News

Biking into 2021 with Samantha Bandiera

When the first COVID-19 lockdown in March of 2020 came about, Samantha took up riding her bike as a way to stay active at home. Since then, Samantha has been riding her bike for almost 6km daily! Although she has worn out two sets of tires and replaced some spokes along the way, that did not stop Samantha!  

Samantha also brings her dad along on her bike rides! Each day, she books a time with her dad as he works their ride in around his work schedule. Samantha’s dad rides his bike behind her as they explore the neighbourhood, hills and scenery that these rides have to offer! 

Samantha looks forward to riding her bike with her dad each day and has even lost a few pounds along the way! Way to go, Samantha!

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Walking the Streets of Stratford with Elizabeth Gaffney

One of Special Olympic Ontario’s Stratford & Area volunteers, Elizabeth Gaffney (who is a member of the Stratford J.A.M.E.S. Gang team), has walked every street in Stratford twice during the Walk the World with Me challenge!

Throughout her walks, Elizabeth has kept track of her routes by using a city map, highlighting the streets as she completes them. “I have a map that I colour in with every day’s accomplishment – it is very motivating,” said Elizabeth. Accomplishing this is no small feat given that Stratford covers an area of 26.95km2 (or 10.41 sq. mi). 

When Elizabeth started her first round of Stratford, she began with random walks radiating out from where she lives. As she got further from home, Elizabeth started driving to corners of the city to walk those neighbourhoods. As Elizabeth reached her second round of walking Stratford, she started walking the streets alphabetically.

“With every new beginning, the walk has a bit of a different profile, keeping me quite engaged in the project. Travelling down a street in the opposite direction, or even on the other side seems to change the walk significantly,” said Elizabeth. The walks have been a ball which is why Elizabeth is excited to take on her third round of walking the streets of Stratford!  

Elizabeth encourages her fellow SOO volunteers, coaches and athletes to get involved in staying active at home noting, “what’s not to love? No equipment necessary except decent shoes required! I get to support my local SOO group, bringing awareness and staying fit!”  

Walking has been a terrific project for Elizabeth throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “We need routine to hang onto our day and in these interesting times, routine has been lost for many. But not if you walk every day! So, good for my brain, good for my spirit and good for my body,” said Elizabeth.  

To stay active during the winter months, Elizabeth plans to keep on walking as long as it isn’t too slippery – continuing to colour in the streets of Stratford! Elizabeth also does yoga and other fitness classes online to accommodate the new reality.

Way to go Elizabeth – we can’t wait to cheer you on as you accomplish your third round of walking Stratford!  

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HDSA Shares How Walking Helped Them Stay Connected

Halton Down Syndrome Association (HDSA) High School and Graduate Groups first got involved with Walk the World with Me (WTWWM) because members from the group were missing their Special Olympics team sports. “It was a way to stay active and connected,” said High School Group Peer Coordinator, Karen Drexler.

Special Olympics Ontario has been a place that the group felt belonging to. “We have the opportunity to showcase our skills and be actively involved in sports that are important to us,” said Karen. Now, with the walking challenges set out, HDSA has found a new way to continue on as a community.

Each Monday throughout the WTWWM challenge, the group posted a Facebook live to discuss the new places they had walked that week. Additionally, the group also shared photos amongst each other to keep everyone connected.

“Being active, staying connected and seeing how far we have collectively walked,” has been a highlight for the group. As a group, HDSA has walked over 3,155km!

As we start 2021 off, HDSA is hoping to encourage their students to continue walking by utilizing social media and putting out challenges of their own! Way to go HDSA!

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Inspiring Others to Stay Active with Marcelle Morin

Marcelle Morin has been a Special Olympics Alberta coach for over 20 years. To continue staying active with Special Olympics from home, Marcelle stepped up to the Walk the World with Me challenge. As an avid walker already, Marcelle decided to take on the challenge in the hopes that she could motivate others to get out and walk. “I’ll help anyone – any age, gender, race, disability – to find ways of getting around for movement or exercise,” she said.

Since Marcelle has turned 50, she has done multiple 30km+ trips from her home to the Calgary Tower, the Calgary Zoo, or other significant landmarks and back. Each time Marcelle sets out on these walks, she records a new personal best in the time it takes her to complete the walk! “I felt more energized to do more later. It makes me feel better,” said Marcelle.  

What really keeps Marcelle motivated is the inspiration she brings to others: “I’ve motivated others to get out and exercise more which motivates me to keep going. Others say I am an inspiration to follow and get healthier.”

