Using Technology to Stay Connected, An Athlete’s Perspective

Garrie Barns at Special Olympics standing behind the receptionists desk.

Why is it so hard to have to stay home when you are used to getting out and about, riding the metro, and feeling a sense of freedom? Because of COVID-19, we are staying home so that we can protect those who are vulnerable to the disease. We are all so used to being active, outgoing, human beings, by being at home, we are losing that.

Right now we are having to isolate from life. Not allowed to do normal work and hang out with our friends and family. We can’t get out like we used to. I like to get out to see friends and family. Now, I’m not able to have that true human connection. True human connection is important to me because for a while in my life, I didn’t have but one friend. Now I have a lot of friends and I am not able to see them, except on the computer or on the phone and that feels fake. The reality is, not everyone is able to have the advanced technology to communicate. I am lucky and fortunate to have this technology to be able to communicate during these hard times.

Technology is great when you are able to have access to it. There are Special Olympic athletes in the world that aren’t as lucky as I am to be able to stay connected with people. Staying connected to people means that I am not alone and that I can also make new friends. I am having zoom social meetings with other co-workers, they are bringing me closer to people than I was before. Technology is allowing me to work and to work on new things. I have been working on a new training for new employees to learn best practices on how to work with all people with all types of disabilities. I have also been working with the Legal Team on our new program that will be for our programs around the world. With working on this, we are working on a training video that will have athletes and our Chairman Tim Shriver and a popular television star from Chicago P.D., Jason Beghe. I talked to him about how our athletes are both kids and adults and our adult athletes should be treated like adults. I have also been learning how to use Microsoft Teams.

Image of Garrie Barns computer while she's having a Zoom meeting with Sally Cohen

My Book Club moved really quickly to zoom, when we learned we would not be able to meet in person. In December, we each chose a book for the club to read. My book for the month of May was a memoir written by Haben Girma, the title of the book is called “Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law.” I liked this book because it gave me insight into another person’s disabilities. Through zoom, we have been discussing our books. The person who chooses the book, makes up the questions and then we all answer them during that meeting. We have fun too, hanging out, like we would if we were together in person. It has been great to see everyone and everyone looks forward to it. Sometimes they look so forward to it, they think it’s before it actually is!

Since I am not able to go to dance practice, my coach has come up with a fun way for us to still be able to dance, see everyone, and have fun together. We have a dance party on Fridays on Zoom. We learn a new dance to fun music like Lady Gaga. And at the end of the party everyone that comes to the party that Friday gets to show their dance moves in what we call “The Spot Light” and we all take a bow together, when the dance party is over.

On Wednesday nights, I meet my Mom and my church friends and their family on Zoom. There, we meet up with our Leader of Special Blessings, which is the Special Needs Ministry at our church. We take turns talking about our weeks. We may share some fun things we did during the week, we listen to a bible verse that is shared for the week, and then we end with prayer. Since I have not been able to go to church, it has been great to be able to see my church friends, while we are stuck at home.

I do School of Strength every day for a half hour to an hour. I enjoy it because it is being led by other Special Olympics athletes and a trainer that understands people with ID. The pace is not slow but not fast, some other programs are too fast. If you are not able to keep up it is hard to be energized to do it. I like the WWE part. Becky Lynch is funny. I like School of Strength because it is a video that shows you how to do the exercises.

I think it can be hard to just talk on the phone or use technology like zoom when you are used to being around people. You can still feel alone. Having to stay home is very hard and can be very lonely. People are so used to being with people, they may not want to have to use technology like zoom.

As states start to open back up and things start to get back to the way things were, I know that it could be hard for a lot people, because they are scared to get back to the way life was before. But if we all take it a step at a time, I think we will be ok.

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