I have always been involved in some type of sport or exercise, but it became a passion my senior year of high school when my neighbor talked with me about wellness and all that is involved. After high school I enrolled in a program that taught nutrition and fitness to people with intellectual disabilities.
As part of the program, I was paired with a wonderful personal trainer who listened to my goals and challenged me to work toward them daily. Six months later, I competed in an indoor triathlon and finished 13th out of 42 women. I felt amazing. The next month, I finished my second triathlon.
I can’t say it was easy. There were many days in the gym that were hard. There were lots of foods that were tempting. But I can say it was really worth it! I learned a lot about myself and have experienced the confidence and pride that comes through hard work. I have learned to accept advice from others, learn from my mistakes and embrace my dreams and all the wonderful opportunities in life, instead of being afraid.
Now I am planning to do a mountain hike called a “14er”, to the top of a mountain over 14,000 feet high. I have been working every day to get ready.
As a Together Counts™ partner, Special Olympics strives to remind us why health and fitness is important for everyone, and especially Special Olympics athletes. To give us a better sense of what we need to work on, Special Olympics even provides health screenings everywhere their athletes train.
Here are some of my favorite tips for anyone who wants to make a positive change in their life:
- Develop a positive attitude (like telling yourself “being myself is enough”)
- Find a support team to confide in and listen to them
- Breathe deeply and relax each day.
- Keep trying and never give up
- Stay hydrated throughout the day
- Keep a food journal
- Watch portion sizes
- Incorporate healthy snacks into your routine like fresh fruits and vegetables
- Do something active at least five days a week
- As you feel yourself getting stronger challenge yourself to do a little more
- Confused muscles are growing muscles. Try mixing up your routine by doing a mix of strength, core and cardio and activities throughout the week
Start small but dream big!
Special Olympics has sports and wellness activities for individuals with and without intellectual disabilities across the US and the world. To find out how to connect with the Special Olympics movement in your area to get you and your children involved in a lifelong fitness and wellness programming and engage with amazing athletes like Hanna, contact your local Special Olympics Program.
Hanna Atkinson has been a vital contributor to Special Olympics Colorado (SOCO) since she was 13 years old. She participates as an athlete on many SOCO unified sports teams, is a member of the Youth Activation Committee, and was reporter for the Denver 7 news team in 2015 and 2016. She was a part of the school’s JV Swim team and Unified Basketball team for all four years when she attended Heritage High School. In 2012, Hanna was a recipient of the John Lynch Exceptional Star Award given to an outstanding student-athlete with Down Syndrome. Hanna currently works part-time at The Olive Garden and volunteers with Score a Friend Club and The Healthy Me Project. Her future goals include starting her own health and wellness company. She likes camping, hiking, reading, movies, writing poems, and dancing.
Peyton Purcell, MPH, is the Senior Manager for Health Promotion and MedFest at Special Olympics Inc.
For more ideas on how to live an active, healthy lifestyle, check out these other articles from Together Counts!