17 April 2014


Students at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus in Kelowna are sharing their burgeoning skill sets with Special Olympics BC and gaining some valuable experience along the way.

With the help of staff and faculty, students from disciplines such as Medicine, Nursing, and Human Kinetics, and from the UBC Okanagan Heat athletic teams have enthusiastically worked with local SOBC athletes at the recent Healthy Athletes Screening Day, and in the ongoing functional testing and training with Team BC 2014, and nutritional sessions.

UBC Okanagan’s first Healthy Athletes Screening Day on April 12 was a great success, with 51 athletes participating – most of them from Team BC – and 40 student volunteers helping out. The day-long SOBC health event is part of the organization’s commitment to empower athletes to better health and give them access to care they might not normally get.

Kenneth Lee, a UBC Okanagan Medical student and one of the Healthy Athletes organizers, said the athletes’ passion for their sports was undeniable, and he and his colleagues hoped to inspire the same passion for health care.

The free event offered a physiotherapy clinic called FUNFitness and a podiatry clinic called Fit Feet to help get Team BC athletes in top shape for the upcoming Special Olympics Canada 2014 Summer Games taking place at UBC in Vancouver. Health Promotion had interactive and informational booths on hydration, nutrition, sun safety, blood pressure, and Body Mass Index (BMI).

“It was extremely rewarding to see the athletes enjoying the booths, and it made us realize that promoting proper health care in this population is of utmost importance,” says Lee. “In essence, this fair was a way to bring together the Special Olympics community and the health-care professions in a welcoming and accepting environment.”


Lee and fellow medical students Sara Treloar and Joel Ho helped plan and run the event as part of a class project with support from Dr. Harry Miller, and SOBC staff and volunteers.

Lee, Treloar, and Ho helped recruit volunteers, collected giveaway items from places such as London Drugs, coordinated the setup and takedown of the venue, and got to put their own spin on the Health Promotion booths, which included games and a delicious smoothie stand.

In order to improve future screenings, the students did a followup survey to get feedback about the event from athletes and their families or caregivers.

A committed group of student athletes has also been making a big impact by supporting the health and fitness of Special Olympics athletes. The UBC Okanagan Heat cross-country running team and athletes from other sports are coaching Team BC athletes in intensive weekly training sessions in preparation for the National Games.

SOBC – Kelowna athlete Jeneka Greif is a Team BC track and field athlete who says working with the student coaches is a great supplement to her regular training and Team BC training camps.

“They are really helpful,” Greif says. “It seems like they know quite a bit. We do lots of different exercises on how to improve your body, balance, and your core.”

Trish Metro, captain of the cross-country team, and her teammates got involved in September 2013, wanting to share their passion, energy, and love of sport with others who felt the same way.

“Our cross-country running team had a goal to collaborate amongst the world of sport within our community,” says Metro, a third-year Nursing student. “Last summer our team track practices would often start while the SOBC track team were ending, and it was inspiring to see how hard they trained, and how much they enjoyed their sport. The coaches and athletes were always so positive.”

Greg Mather, the Commuter Student Programming Coordinator at UBC Okanagan’s Campus Life office, helped get the student athletes up and running and now supports them in their roles as coaches.

Mather also sits on the SOBC – Kelowna Executive Committee as one of its Program Coordinators, and has helped connect many students from different faculties to program volunteering.

The students coaching Team BC also include soccer and volleyball players, and students from various disciplines including Nursing, Medicine, and Human Kinetics. The coaches meet with the Team BC athletes every Sunday for strength and conditioning training to complement the athletes’ individual sports.

UBCO Heat and Team BC

“We try to provide exercises which can be adapted to be more difficult for the more advanced athlete, or more modified in case of injuries,” says Metro. “Core exercises are very important with all athletes, as core strength can prevent injury and increase efficiency, and it is here most athletes need to focus.”

Pictured right: UBC Okanagan student athletes and Team BC in a yoga session.

Greif’s focus on her training is certainly paying off. This has showed up in the functional testing that the UBC Okanagan student athletes and other students have been doing with the Team BC athletes.

Greif did her first functional testing just after Team BC started training in November 2013. Her followup testing on April 12, 2014, showed some amazing improvements. Greif went from 11 to 21 push ups, from a 65- to a 160-second wall sit, and from a 70- to a 117-second plank, showing impressive development in her upper and lower body, and core.

Greif is excited and very motivated in her training, saying “I want to go to Worlds.” She also very much enjoys working with the student athletes. “They’re just really cool,” she says.

The student athletes seem to be getting just as much out of the experience.

“You can show up tired, sick, stressed out, or annoyed, and the positive energy from these athletes spreads to you, and before you know it you are happily motivating an athlete to hold their plank position for 5 more seconds, or to do one more lunge,” Metro says. “We benefit from their success, their pride, and their achievements. We benefit from their infectious laughter and banter and lightheartedness. We benefit every time we walk through the doors.”

In the discipline of Human Kinetics, close to 20 practicum students in their final year have been gaining valuable experience with SOBC. As well as doing functional testing, they have helped coach sport teams, worked with SOBC’s Club Fit and FUNdamentals programs, and volunteered at events such as Snowfest, a swim meet, and Healthy Athletes.

“The students gain direct, hands on involvement working with the athletes from the Okanagan area,” says Rebecca Frechette, Practicum Coordinator/Instructor for the School of Health and Exercise Sciences. “The students really enjoy the opportunity to interact with the athletes and help them improve their fitness and performance in their respective sports.

Frechette sees student involvement with SOBC growing in the future. She says that SOBC staff and volunteers have been very supportive about including UBC Okanagan students in SOBC programs and initiatives, as well as mentoring them.

Morgan Hunter, who is completing her Bachelor’s degree in Human Kinetics with a major in Exercise Physiology at UBC Okanagan, describes working with SOBC as a “once in a lifetime experience.”

Hunter specializes in nutrition and shares her knowledge about the importance of healthy eating for athletes at Team BC training camps. She also talks about goal setting, has developed handouts for athletes to take home, and does fun, hands-on activities, such as making trail mix with the athletes.

“There are a few athletes who have seen me present more than once,” Hunter says. “It is so great to hear how the tips and tricks that I’ve given them have impacted their lives. I love being able to talk to athletes after they have had the opportunity to utilize what I presented and see how it made their lives better!”

UBC Okanagan’s involvement with people with intellectual disabilities spread across campus as the university took part in the sixth annual international Spread the Word to End the Word awareness day on March 5. After being approached by the school’s Disability Resource Centre, Campus Life enthusiastically posted messages on social media, and gave out pins and informational material to students. The campaign calls for the end of the use of the r-word and promotes respect and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities.

UBC Okanagan’s commitment to Special Olympics doesn’t stop in its local community. The university has funding to send 10 keen students to help out at the Nationals Games this summer, which should be a thrilling experience. One can only wonder what will come next from this generous institution and its amazing students, staff, and faculty.


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