TUCSON, Ariz. — In our continuing series featuring the Rebound of Arizona KGUN 9 took a look at how Special Olympics Arizona and participating families are moving forward during the pandemic.
Organizers say the Special Olympic games typically run from July through May but the coronavirus pandemic is changing the game and how the organization is planning to move forward. According to the CDC, there are over 60 million Americans living with a disability and Jacob Groves is one of them. Jacob lives with his father Greg and has been active and competing in the Special Olympics since childhood. He spends most of his time practicing and playing but nowadays things are different.
"Right now I miss bowling at Tucson Bowl," Jacob said
"Sometimes it’s hard for him to understand that you can't run up and hug everybody in the world, which is what he likes to do," Greg said.
The COVID19 pandemic is changing the guidelines for how the games are played. Jamie Heckerman with Special Olympics Arizona says the organization is adjusting, leaders decided to shut down events in early April.
"We've transitioned all of our events into virtual events through a platform called SOAZconnected it’s something we developed to focus on health and fitness," Heckerman said.
Virtual events like E-Games, workouts, cooking classes and dances have become a new way of helping the athletes staying connected.
"Our goal is to not socially isolate them and unfortunately with COVID they are socially isolated more than ever before. They are a vulnerable population. Some are not going to work because it’s scary for them," Heckerman said.
Heckerman also says they’re taking steps to keep events safe for athletes, volunteers and spectators.
"We're supplying masks so they can practice. We're providing gloves, hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, and we're putting some kits together that we can get out to our programs once we start up," Heckerman said.
Greg says it’s important to pause and understand the dynamics of those with special needs as we navigate new changes to our social norms.
"People who have special needs aren't going to realize everything that's going on quite as well as you do so don't freak out if they come close to you. Just gently remind them that they are not supposed to do that," Greg said.
Right now there are 21,000 participants and 24,000 Special Olympics volunteers in Arizona. The organization is hoping to start back up by the end of the summer and swimming is the first low contact training event on the list.
"In August and September we will see if we can hold competitions and look at the number of people who can be there,” Heckerman said.
Information on Special Olympics Arizona: https://specialolympicsarizona.org