Several months ago, I was given the opportunity to work within Special Olympics, South Florida Healthy Community and it has been a fun, humbling, appreciative, insightful and gratifying experience. It has been the first time that I’ve ever directly communicated with and engaged the IDD community.
I have been privileged to have an extensive background in health and fitness so when I started working with Special Olympics, I would always take the group through a workout at the end of their nutrition education segment of each session. They enjoyed it immensely! We had lots of fun: we danced a little, played volleyball (without a net), performed squats and jumping jacks and simulated soccer. During our last formal education session and while we were recording their weight and blood pressure, the lead instructor and myself asked the group some questions. One of the questions was “What did you enjoy during our sessions?” A few of them actually responded by saying “Exercise” and even acted it out. That was amazing because sometimes I felt like that (the exercise) was something we could’ve spent more time doing. To know that it remained in their minds was one of the most rewarding feelings that I have.
In the midst of the fun we had during our exercise sessions, I witnessed in many, if not all of them, something that was alarming: their need and desire for exercise and how it should become and remain a regular activity for them. For the majority of their day, and minus the few minutes of exercise we did, they are always sitting. While they may not have mentioned it to me or the other instructor, I identified and observed movement patterns of their bodies that would suggest that an injury is imminent. The very long and extensive periods of sitting creates both under- and overactive muscles, leading to weak areas such as their core musculature, paving the way for injuries and muscular dysfunction. Additionally, their endurance, both muscular and cardiovascular, isn’t at an ideal level. Simply put, they are conditioned and regular exercise will pay dividends in them leading a more qualitative lifestyle.
I provided them with info on the benefits of exercise and what I do know is that they loved doing it together, as a group. We created an environment that truly helped them progress to becoming healthier: physically, emotionally and mentally. Each day I spent with them was like being with one really big family; an experience that should and one that I will never, take for granted. Sadly enough, however, many pass up and refuse to help this community. As for me, I will NOT! They need help, they need facilitation, and they need people who care about them. Together, with the nutrition education that we provided and the exercise sessions that they participated in, a difference was made. Many had improved blood pressures and weights.
All I can really hope for is that I have made a difference in the lives of this wonderful community that is comparable to the impact that each one of them has had in my life. They are wonderful but yet under-served and my prayer is that more people would find it in their hearts to reach out to this amazing group of individuals.
Carl A. Britton, Jr.