SIOUX CITY — For 32 years, Cari Davis has competed in multiple Special Olympics events. She likes to ride her bicycle around Anthon. And she works at Planet Fitness.
So it may be no surprise that Davis, 44, has taken on a new role as a “health messenger” with Special Olympics Iowa.
A group of seven Special Olympics Iowa athletes took a two-day health messenger training course, where they learned about subjects including fitness, emotional health, health self-advocacy and nutrition. Each is allowed to shape the role for themselves, playing to their own strengths, with the overarching goal of helping other athletes live healthier lives.
“We help people, be healthy,” Cari Davis said. Her mother, Sue Davis, helped her with an interview Sunday afternoon in Sioux City. Immediately before the interview, Cari had been practicing golf.
Davis was born with cerebral palsy, a motor condition that impacts a person’s movement, balance and posture, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 1988, at the suggestion of a teacher, Davis joined the Special Olympics in Las Vegas, where they lived at the time. They returned to Northwest Iowa several years ago and make their home in Anthon.
Since joining the Special Olympics, Davis has participated in the 15-meter assisted swim and 400-meter dashes, plus power-lifting, golfing, track, bocce, softball and bowling. She’s part of the Sioux City Knights, a Special Olympics Iowa delegation with roughly 200 athletes.
As a health messenger, Davis will make videos teaching people how to exercise and eat right.
“Our ultimate goal is, when we can get back together, she can lead a class, and maybe even go into a nursing home (to teach classes),” Sue Davis said.
Some of Davis’s lessons will focus on how to adapt certain exercises for people with different abilities. She has her own procedure for jumping jacks, for example.
Being a health messenger could also help Davis cultivate her communication and interpersonal skills, and boost her confidence.
“We look at it this way — it also helps her become stronger, and more secure, and more outgoing. When you’re one-on-one with her, and know her, she’s very outgoing, very chitty-chatty,” Sue Davis said. “But she gets real shy.”
Special Olympics Iowa cancelled its events this year after the pandemic struck. It was hard on the athletes.
“We understood, first of all, but it was heartbreaking,” Sue Davis said.
With Special Olympics events called off, the Sioux City Knights have been taking small groups of the athletes to Spalding Farm Park for training and activities — soccer, track and field events, basketball and so on — with social distancing and face masks.
“We take them out and do as much as we can,” Sue Davis said.
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