How A Trainer Moved Special Olympics Online To Engage Athletes
FORT WORTH, Texas — When the coronavirus pandemic hit North Texas, Fort Worth-area Special Olympics organizers were left wondering how athletes would cope with stay-at-home orders and the loss of their sporting communities.
Typically the spring and summer months are filled with Special Olympics events. The competitions thrive on close personal interactions that provide a social network for the athletes, their families and the volunteers. With the virus limiting gatherings, like all sports, Special Olympics had to get creative.
Enter Everett King.
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“He was at the forefront of saying, ‘We need to do something for our athletes,'” said Dalton Hill, an associate executive director at Special Olympics Texas.
King had been a special education teacher in the Northwest school district when he started volunteering as Special Olympics coach in 2014. He quickly gained a reputation as being one of the most engaging and positive volunteers even before he became the full-time program director for the Fort Worth chapter last year, Hill said.
Hill said King “has a heart to serve” and stepped up immediately to brainstorm ways to engage athletes during the shutdown.
“The athletes want to be in an environment where they can just be themselves and have fun and interact with other people,” King said. “So once this pandemic started, it really was kind of hard on not just on the athletes, but on everyone — their coaches, families because this is something that a lot of us look forward to.”
Paxton Alexander is one the athletes who has grown attached to Everett’s coaching and camaraderie.
He had long been outgoing and considered everyone his friend, his mom Malisa Alexander said, but he rarely asked to go places with friends or meet up with other people. That changed when King asked Paxton, who has autism and is now 21, to join special Olympics during his sophomore year of high school.
Wrestling piqued his interest but he eventually moved on to football, becoming the quarterback. He quickly become obsessed with the game, his mom said.
“It kind of built this confidence in him that he could do more than he thought he could,” Malisa Alexander said.
When the shutdown happened, King wanted a way to engage the athletes like Paxton and saw an opportunity. He had long wanted to launch fitness videos. Since coronavirus moved everything into a virtual setting, this was the perfect time, he said.
In most cases he kept the videos around 15 minutes and focused on workouts people can do from home. In one he used gallon jugs filled with water as weights.
“I wanted to show them how to work out with just things in their house,” King said.
What started as a simple workout video first posted in late March has ballooned in to a three-part series that King has recruited others to participate in called “SO Connected.” An activity-based video continues to provide home workout routines while another supplements the exercise with healthy eating tips. A third provides a window into the lives of Special Olympic athletes. It’s a way to for those involved to express themselves outside of sports, King said, describing an athlete who can play the piano by ear without sheet music.
King’s videos have been vital to the Fort Worth-area Special Olympics organization, Hill said.
Athletes and their families can sometimes feel isolated or marginalized, he said, and Special Olympics provides an outlet for socialization, near weekly physical activities and, in some cases, just the chance to get out of the house.
“When the pandemic hit, it sort of forced the isolation again,” Hill said. “Everett found a way to keep us connected.”
King is humble about his work with Special Olympics, probably because he grew up interacting with people with special needs in Louisville, Ky.
There his mother, a minister, invited Chris, a man with autism, to stay with their family every weekend. The weekend visits started out as just Saturday outings, but soon Chris would come to King’s Friday night football games and stay through Sunday morning.
It provided Chris a chance to get out of his group home and interact with the world, but King said he found a best friend. He got used to spending time with Chris and “jumped at the chance” to join Special Olympics through the Northwest school district.
“I always tell people there’s one muscle that’s really going to hurt when you do Special Olympics. They say ‘What is it? Your legs?’ No, it’s your face,” King said. “You’re going to be smiling so much because of the joy of interacting with these athletes.”
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