Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. Special Olympians take training online for summer season

Newfoundland and Labrador's Special Olympic athletes are staying in shape with a new virtual fitness program — the Sunshine Summer Challenge. 

About 200 athletes across the province are connecting virtually for workouts

Special Olympics athletes across Newfoundland and Labrador are reconnecting online for summer workouts. From left, Andrew Hynes, Vanessa Barrett, Luke Kennedy and Leah McDonald. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's Special Olympic athletes are staying in shape with a new virtual fitness program — the Sunshine Summer Challenge. 

Roughly 200 athletes from across the province have signed on, with the goal of 100 to 400 minutes of physical activity per week, recording their workouts in personal logs as well as participating in online sessions with coaches.

Vanessa Barrett is an athlete taking part in the the new program. Barrett said parts of the pandemic have been lonely, and not being able to see her friends has made her feel sad sometimes.

But now, she's able to connect with teammates online.

"Exercise is good for your heart, your brain," Barrett said. "In Week 1 I walked three days straight.… I did swimming and got my new bike now."

The initial grant money from the Duke of Edinburgh's Passion to Purpose program, as well as some federal funding, was meant to go toward a swim camp in Labrador. But the pandemic forced a change in plans.

Melissa Tobin, a coach with the Special Olympics and co-ordinator of the Sunshine Summer Challenge, was instrumental in helping set up the virtual summer challenge.

"We've had an incredible uptake in athletes from our province," Tobin said. "Our youngest athlete is 10 and our oldest athlete is 69. So, we have quite an age-range of athletes and they're all very excited for the challenge this summer."

Melissa Tobin is a coach and co-ordinator of the Sunshine Summer Challenge. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

The program has just entered its second week, and ends on Aug. 7. Tobin said some athletes crushed their initial goals and are upping the pace even further. 

"To go from doing something every day to doing nothing, it's been really challenging. It's been really nice to create this online connection where the athletes can work together and achieve goals," she said.

If everything goes as planned, Tobin said, there could be a similar program in the fall. 

Pandemic role

Leah McDonald, a multi-sport athlete with the Special Olympics who has been around the Games for over a decade, said shifting workouts online has been great in reconnecting with other athletes across the province. 

"I miss not being able to be with my friends in person, so online was really nice to be able to see everyone," McDonald said. 

She also said the program, so far, has been great in helping her own personal health, such as tackling Cathedral Hill in downtown St. John's, where she works for Spirit of Newfoundland in the summer.

Some athletes in the St. John's area were able to gather for an outdoor workout on Monday. The Sunshine Summer Challenge is bringing together athletes from across Newfoundland and Labrador to take part in online workouts. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

"I want to be able to do that this summer without getting totally winded. So I've been working out every day to try and get healthier and walk longer distances and be able to do hills better."

Andrew Hynes is happy that gym facilities have been reopened. Hynes, a Special Olympics athlete for the last 22 years, said part of his Week 1 activities included working out at the gym for 90-minute sessions. 

An indoor soccer and floor hockey athlete since 1998, Hynes said the Sunshine Summer Challenge is a first for him.

"[The pandemic] was different for me, because I didn't know what to do. So I got a rowing machine and treadmill at home so I knew what to do," he said.

Luke Kennedy said the pandemic also made him sad by not being able to connect with friends, but now the online challenge has him walking five days a week on top of the seven sports he is involved with.

"I've been doing really good with it. I've been working out with Leah," he said. "My favourite sport is swimming.… It's been going really good so far."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Jeremy Eaton


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