With the cancellation of all Special Olympics Missouri programming through May 31 due to COVID-19, SOMO staff has adapted their programming to continue providing athletes with opportunities to learn and be engaged, while also practicing safe social distancing.
SOMO Health & Wellness Manager Krista Dye said, “Originally the idea behind these videos started with a conversation (trying to come up with a health) challenge in place of (State) Indoor Games since we had to cancel.”
After discussions with other staff members, Brandon Schatsiek, director of communications & athlete leadership, said they came up with the idea behind #SOMOatHome.
Several SOMO athletes rose to the challenge and wanted to be a part of the videos so they could help other athletes during this time. SOMO staff left it up to the athlete-leaders on what they wanted to cover and teach their fellow athletes.
“The aspect about these videos that excites me the most is that (90 percent of them are) run by our athlete-leaders,” Schatsiek said.
“(Athletes and staff alike) all jumped at the opportunity because what they are teaching in these online sessions is what they’re taught in their (Athlete Leadership) classes,” Schatsiek said. “They already know all of this stuff, now it’s up to them to share it with the world.
“This is the real world experience that they’ve been looking for. We tell our athletes in the very first introduction to (Athlete Leadership) class … that (they’re) going to have a lot more opportunities now as an athlete-leader. They need to set a good example for their fellow athletes; this is the perfect way to do so.”
SOMO athlete-leaders knew that there would be a need among their friends to continue their workouts during this time and stepped up to the plate through #SOMOatHome programing.
“I wanted to be involved with these videos because it gives me something to do,” said Ashley Stribling, SOMO athlete-leader. “The coronavirus has not only affected my sports, but my job as well. So now I’m just stuck at home and this gives me the chance to help others.”
“I know what it’s like being stuck in the house, and I know if I am suffering, then others are too and I knew if there was a way I could help, I was going to do it.”
The health and wellness lessons cover a wide range of topics, including stretching, workouts, hydration, healthy cooking, hygiene, and even mental health.
Alyssa Cress, KC Metro area program director, said “I am going to be teaching athletes about how your mind can affect your performance, and how sports are not all physical, but that our mind does a lot for us when we compete.”
Shortly after the health and wellness classes began, other athlete-leaders, SOMO staff members, and volunteers started thinking about potential leadership and life skills courses that could be taught as a part of #SOMOatHome.
“We were coming up with ideas including topics like SMART Goals, teamwork and problem solving, communication tips and tricks, establishing better habits, and more,” Schatsiek said.
Through the SOMO Facebook channel and SOMO’s Zoom Teleconferencing account, there are at least three sessions for SOMO athletes to take part in every day. Health and wellness classes are at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., while leadership classes are scattered at different times based on the availability of the instructors.
Trish Lutz, SOMO’s vice president of programs, said there are many ways to communicate these days, so SOMO is trying to utilize those resources and create new opportunities to spread awareness with the goal to get as many athletes involved as possible.
“By offering these online videos, it broadens the scope with what we can offer people, especially with our Athlete Leadership program,” Lutz said. “It’s no different than college students nowadays taking classes online.”
SOMO staff felt it was important to utilize their athletes and encourage them to experience real-world leadership during this time. The staff wanted these programs to be for the athletes, but most importantly, to be run by the athletes as well.
“(Special Olympics is) their program,” Schatsiek said. “Let’s give them the reigns and see what they can do with it. We’ll support them if they need help, but they’re capable of a lot more than people think; this program is proving that point.”
Athlete-leader Allen Tobin said he wanted to give back to other athletes because Special Olympics has done so much for him.
“I wanted to be a part of the videos to help other athletes be active even though we aren’t doing anything or having our practices- to keep them in shape. This way they will be ready to go back to practices and competitions, and be healthier when we start up again.”
“The healthier you are; the better athlete you’re going to be.”
Athlete-leader, Lynna Hodgson, was already active when it came to promoting healthy tips and tricks through her personal social media channels. She was always posting health facts, healthy snacks, and leading exercises every Wednesday for SOMO’s #WellnessWednesday on its social media channels.
Lynna was known for her monthly “step challenges” where she would encourage her fellow athlete to take as many steps as they could in one month. She would track everyone’s progress on a leaderboard and create a community of encouragement around exercising and eating well.
#SOMOatHome was just one more way for Lynna and her friends to share their passion for health with her fellow athletes.
Lynn Shuffit, SOMO athlete-leader, said, “I think it’s important to reach out to other athletes right now because they are stuck in the house and really can’t do a whole lot.”
“This is a good time for us… to help athletes to show them how to do exercises in their homes as well as how to cook healthy meals to stay fit.”
Stribling said these videos not only help with the physical side but also with the social side of being quarantined.
“I think these videos are important because they get athletes up out of bed or off the couch and gets them up and moving and gives them something to look forward to,” Stribling said. “These videos also have given me the chance to make new friends.”
As of April 1, a little more than two weeks’ into the program, there have been a total of 33 classes covering a multitude of topics in health and wellness, and in leadership and life skills, with many more classes and topics still yet to come.
Dye stated her hope for this program moving forward is to eventually integrate it into the everyday SOMO programming.
“(In the future) it might not be the same amount of videos we are putting out now, but at least something once a week… to give our athletes that leadership role and continue putting the spotlight on them and showcasing all the talents that they have.”
Lutz said despite everything the organization has been through in the last year, the staff wasn’t going to shut down and wait for the pandemic to subside.
“We’ve been hit with many obstacles this last year between the tornado and this, but we’ve never let it stop us from being able to do what we need to do for our athletes and continuing to provide for our athletes.”
To see all updates related to the coronavirus, including past online learning sessions and a calendar of upcoming sessions, please visit www.SOMO.org/atHome on a regular basis.