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The Young Athletes Impact

This summer, our Young Athletes program went virtual so that we could continue to meet the needs of our Young Athletes and their families during the pandemic. One of the families who participated consistently throughout the summer was the Zwicke family. Cody is six years old and has Down syndrome. Normally Cody participates in the St. Francis’s Children’s Center Young Athletes program in Glendale. Even though he can’t participate in person with his friends, he still gets to see them virtually through our practices. We spoke with Tami Zwicke, Cody’s mom, about what the virtual Young Athletes program has meant to Cody and their family. 

SOWI: Can you tell us a little bit about Cody’s experience with Special Olympics and Young Athletes before the pandemic?

Tami: Cody had participated in Young Athletes at Saint Francis Children’s Center Family Activity Center last summer. Cody really enjoyed this but this was his first time participating in an organized athletic activity where he had to learn to follow rules and learn how to do new activities and use new materials he may not have used before. It was nice because the group was small so they could learn from each other.  A big thing that was new for Cody was team work and working with others in organized physical activities.

SOWI: What impact has the pandemic had on him and his ability to be social and active?

Tami: The pandemic has had a huge impact on Cody. First of all, the social groups that are so important to us and him were canceled. At first completely, and then some did start some virtual options.  This includes Gigi’s Playhouse, Saint Francis Children’s Center’s weekly Chatter Scatter, Topps Soccer and Miracle League Baseball. He also was home-schooled and did not get to interact with his friends at school since his school did not offer virtual interaction or teaching in the spring. We were emailed websites and activities we could do. Socially this was a setback. Cody is a social kid but is still shy. He had built some really good friendships. Many of his friends also have special needs and are high risk just like he is. So our families have been taking this pandemic very seriously. Our family of three, Cody and myself and his dad were quarantined together.

Cody and his dad take a Young Athletes class outside

During most of the pandemic we have tried to stay active doing things outside. As we live on the east side of Milwaukee this sometimes was a challenge. As Cody’s verbal skills are still developing, we did not do any Zoom or Google meet-ups with his friends. We did participate in some virtual programs through Gigi’s Playhouse which were lots of fun. He also participated in virtual OT through Concordia University and virtual speech through UWM Speech Clinics. We also added Virtual Young Athletes as we quickly realized we could not get Cody to get enough physical exercise. We participated in the weekly program which we could easily do in our home. We actively tried to go on a family walk every day and get some sort of exercise. With all of Cody’s extracurricular activities canceled he did not see kids his age regularly at all.

SOWI: How have the virtual practices helped him and/or your family during these difficult times?

Tami: The virtual practices have helped by keeping Cody active and engaged. No matter how much we tried to do activities outside they are not enough for a six-year-old boy. The other challenge is he doesn’t always want to do everything with his parents but we were not seeing other kids during this pandemic and even now are very selective of who we meet with, as Cody is high risk. Jenna Lang, who runs Young Athletes, is very knowledgeable about each activity that was planned. Each session was planned out and followed a specific order. We were very impressed with the variety of different things we could do even in regards to stretches and cool down. As a parent I enjoyed hearing about why each task we did was important and the different suggestions of modifications that were given.

These practices helped our family as we could do them together. It was a way to have socialization with other families as well as the coach and sometimes coach mentors. It was an outlet for us as a family. Sometimes it was a challenge to get Cody to participate if he wasn’t feeling into whatever activity were doing but we were able to modify to keep his interest. This was a regular activity that we looked forward to each week. As our house was small, we were also able to fit whatever were doing in a small space and sometimes we practiced outside. Each week we learned a new skill and practiced older skills. For this hour we were able to have fun as a family, get in shape, exercise and not think about the pandemic. We also could do this in the safety of our own home. It also was wonderful to see the inclusivity of this. Anyone at any skill level could participate. Cody especially loved when all of us participated together: mom, dad (Nick) and Cody.

Cody shows Batman how to do the hula hoop obstacle

SOWI: What has been his favorite part of the experience?

Tami: His favorite part was actually doing the activities. He especially loved kicking, running and throwing. What was amazing was when we received a full kit of supplies! This made him so excited to use them! We now set up the hula hoops and bars and do exercises. In one photo you see him trying to teach Batman how to do some. The other favorite part is that Jenna had an intern teach some of the lessons. At one point she explained a bit about him and how he at one point had participated in Special Olympics so that was really great.

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