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A Mom and Daughter Fitness Team

Special Olympics trains and encourages its athletes with intellectual disabilities to go faster, jump higher, score more and in every way, do better. Special Olympics Programs in the United States are trying out a new angle, too. A fitness and nutrition program promoted by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and embraced by Special Olympics is rolling out nationwide.

Striving For Fitness

Emily and her mother, Mary, stretch together as part of their PALA+ challenge work.

A mother and daughter, Mary and Emily Belk of Alabama, took part in the pilot of the Special Olympics Get Fit for Life program, part of the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA+) challenge in the United States.

Both Mary and Emily comment on their involvement in the program below.

Emily Belk's Story

I found out about this challenge from my coach, Cindy Bickman, and I joined even though I already work out a lot!  I enjoy walking, practicing gymnastics, and cleaning the house. I work in the yard at least once a day as long as there’s no rain. If it does rain, I just do more inside.

Mom and I like to walk the dogs together, and Mom likes to ride horses. I like to help groom as well as ride.

When I joined the “challenge,” I found out there was more to exercising than just gymnastics. Apparently, I do a lot of exercising every day. I ended up telling Coach Cindy, because I knew she did a lot more than me! She has stairs at her place, and she teaches gymnastics and ballet 4 to 5 days a week, along with riding and taking care of her horses. I told my coach she could get exercise points by just grooming her horses.

My coach has a lot of good athletes who come to Chattooga Gym once or twice a week, so I know they stay busy practicing. I’ve told them there was more to do in this challenge than just gymnastics. I pointed out that you can always keep track of the amount of time you exercise and write it down. Then you can go back to the computer later to put in the activity you do every day. That way we can do more exercising and less sitting at the computer. 

More About PALA+

Anyone at all can sign up for the PALA+ challenge. It's great for families, whether they're involved with Special Olympics or not. Learn More

Mary's Story

One of the great things about the PALA+ challenge is that it focuses on doing things you already like to do.

When the weather turns cold in February, I usually start getting lazy. But this year, Cindy Bickman, my daughter Emily’s gymnastics coach, told us about First Lady Michelle Obama’s exercise challenge, and she strongly encouraged us to participate. 

We each signed on, and after that, Emily took over recording our activities and time. Emily’s diligence and enthusiasm were contagious. 

Emily and I started doing some of our exercising together, and we added our two mixed-terrier dogs to the challenge. When my friend invited us to ride and groom her haflinger horses, Emily figured out that there was a category for the “horse care” activities. Every morning when Emily practices her rhythmic gymnastics, I help her with her stretching exercises, and sometimes we do the Chattooga Gym’s “Safety Dance.”

After three months of participating in the President’s Challenge, we’ve gotten into the habit of looking for new and fun ways to exercise. Now the workouts have become part of our daily routine, and I feel sure we’ll keep it up after we’ve reached our goals.