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Special Olympics Adapts During Extraordinary Times

This has been a tough year for everyone, and the Special Olympics of Lycoming County has been no exception. In spite of these difficult times, they have not only survived, but have thrived. According to Marc Follmer, manager of the Lycoming County Special Olympics, the organization as a whole has had to make many adjustments. “The Special Olympics has essentially been on hold since March. We’ve gone back and forth with in-person training depending upon state guidelines and the number of COVID cases in Lycoming County.” In addition, all competitions in Pennsylvania have been conducted virtually since March of 2020.

To help keep athletes fit, the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania asked that coaches make up training programs so their athletes could stay as active and fit as possible on their own. In addition, as part of their ‘Commit to Fit’ initiative, the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania offered unique programs such as the Stride Challenge, the Fitness Heptathlon, At-Home Training, and limited In-Person Training.

The Stride Challenge allows participants to track and self-report miles as participants walk, run, or roll in a wheelchair over the course of several weeks. This can be done either individually or as a unified pair with a registered Class A volunteer.

The Fitness Heptathlon provides participants the opportunity to train and compete in a program consisting of seven fitness exercises. Participants can choose from a list of 26 events which are suited to meet the unique needs of each individual. Heptathlon competitors can earn points based upon their progress in their chosen exercises.

At-Home Training includes safe at-home activities that are facilitated by a Class A volunteer coach. At Home Training, athletes are provided with necessary equipment, then coaches score and submit entries on behalf of the athletes.

Of all of the different programs that have become available during the COVID-19 pandemic, In-Person Training has been affected the most. When COVID infection rates in Lycoming County have allowed In-Person Training, activities are conducted with safety protocols in place and are facilitated by a registered Class A coach at select training locations. According to Follmer, masks, anti-bacterial wipes, and temperature checks are used when appropriate.

The Special Olympics has done an exceptional job of providing year-round sports training and competition opportunities in a variety of sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. In addition to organized athletics, the Special Olympics provides opportunities for participants to stay fit, demonstrate good sportsmanship, learn developmental skills, and be part of a community. All of which is provided free of charge to athletes and their families.

The Special Olympics is a worldwide organization that began with Eunice Kennedy Shriver. She believed that all people were capable of great things if given the opportunity. It began as a day camp for people with intellectual disabilities and was held in the backyard of Eunice and Sargent Shriver in 1962. Six years later, in 1968, the Special Olympics held their first international competition. It has since grown to become the largest amateur sports organization in the world with affiliates in more than 172 countries.

In 1970, Special Olympics Pennsylvania held their first competition in West Chester with 135 athletes who competing in Track and Field. The event was funded by the Department of Special Education in Harrisburg and was a catalyst for interest in the Special Olympics throughout the state.

“Most people don’t realize that the Special Olympics might be the only thing these athletes are involved with. It’s been very tough both physically and socially for our participants. Take bowling, for example, one of our most popular sports. Because of COVID, it’s been very difficult to get athletes and coaches together for training or competition. Still, we’ve adapted.”

While the people that have helped make the Special Olympics of Lycoming County possible are too numerous to name, Marc Follmer wanted to thank the athletes, their families, coaches, and the many volunteers for making it such a great organization. Marc also wanted to give special credit to Lester Loner and Tracy Rooker for all of their hard work and dedication.

Lester Loner is the Training Coordinator and keeps track of athlete training, and coach clearances. Loner is also a coach himself and is involved with running, walking, bowling, and athletics. Tracy Rooker is the Sports and Competition Coordinator and is responsible for making sure athletes turn in completed medical forms and coaches have appropriate clearances. In addition, Rooker maintains athlete rosters and arranges transportation for competitions.

Follmer went on to say that the Special Olympics of Lycoming County has approximately 120 athletes but there is always room for more athletes, coaches, and other volunteers. Marc Follmer also wanted it noted that this group depends entirely upon the generosity of the community for donations of both time and money and is extremely grateful for the support they have received. “All Special Olympics organizations were hit hard this year.” Said Follmer. “We have had a very hard time fundraising, though the Frostbite Run, which was held virtually, went well considering the circumstances.”

If you would like to know more about getting involved with the Special Olympics of Lycoming County you can check them out at or contact:

Marc Follmer at or call him at 570-772-4653.
Monetary donations can be sent to:
Special Olympics Lycoming County
P.O. box 1891
Williamsport, Pa 17703

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