Amid pandemic shutdown, Special Olympics keeps athletes engaged with virtual workout programs

Like most athletes, Special Olympians are used to facing tough challenges. But when the pandemic hit, the routines they relied on to stay in shape and compete suddenly hit the brakes.

Now, like so many companies around the world, the Special Olympics organization has turned to the internet as a way to stay alive.

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, they haven't had the opportunities to have face-to-face sports," said Special Olympics Southern California's president, Calvin Lyons, referring to the athletes. "So until they do, we are allowing them to participate via the virtual platforms that we built."

Those virtual platforms currently include online workout programs called the Healthy Lifestyle Challenge and the six-week-long Move Across California, a 1,000-mile virtual competition that crisscrosses the state with teams of 10 Special Olympics athletes.

The online opportunities are a blessing for people like Teresa Driscoll, whose daughter had grown used to the steady flow of Special Olympic training sessions and competitions.

"It was a big adjustment because we were so used to being on the go all the time," Driscoll said. "She was like 'Well, when are we going to go to practice? When are we going to do this?' And it took a long time for her to adjust to being at home."

The Southern California chapter of Special Olympics works with more than 38,000 athletes and nearly 18,000 coaches and volunteers. The virtual programs are important to keep the organization up and running and the athletes in competitive shape.

"They can see each other, they can stay healthy and they can still maintain the ability to participate that when things are turned back on, they can turn it on as well," Lyons said.

When the Special Olympics will return to in-person training and competition is still up in the air, but the organization says it won't happen before the end of June.

In the meantime, the nonprofit still has bills to pay and is looking to the community for help. It's in the middle of it largest fundraiser of the year right now, the 12th Annual Dream House Raffle, a chance to win a 5,000 square-foot home in Agoura Hills.

"It provides the resources that we use to help our athletes stay safe, stay healthy and as we say, to stay well," Lyons explained.
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