Coronavirus: Virtual fitness training for Special Olympics athletes

NYU Abu Dhabi students are designing tailored home workout sessions for athletes

NYUAD Class of 2023 student Salma Abdelaziz with Special Olympics athlete Nour El Akhdar. Courtesy NYU Abu Dhabi
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Special Olympics athletes have begun virtual training sessions with students from New York University Abu Dhabi to improve fitness levels and keep them engaged at home.

Two sessions will be held per week to help athletes with intellectual and developmental disabilities stay active as part of Virtual Unified Partners, a fitness support programme.

About 17 athletes, aged between nine and 32, who compete in the Special Olympics Games will train with 16 NYUAD students.

Students design each workout session, which is held through video conferencing.

They are assisted by the university’s athletics coaches so activities are tailored to the requirements of each participant.

Salma Abdelaziz, a film student, said she has developed a bond with Special Olympics athlete Nour El Akhdar

“In our Zumba workout sessions, Nour's dance movements are always on point; she would definitely be a better instructor than me.”

Talal Al Hashemi, national director of Special Olympics UAE, said the initiative “created a strong link among students in the university and our athletes from people of determination and intellectual challenges."

Khawla Barley, an initiatives development supervisor at Special Olympics UAE, said NYUAD students were prepared for the sessions by undergoing training to incorporate remote learning practices.

Peter Dicce, NYUAD's assistant dean of students and director of athletics said the initiative built on the legacy of the Special Olympics World Games hosted by Abu Dhabi last year.

“The coronavirus cannot derail our mission to promote opportunities and social inclusion for these remarkable athletes,” he said.

The university hosted athletics and powerlifting events at its Abu Dhabi campus during the March games.

Unicef has recommended that people with disabilities stay home as they may have underlying health conditions that increase the risk of serious complications and death from Covid-19.

The United Nations body has urged greater engagement with the community so they continued to receive care and support.