Special Olympics athletes prepare for Polar Plunge through local fitness program

When Daniel Ramirez began training for the 4-mile race at this year’s Polar Plunge Festival at the Oceanfront, the Special Olympics athlete from Virginia Beach could barely go a quarter of a mile before he needed to stop to catch his breath, said Holly Claytor, a Special Olympics spokeswoman.

But Ramirez has been working out — two nights a week since last April — with Wade Crawford of  “Get SO Fit,” a program run through the Special Olympics that is designed to help athletes of all abilities get in shape.

Now Ramirez can run 5 miles at a time and follow it with strength training, Crawford said.

“I’m just really proud of all of them for staying with it,” he said of the athletes he has helped.

Crawford’s fitness program will be one of the beneficiaries of this weekend’s Polar Plunge fundraising events, the majority of which will take place Saturday. It will receive the donations to the team that Crawford’s wife, Diane, organized for the plunge, Team Inclusion Area 2.

Crawford said he plans to use the money to continue to expand his program and possibly incorporate CrossFit-styled workouts next season, if he can find a local gym willing to host them.

The idea for “Get SO Fit” began with a realization Crawford had when he and his wife and three kids were running a variety of sports programs, from basketball to golf to speed skating, for Special Olympics Virginia. He saw that the sports weren’t enough for some of his participants.

“I had a lot of parents or caregivers tell me (their kids) need to lose weight, they need to be healthier,” Crawford said.

He told them that participating in a sport once a week for about 10 weeks wouldn’t really help change their child’s eating habits or help them shed excess weight.

Daniel Ramirez, a participant in the "Get So Fit" program, will be running the 4-mile race on Saturday. (Courtesy of Special Olympics Virginia)
Daniel Ramirez, a participant in the “Get So Fit” program, will be running the 4-mile race on Saturday. (Courtesy of Special Olympics Virginia)

“There’s a serious obesity program within our special Olympics community,” he said.

So in June 2014, Crawford started “Get SO Fit.”

The program runs in three seasons and in three local cities — spring in Virginia Beach, winter in Norfolk and fall in Chesapeake. The program also varies depending on the season. In the fall, the group focused on jump training, which involves a mix of plyometrics, aerobic movements and body-weight exercises, such as push-ups.

The program runs for six weeks and the group, which ranges in size between 20 to 30 athletes of all ages, meets once a week. Participants get a take-home version of the program to do on their own three to four times a week. Crawford said that helps them stay active and lose weight.

This season the group is doing “Kung Fit Yoga,” which includes six tae kwon do moves, six yoga poses and six strength training exercises. The program features nutrition talks about what foods to eat and what to avoid.

“I’ll start getting texts or Facebook posts about what they’re doing on their own and what they’re eating,” Crawford said.

Have a story idea or news tip? Contact schools reporter Kelly Kultys at Kelly@SouthsideDaily.com or 757-490-2750.

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