INSIDE SOSC: Athletes ‘Show You Their Heart, Spirit’

Inside SOSCAs Special Olympics Southern California athletes continue to work to remain in game shape and stay ready once competitions are cleared to resume, the medical professionals who volunteer in the Healthy Athletes village are eager to return when it’s safe to do so, too.

Among the free health screenings made available to athletes is FUNfitness—a physical therapy program designed to assess and improve physical strength, flexibility and balance. Developed in partnership with the American Physical Therapy Association, the screening is led by volunteer physical therapists.

Among the doctors who serve as clinical directors in the area are Dan Farwell and Alexandra Gryder.

While teaching at USC, Dr. Farwell saw what SOSC was providing and suggested there should be a physical therapy component. He also envisioned an opportunity for his students to gain vital hands-on experience. The benefits go beyond just a typical doctor-patient relationship, he said at last year’s Summer Games.

“[The athletes] will show you their heart,” said Dr. Farwell, a clinical director since 2012. “It’s like Christmas, I look forward to it when it’s on the calendar.”

That’s because he adheres to a similar belief many volunteers in various other roles share: “It will do more for you—no matter what you’re doing for them.”

Before stepping into a clinician role, Dr. Farwell remembers the days he would volunteer on the East Coast during his high school and college years. One role, in particular, he cherished was a hugger. He was positioned just beyond the finish line, encouraging runners to sprint to the finish and offering a warm embrace immediately after the race.

One memory stuck with him.

“An athlete was so far out in front of the rest of the guys, he was going to win by 30, 40 yards,” he recalled. “Literally, he looked around and realized he was all by himself. One step from the finish line he stopped, turned around and started waving the rest of the guys to get there. Everybody is screaming and yelling, ‘Go, go, go!’ and he’s waving them off because his friends aren’t here yet. They all ran over the line together. That’s where I realized this is incredible, this event is bigger than just the competitions.”

For Dr. Gryder, who has a cousin with special needs, the inspiration to be involved is a bit more personal. When she started volunteering nearly eight years ago, she was a student and helped the athletes and their families check-in at the Healthy Athletes village. There was also a similar experience at the 2015 World Games, giving her the opportunity to meet athletes from around the world. Those conversations fueled the desire to help out.

“Even though I wasn’t testing them, I got to sit and talk to them,” Dr. Gryder said.

Throughout the experiences, Dr. Gryder has also found that many athletes report to competitions in tremendous physical condition.

“A lot of people don’t realize they’re probably more fit than I am,” she said. “It’s incredible to watch them. They always have the best spirits.”

Inside SOSC is a blog managed by staff member Tracy McDannald. It is a more feature-style approach to looking inside what makes Special Olympics Southern California so unique, so special. It is meant to explore the people and their stories. One word at a time.

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