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New Ulm Medical Center

Young Athletes program provides range of benefits to very young

Most people associate the Special Olympics with young athletes who have intellectual disabilities. However, Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute – New Ulm is teaming up with Special Olympics to offer a program called, “Young Athletes” that focuses on children ages 2 to 7 whether they have a disability or not.

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Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute – New Ulm is teaming up with Special Olympics to offer a special program locally called “Young Athletes” that focuses on children ages 2 to 7, whether they have disabilities or not. Pictured here is a Young Athletes program held previously in another community.

The seven-week program (one session each week) engages children with and without disabilities through developmentally appropriate play activities. The activities foster physical, cognitive and social development by bringing together children both with and without disabilities. It is a chance for them to learn from each other and the program brings awareness about children with disabilities to their peers.

Special Olympics provides equipment, training for the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute staff, t-shirts and snacks for participants. While there is no monetary cost for the Institute to run this program, the physical, occupational and speech therapists do donate their time for each session.

“Each session works on a different skill,” said Eileen Campbell, physical therapist with Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute – New Ulm. “But it is all done in a way that just seems like fun and games to the kids – such as obstacle courses, songs, bridges and tunnels, follow the leader, throwing, and beginning hockey.”

These very specific skill sets that the children work on actually set them up for future participation in sports. “There are some very specific skills that will be applicable to playing specific sports like soccer, hockey, basketball, etc,” said Campbell.

Young Athletes goal is to prepare children with intellectual disabilities for future participation in Special Olympics, but it also encourages the peer partners to stay connected with Special Olympics. In fact, everyone ages 8 and older can participate in Special Olympics through Unified Sports. Statewide children and adults with and without intellectual disabilities can play Special Olympics sports together like flag-football, basketball, or bowling. Inclusive sports and social programs are the focus of Special Olympics across the world.

“Other Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute sites have participated in the Special Olympics Young Athletes Program, and the New Ulm group is very excited to bring it to this region. There are just so many benefits to a program like this such as social interaction, physical activity, and skill development,” said Campbell.

In addition to Campbell, team members from Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute – New Ulm who will be working with kids in the program include: Shari Meyer, OT; Tammy Henle, PT; Kara Beranek, PT; Liza Schwartz, SLP; and Ann Lewis, SLP.

The program begins in March and Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute – New Ulm is hopeful that if the program is successful there, they will be offering it again.

For more information or to sign your child up for the Young Athletes program, call 507-217-5173.