Marcelle continues to encourage others to get involved with Walk the World with Me and Special Olympics to help with their health and wellness. “The more you move and get out, the better you’ll feel – more energized and even socializing more,” she said. Walking gets easier the more you do it and you may find yourself feeling stronger along the way!

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Strengthening a Family Bond Through Physical Activity

The Brownley family, otherwise known by their Walk the World with Me team name ‘Brownley Fam-Jam,’ is comprised of Special Olympics athlete Rori, his Mom, Gramma and Papa.

Rori and his family first felt motivated to take on the Walk the World with Me challenge because of his Gramma. When Rori’s Gramma was diagnosed with cancer, the chemotherapy triggered an onset of dementia. In an effort to keep Gramma Brownley busy, the Brownley family took her on daily walks, whether it simply be to Wal-Mart or logging steps on their various road trips.

For Rori, his favourite part about walking around the world was that “we got to be outside and see new things that we probably would not have seen, and I was with my Mom, Gramma and Papa.” Going on daily walks together allowed for the Brownley family to spend quality time with each other while also making memories along the way.

For a little bit every day, the Brownley family made sure they got outside and tracked their activity. When Gramma Brownley passed in July 2020, Rori explained that his family had halted their daily physical activity. However, because of Gramma Brownley’s impact, the Brownley family is now back in action. “We exercise and get out into nature for my Gramma because she would want us to,” said Rori.

As Rori mentioned, the Brownley family is “going to keep being active and doing activities because it is good for us and we get to be together and try different things that we normally don’t get to do.” The Walk the World with Me challenge has been a great way for the Brownley’s to spend time together as a family and they do not plan on stopping!

Rori encourages his fellow SO athletes to join him and his family as they continue their daily physical activities. “I think people should get out walking, biking or exercising because it keeps you healthy and the fresh air makes you feel good!”

Join the Brownley family as they continue to walk the world!

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Stronger Than Ever: The Virtual Community That Became Team Burlington

Special Olympics Burlington athletes at the socially-distanced Torch Run

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and halted Team Burlington’s daily operations, coach Sue Cannon noticed that her athletes were becoming bored as a result of their lost sports programming. Shortly after, Sue found herself reading the Special Olympics Ontario newsletter and came across Walk the World with Me. “I immediately thought of our athletes and got in touch with coach Mary Ann Connolly and suggested that for accountability and keeping in touch, why not take some of the bocce players and coaches we were in contact with over Facebook and create a team,” she said.

Special Olympics Burlington athlete Laura Stremble walking at Royal Botanical Gardens

What started as a small group of members quickly ballooned through word of mouth and Sue began adding new athletes into the group as the days went on. Team Burlington not only became a Facebook page but a community where athletes and coaches could record their steps, log active minutes and most importantly, stay connected with each other.

Sue first got involved with Special Olympics after meeting a couple of athletes at a bowling alley where she previously worked. After being asked time and time again to coach these athletes and watch them bowl, Sue took the athletes up on their offer! Sue describes this experience as “one of the best decisions [she] ever made!”

Along the way, Sue has built incredible bonds and made some amazing friends. “Coaching is wonderful but, the athletes have taught me so much more – patience, unconditional acceptance, determination and resilience.” Despite the pandemic, Sue has continued to make sure her athletes are well-equipped to continue being active from their homes.

Special Olympics Burlington athlete Matt walks with his daughter

Cultivating a virtual community has led to some amazing benefits for Team Burlington. “We stay active and we stay in touch, so it helps with the mental and physical well-being of both athletes and coaches.”

Sue has even reconnected with athletes that she hadn’t heard from due to coaching and participation in different sports as well as been introduced to new athletes and coaches! Overall, Walk the World with Me has done wonders in keeping Team Burlington connected to one another.

Once Walk the World with Me concludes, Sue is planning on setting a team goal to walk somewhere new. Way to go Team Burlington!

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Walking the World with Lisa Butler

“Set goals and try to achieve them – you will feel great once you’ve accomplished or achieved your goals.” Special Olympics athlete, Lisa Butler, does exactly that when participating in any activity she sets her mind to.

Lisa Butler, a Special Olympics Ontario (SOO) athlete of 21 years, is currently setting her mind to the Walk the World with Me challenge. Earlier in 2020, Lisa competed at the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games in Thunder Bay. In the event of cross-country skiing for Team Ontario, Lisa went on to achieve 3 gold medals!

