Tyler Wigington, a Special Olympics athlete from Wisconsin, races around a bend in Coimbra, Portugal. Tyler has been running nonstop for more than an hour and 30 minutes. He is competing with Colton Lohrenz, another Special Olympics athlete from Wisconsin, in the INAS World Half Marathon Championships for individuals with an Intellectual Disability.

Tyler hopes to break his all-time best record of 1 hour 36 minutes but comes short with a finishing time of 1 hour and 41 minutes. Tyler loves the thrill of long-distance running. "This was a hard race, the temperature was high. We got to run from the city into the country," said Tyler.

Tyler was introduced to Special Olympics when he was eight years old. He participated in bowling, and then progressed to track and field. From an early age, it was apparent to Don, Tyler's father, that Tyler had real talent in running. Tyler competed with Special Olympics Wisconsin in athletics, but the state didn't offer any running events longer than two miles.

Don and the rest of the Wigington family is very proud of Tyler and his accomplishments. Don is the Vice President of Sport for Special Olympics Wisconsin and his wife and children have volunteered as chaperones and coaches throughout Tyler's career in Special Olympics. "I'm impressed with the friends Tyler has made and the positive social impact which Tyler and the other athletes encounter with Special Olympics," explained Don. "With the support from Special Olympics, Tyler has been able to branch off to more competitive races, which is how Tyler now competes in more elite competitions."

Tyler began running longer and longer races outside of Special Olympics. After he graduated high school, Tyler wanted to do a half marathon. "I wanted to push myself more in longer races," said Tyler. Don and his wife were nervous before Tyler ran his first half marathon. "It's a long race, we were worried Tyler would miss a turn and get lost, or not stop for water breaks," said Don. For Tyler's first long race, a law enforcement officer rode a bike through the race with him to make sure he stayed on track. As Tyler grew comfortable with this pattern, he was soon ready to run alone. At the International Federation for Athletes with Intellectual Impairments (INAS) U.S Championship in Long Island, Tyler ran the race alone and achieved his personal best record of 1 hour and 36 minutes.

As Tyler grew in self-confidence and built leadership skills through Special Olympics, he applied to be considered as a Special Olympics Health Messenger. Health Messengers are Special Olympics athletes who have been trained to serve as health and wellness leaders, educators, advocators and role models within their Special Olympics communities, and the community at large. They are critical to ensuring Special Olympics achieves its goal of equitable health for all people with ID. Tyler submitted a video nomination explaining why he'd be a good fit for the position and was accepted for training in 2018. "I was very excited when I heard I had been selected to become a Health Messenger. I wasn't chosen the year before, so being selected this year was very special," said Tyler.


HAVE SNEAKS, WILL TRAVEL: (Opposite page) Tyler mid-race in Portugal; (above, clockwise from top) with fellow Special Olympics Wisconsin athlete Colton as they prepare for the race in Portugal; at Health Messenger Training in Washington, DC; and with his family visiting the Grand Canyon after one of his races.

Tyler, along with other Special Olympics athletes from around the United States learned about how to motivate themselves and others to live healthier lives, and received important health tips including personal hygiene, nutrition, and others. Tyler will complete a project this year based on his learnings. He will work with his community and a local state program in Wisconsin to promote the Fit 5 exercise booklets that Special Olympics has made to educate athletes about fitness and safely working out. He will be working with an intern at Special Olympics Wisconsin to set up sessions with Wisconsin athletes. "I'm excited to start this project and teach others about Fit5," said Tyler.

Tyler is already looking forward to his next competitive race. He, along with his family, will travel to Australia in October of 2019. Tyler will compete in a Track & Field competition at the 2019 Global Games with his USA team Athletes without Limits. Tyler is taking the winter season off to be fully rested before he starts to train again in the spring. "I can't wait for this next race and to have my family there with me to support me," exclaimed Tyler. •

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: renee dease is coordinator, healthy athletes, health Programs at special olympics international. renee has been with special olympics for 36 years. stephanie corkett is External health communications manager with special olympics, based in washington, dc.