BY RENEE DEASE
Darci Owens was introduced to Special Olympics through her school system when she was 11 years old and has not looked back. In addition to being an avid athlete, Darci participates and volunteers in Special Olympics Healthy Athletes® and enjoys educating others about health in the community. She recently was trained as a Health Messenger by Special Olympics North America and wants to share her story in order to prompt others into action.
One way Darci is working to change these statistics is her focused involvement in Special Olympics Health, made possible by the Golisano Foundation. She is embracing her role as a Health Messenger and a passionate fitness teacher, educating others about the Special Olympics "Fit 5" program.
The Special Olympics Fit 5 programs make it easy for anyone to get fit. Just remember these three simple actions: Exercise five days a week, eat five total fruits and vegetables per day, and drink five 16oz/500ml bottles of water per day.
Darci travels the state to meet about health with alpine ski, snowboard, swimming and basketball teams as well as police officers involved in the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics. Darci practices what she teaches and encourages her own friends and family to be active. It is hard to believe she was trained as a Health Messenger less than one year ago. "I was excited to make new friends and learn new things. I was excited because being a Health Messenger is important and I learn new ways to be healthy and how to motivate others," she shares.
Darci also reports that her confidence and leadership skills have grown since she was trained.
A FORCE FOR FITNESS: With athletes like Darci leading the way, Health Messengers are working to create healthier athletes everywhere. (Opposite page) Darci Owens practices during a competition at the Summer Games 2019 in Alaska; (Above) Darci has an engaged audience as she explains Fit 5 at a floor hockey event; (Right) Darci instructs a class on Fit 5 during a Health Messenger Training session.
In January 2019, Darci co-led Alaska's first Health Messenger training for 11 athletes from six different community programs at the annual state conference. At the conference, Darci led areas such as a daily 45-minute fitness session with all attendees and a hands-on hydration activity. The important message of health and fitness will be spread into many more communities in Alaska, thanks in part to athlete leaders like Darci. "It is important that our athletes follow a good fitness routine to help them stay in shape," shares Darci. "Health is important for athletes of all ages."
Living a healthy lifestyle is important to Darci and her family. They eat healthy, she and her younger twin sisters engage with Special Olympics activities regularly, she runs with her dog and the list goes on. Additionally, Darci's mom is on the Healthy Communities committee and is a volunteer for FUNfitness at Healthy Athletes. Darci even teaches unified workouts at the Special Olympics Alaska facility.
But even with how impressive Darci and her family are, Darci knows that this message of fitness is one that others must embrace and teach in order to make a difference. She wants to further extend the message of health-tohealth providers on how to work with people with intellectual disabilities. For example, her advice for doctors would be to communicate with her and she will be truthful with them about how she's feeling. Doctors need to listen carefully to what she needs. Additionally, Darci knows that when she teaches, she can inspire others and she wants to encourage other people with intellectual disabilities that they can be healthy and also be teachers about healthy choices, too. With athletes like Darci leading the way, Health Messengers are working to create healthier athletes across Alaska and across the world.•
Contact your local Special Olympics Program to learn more about Health Messengers and/or download a copy of the Fit 5 guide at media.specialolympics.org/resources/sports-essentials/fit-5/Fit-5-Guide.pdf