In an effort to stay healthy and fit while we shift to virtual SOO operations, Lisa found that walking the world was a “great way to keep the Special Olympics spirit going” while also staying active. Each day, Lisa either finds herself walking or running 5-6km, or swimming at her local wellness centre.

The benefits to her daily physical activities are endless – from encouraging an improved mood to boosting energy to strengthening the heart – Lisa’s walks, runs and swimming sessions have truly had an impact on her goal to stay active throughout SOO’s virtual operations!

Being an SO athlete, goal setting and living an active lifestyle has always been important to Lisa. Competing at different events has allowed her to confidently set goals and reach personal bests. The social aspect of such competitions has also been meaningful to Lisa’s overall health. “I get the opportunity to travel with my team and coaches to high-level competitions and have fun and believe in myself,” she said.

As she continues participating in Walk the World with Me, Lisa regularly challenges herself to achieve a daily step-goal. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Lisa is one of the top walking individuals with over 4,700km logged! Due to her daily walks and continued active lifestyle, Lisa hopes that when we can return to sports again, she will be stronger as an athlete.

We hope you join Lisa as we virtually set our sights on conquering Walk the World with Me!

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Uniting Students Through Walking With ÉSC Casselman

For the École Secondaire Catholique (ÉSC) Casselman Dynamos, participating in the SOO Schools Walking Challenge has allowed students to band together in an activity that anyone can partake in. “With the times we’re living in, this challenge gave staff and students the opportunity to participate together in an activity that only required time and no physical ability.” Each day, ÉSC Casselman staff and students aim to walk and jog a minimum of 30-minutes.

ÉSC Casselman is entering their fifth year of participation with SOO School Programs. Over the years, getting involved with SOO School Programs has generated excitement from students as they were able to participate in sports and activities. Within these experiences, ÉSC Casselman students have gained confidence from pushing their limits and trying new things. After all, the students love that SOO School Programs is more than just sports, it’s an experience like no other.

After completing the SOO Schools Walking Challenge, ÉSC Casselman educators hope their students will continue walking on their own time, creating a continuous daily habit. Some students have even pushed their motivation further, taking the challenge home and continuing to walk with their families after school hours!

Leading by example, ÉSC Casselman staff and students also hope to encourage other schools to get involved with the SOO Schools Walking Challenge. The Dynamos are currently leading the charge and we can’t wait to see how they progress!

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A snapshot of Leonka Kaluha

In just a few weeks, Special Olympics Alberta-Calgary athlete Leonka Kaluha has walked over 1,400 km – one of the longest distances of any athlete participating in Walk the World with Me.

She decided to join Walk the World because she loves nature and taking long walks, stating that “it helps me keep fit and I find it peaceful. It is something I can do on my own, or with a friend as long as we remember to social distance…”

Leonka says she started by doing laps outside of her condo complex, but as she became more comfortable with social distancing, she is taking longer walks in her community.

She now goes for multiple walks each day along the ridge above Fish Creek Provincial Park making sure to always have her Road iD bracelet and cell phone to keep safe, but also document her journey.

“I often take pictures of the things I see along the way from the views to all nature has to offer: trees, insects, different birds, rabbits, sometimes even deer down in the park. I even try to remember to take a selfie.”

Getting outside, going for walks, and attending the SOA-Calgary live workouts helps Leonka stay active and the fresh air gives her a moment to forget about the pain the world is going through.

Leonka believes that the world could use a giant band-aid to help start the healing process and to feel better.

When asked about why others should join #WalkTheWorldSO Leonka stated, “Why wouldn’t you? It’s easy to do, the only equipment you need is runners, water bottle, hat, and/or sunscreen. You can do it alone or be with family or friends and go at your own pace.”

“I say get out, get fresh air, and be well!”

We hope you join Leonka and the 1200+ individuals walking the world, as they virtually set their sights on Mexico and Central America!

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Motivating School Athletes To Stay Active And Connected

“These walking challenges are a great way to motivate our athletes to get outside and get active while they are at home. The web page is easy for them to navigate, and tracking their time in minutes as opposed to steps or km made it more inclusive for students who do not have tech or apps at home. The athletes also love seeing their progress on the map and the daily updates online where a great way to make them feel like they were part of a team again, even while social distancing!”

Amanda Morra, teacher from J. Clarke Richardson Collegiate, Ajax, Ontario

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