Special Olympics’ School of Strength is going worldwide


The School of Strength initiative from Special Olympics is a partnership with WWE, looking to help athletes stay fit from home, year-round.

In 2019, Special Olympics began planning and filming what would be a first in their 50-year history, a new fitness video campaign called School of Strength.

The campaign consisted of several workout videos with varying levels of difficulty, including Superstar Trainer, Champion Trainer and Master Trainer, in flexibility, balance, endurance, and of course, strength. They would help Special Olympic athletes and anyone willing to do the workout videos commit to a lifestyle that includes healthy fitness habits and the videos also came with recipes for healthy diets, a fitness tracker, game ideas and general health tips that were all available to download.

Special Olympics knew that they wanted to reach a broad audience with these videos during the initial planning stages, so it was a no-brainer that their longtime partners, WWE, would be involved.

WWE, which is immensely popular amongst Special Olympic athletes in the United States, has partnered with the sports organization since 1995. With their partnership, the goal is to empower athletes of all ages and abilities to not only achieve their goals on and off the field but also have all athletes be equally recognized and celebrated for their talents and accomplishments. The WWE’s global platforms has helped grow the reach of Special Olympics, and has educated fans of the sport on the organization and its initiatives.

The WWE got involved with School of Strength by having Becky Lynch, one of WWE’s most recognizable and highest-paid wrestlers, feature alongside six Special Olympic athletes (Angel Athenas, Beth Donahue, Gerardo De La Cerda, Greg Demer, Stephanie Ching, and Vince Egan) in the series of workout videos.

“It was awesome. I got to meet a lot of new people,” said Egan. “It was really cool meeting Becky Lynch; it was an honor. It was just really cool that an organization as big as the WWE was hosting the event.”

The campaign was created in response to athletes who needed more resources that allow them to stay fit year-round, especially during their ‘offseason’, a time where they may not necessarily be training full time for their respective sport.

School of Strength was also created due to data collected by Special Olympics, which demonstrated that fitness programming leads to positive health behaviors for all participants (with and without intellectual disabilities). Out of those who consistently kept up with fitness programming, 37 percent of all participants increased their level of physical activity, 51 percent of all participants increased the amount of fruits and vegetables in their diets, and 45 percent of all participants increased their water consumption.

The campaign, which was largely funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the national public health agency of the United States), was launched on March 25, 2020. A day later, the United States overtook China and Italy with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world.

Special Olympics, of course, could not have foreseen the impact of the pandemic worldwide, but it was particularly convenient that the organization was able to launch a fitness video campaign at the same time.

School of Strength gave Special Olympics a perfect tool to support athletes during the pandemic

All across the world, everyone was confined to their own homes, and all sports, whether it be professional, semi-professional, or grassroots, came to a sudden halt. Many athletes were left wondering how they would find the physical and mental strength to remain fit. Slowly, Special Olympics athletes turned to School of Strength to cope with the unfamiliarity of the situation.

School of Strength began to grow across the country and eventually across the world. Because of its high demand, the videos and the rest of the campaign materials were translated to Chinese, Korean and Russian among other languages.

It quickly became a large, yet very tight-knit online community of Special Olympics athletes sharing their workout videos all across social media.

Egan, who joined the Special Olympics in 2005, was selected to represent Team Colorado in Golf at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games. The Games, which will be carried across the ABC and ESPN family of networks in the U.S., may be next June, but Egan is prepping now, and incorporating some of the exercises that he learned doing the School of Strength workouts into his own fitness regime.

“I’m super excited. I cannot wait to compete in my favorite sport of all time…. I’m back in the gym now, working and ensuring that I’m ready for the altitude change. I’ll be a bit further from sea level, so I have to be ready for that.”

The popularity of School of Strength continued to grow, even after COVID-19 restrictions began to ease, so much so that the Special Olympics decided to launch a similar program aimed at Hispanic athletes.

Escuela de Fuerza launched in October of this year, and it was developed in partnership with Special Olympics Global Ambassadors and MLB superstars Gleyber Torres of the New York Yankees, and Willson Contreras of the Chicago Cubs.

The two played a similar role to what Lynch did in the English version, and are featured in the workout series alongside Special Olympics athletes Abigail Zamorano, Belem Chavez, Julián Rodriguez, Ramón Jiménez, and Tomás Monsiváis.

“The workouts are not actually that hard. Anyone can workout to the videos,” said Chavez, who also mentioned that they were a great way to improve one’s Spanish as well.

School of Strength and its translations continue to make an impact on a global scale as it hasn’t only become a way for athletes to expand their fitness goals, but also stay committed to a health journey that hopefully lasts a lifetime.

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