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Community Impact

Special Olympics Athletes Lead the Way Toward Inclusive Fitness

Eric Massey swimming
Eric Massey during a swimming competition.

The following is an expert from the CDC’s website post titled CDC and Special Olympics: Inclusive Health. For more information or to read the entire post, please visit the page here.

Meet Eric Massey: a two-time 2022 Special Olympics USA Games bronze medalist who is devoted to promoting a fit way of life for all. Eric is from Memphis, Tennessee and currently studies exercise and movement science at the University of Memphis.

Eric’s success as a Special Olympics athlete has been a result of training and determination, and he decided to include fellow athletes on his way there—2,000 of them! Leading up to the 2022 Games, he led weekly training videos for his peers and challenged them to join him in a fitness challenge. Eric doubled his weekly step goal and finished the challenge with nearly 2 million steps. Together, the participants took more than 2 billion steps “I’m proud of being a challenge leader and making videos each week to help my team members keep moving and learn ways to stay healthy,” Eric said.

Eric also leads his own online fitness club to promote inclusive fitness and healthy behaviors. Through this channel, he leads stretching and yoga workouts and shares health tips. His mother, Dr. LaShaunda Massey, clinical director with Special Olympics Strong Minds, also joins and provides emotional wellness tips. Special Olympics fitness resources, such as Strong Minds and School of Strength, have been an inspiration to Eric.

Healthy behaviors, such as those shown by Eric, his mom, and others, can be taught and reinforced online and at school, at home, and in community settings. This is especially important for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who often face barriers that limit access to community fitness opportunities and can lead to poor health outcomes.

Eric is among the growing number of people with intellectual disabilities who are leading the way when it comes to addressing and seeking to eliminate these barriers:

  • Kayla Cornell of Michigan returned to school to focus on the importance of nutrition. She said, “One of the biggest struggles Special Olympics athletes have is in the area of nutrition, so I made it my passion and dedication to teach people with intellectual disabilities how to cook healthier foods. I started a cooking class for athletes called ‘Let’s Get Healthy Together.’”
  • Daniel Fundora of Florida and James Kropp of Colorado have joined the ranks of certified personal trainers as they promote inclusive fitness opportunities.

In 2022, more than 70,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities participated in Special Olympics fitness programming, in big part thanks to the partnership for inclusive health between Special Olympics and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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