During the COVID-19 pandemic, events and gatherings around the world were put on hold for public health and safety. While social distancing and isolation has been pivotal to helping reduce the spread of coronavirus, it has also led to many organizations connecting with its communities virtually.
Special Olympics Arizona has had to move online for virtual programming and distanced activities to comply with social distancing requirements and most importantly, to keep its more than 21,000 athletes safe.
“We’re a year-round training and competitive opportunity for individuals with and without intellectual disabilities,” said Jamie Heckerman, the president and CEO of Special Olympics Arizona. In a normal year, Special Olympics Arizona athletes participate in 21 different sports throughout Arizona, but that all got put on hold in 2020 and into 2021.
“Our athletes are more socially isolated than ever, and that’s something we strive to break up with our programming and activities on a daily basis,” said Heckerman.
Many of the Special Olympics athletes have health conditions that put them at higher risk for COVID-19 and its effects, and have been isolated at home with family to stay safe and healthy.
“We miss being together in a huge Special Olympics family,” said Conner Smith, a Special Olympics Arizona athlete and ambassador. Many members of the community have turned to social media to create online groups where they connect with one another. “Ever since we started the virtual events, the athletes have been able to keep up that communication.”
With these online groups, Smith said, the Special Olympics family has been able to maintain a sense of community, despite their physical separation.
Special Olympics Arizona is inviting the community to take a virtual Polar Plunge on March 20, 2021. The challenge can be completed in a pool, a lake, with a bucket of ice water, or any way to support the Special Olympics cause and their athletes.
“We are encouraging anybody to sign up with our Polar Plunge and they can raise money to jump into a cold body of water,” said Heckerman. “I will be jumping in my pool at my house and I would like to encourage other athletes to do the same as well because it’s a great cause for the Special Olympics.”
Autonomous driving technology company Waymo is a sponsor of the Special Olympics Arizona Polar Plunge because it believes in the potential for autonomous vehicles to enhance and enable independence, mobility, and access for people who are unable to drive themselves. To learn more about the potential benefits of autonomous driving technology, visit Let’s Talk Autonomous Driving.