provided
valuable information but, just as importantly, helped our athletes and
their families feel connected during a time when many were limiting
their social contacts. Our Fit and Well Facebook group, started in response to COVID-19, now has 1,300 members.
We also modified our organizational structure, shifting from a county-centric approach to a regional strategy that better supports the tremendous growth of our programs over the last decade. The regional strategy is designed to:
- Enhance quality of competition
- Increase focus on each of our unique programs
- Elevate stewardship
- Promote brand alignment
- Support continuity through a team-based organizational structure
Family Action Network
Families are at the core of Special Olympics Florida, so this year we created the Family Action Network.
The Network includes all those people who surround and support our
athletes -– the parents, siblings, grandparents, guardians, and
caretakers who serve as champions for our mission. The network exists
- Honor families as indispensable to our movement
- Build connections between Special Olympics Florida families
- Provide families with news and information about events and opportunities
Family Messengers to become advocates for our organization
- Develop products and resources to improve the lives of our families
- Encourage new families to join Special Olympics Florida
Our goal is to build the Family Action Network into an invaluable statewide resource for our families.
Special Olympics Florida Athlete Makes History
Special Olympics Florida athletes know they can achieve remarkable things if they are just given the opportunity, and Chris Nikic showed the world just how true that is.
Chris, a triathlete from the Orlando area, made history in November
when he became the first person with Down syndrome ever to complete a
full Ironman competition. Chris finished the Ironman Florida race -– a
2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run -– in
16:46:09. His accomplishment made worldwide news, with Chris’ story
being picked up by ESPN, the national network news, The New York Times
and many other outlets.
Special Olympics Florida has known for years how dedicated and
talented Chris is. In fact, we created our triathlon program in 2018
specifically to give athletes like Chris an opportunity to test
Today, our triathlon team is an impressive and inspiring combination
of athletes and Unified partners. In November, those 20 team members
were informed they all would be participating in the 2022 Special
Olympics USA Games, hosted right here in Florida. It is sure to be a