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Universities in Kansas Get Active and Show Off Creativity with SONA Move Challenge

Five universities across the state of Kansas participated in the SONA Move Challenge, an 8-week movement challenge to see how many minutes of exercise participants could complete each week, to compensate for the loss of in-person sporting events and social activities. The SONA Move Challenge was offered throughout the SONA Region from March 15-May 9 for over 1,300 athletes and Unified partners from 41 Programs who collectively moved more than 2.7 million minutes. Special Olympics Kansas seized the chance to leverage the relationships they already have with universities to offer it to college teams.

"With COVID, obviously we wanted to bring some opportunities to our Unified college teams, and so we just thought that we could incorporate this with the SONA Move Challenge," Maria Hinojosa, a Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® intern for Kansas, says. "It worked out pretty well; we had most of our (SONA Move) numbers come from this Unified Move Challenge."

Throughout Kansas, 105 participants from college and universities joined the SONA Move Challenge including; Kansas State (31), Wichita State (12), the University of Kansas (14), Pittsburg State University (34) and Washburn University (14).

Special Olympics Kansas athletes and Unified partners connect via Zoom.
Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners participating in the SONA Move Challenge via Zoom.)

Using resources provided by Special Olympics North America, Special Olympics Kansas started the Challenge with the college program and eventually opened it up to other area athletes. Unified partner and team captain of the University of Kansas College Club, Grace Vanbergen, was thrilled about the opportunity.

"I was really excited. Some of the other things we were doing during COVID had been strictly virtual and this one was mostly virtual too, but there wasn't really any competition. So, I think with the Challenge, it brought that competition back," she says.

Laura Covert, an Associate Professor at Pittsburg State University, said her students who are Unified partners, would meet with New Hope athletes once a week for fun workouts outside. New Hope provides community living options and support services for persons with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities.

"The overall workout was kind of like a version of ‘duck, duck, goose,’” she says, adding, “music would play; when the music stopped, the person walking outside of the circle and the person they stopped next to would have to complete 10 squats or jumping jacks or some other exercise."

Covert said they would make it a competition to see who would finish first and shared they also had an indoor workout where participants were divided into teams. One person would roll the dice and whatever number was landed on, that was the number of reps for the exercise. The team to complete the exercise first would get the point.

Special Olympics Kansas athletes and Unified partners connect via Zoom.
Athletes and Unified partners participating in the SONA Move Challenge via Zoom.

Special Olympics Kansas athlete Carolyn Quitno was excited for the chance to work out and continue to do things she enjoys.

"I started with Special Olympics in the 3rd grade. I've been doing all kinds of sports. I do swimming, basketball, soccer and track," she says, adding, "during the Challenge, I pushed myself to be more active."

She would get creative exercising around the house, saying, "it's good for your muscles; you need to work out so you can get stronger every day." She plans to continue doing the exercises from the Challenge moving forward.

The success of the spring SONA Move Challenge was due, in large part, to the athletes and Unified partners who participated. With nearly 140 participants, Special Olympics Kansas has their sights on an even larger audience for next time.

"We want to do the same thing for our Unified Champion Schools next year," Hinojosa says.

The Fall SONA Move Challenge will take place Sept. 13 – Nov. 7 and will be larger and more competitive than before, thanks to the addition of a college leaderboard. You can register for the Fall SONA Move Challenge on August 1 here.

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