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PSU students to study Special Olympics athletes with $29,000 grant

Special Olympics North America assigned a $29,00 grant award to a Pittsburg State professor, Laura Covert-Miller who holds a doctorate and teaches in the Health, Human Performance, and Recreation Department at PSU. The grant funding is directed to a research project based on Special Olympics athletes completing fitness assessments and completing surveys related to their quality of life. The study involves 140 athletes in Pittsburg and Parsons, Kan.  

The fund paid for the purchase of Chromebooks, Fitbits for each athlete, software to download and manage data from the Fitbits, and stipends for the four students involved with the project. Hanah Carr junior in Therapeutic Recreation, Brenna Schroeder senior in Exercise Science, Reese Dalton senior in Human Health Performance and Recreation and Libby VanRheen will be the students assisting Covert-Miller in her research.  

“Special Olympics Kansas and I were already planning on doing a similar research study on a smaller scale within Southeast Kansas,” Covert-Miller said. “When Special Olympics North America and International found out about the project they asked us if we wanted to apply for the University Grant to be a part of the entire evaluation happening around the country.” 

The project began Monday Oct. 5 and will last 16 weeks. The physical test will include a balance assessment, a three-minute aerobic step test for cardio assessment along with push-ups and curl-ups. In order to make sure the athletes execute each activity properly; Covert’s students recorded fitness assessment videos to guide every athlete through their tests.  

“Unfortunately, we can’t be the ones to go out and collect the data right now because of COVID,” Covert-Miller said.  “We are relying on the local Special Olympic coaches to help gather that data, rather doing it virtually or just having athletes complete the assessments with the help of care takers or family members.” 

The Special Olympics requires three rounds of data collection. The first set of data is collected weekly focusing on their athletes and their initial performance on the course of eight weeks. The second round of data is to be collected late November, focusing on possible improvements and the final data will be collected early January.  

“I think this study will bring in a lot more information as to what these different types of training (fitness program or recreational programs) will do for these individuals,” Schroeder said. “I think that after the first round of scheduled exercises that a habit will start to form in a good amount of the individuals that will continue to keep with it even on their own”. 

The grant is a university evaluation related grant and PSU was selected in the state of Kansas along with five other states that are also conducting studies focusing on the quality of life of Special Olympic athletes. Other states conducting studies are Texas, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Louisiana and Arizona.  

“This study will give us the information to take the right steps toward reducing the risk of chronic diseases, preventing wight gain, and improving overall wellbeing of the athletes,” Dalton said. “Athletes are going to be learning fun, new ways to create healthier habits and promote their long-term health.” 

The Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities. They provide year-round training and activities to five million athletes across 172 countries. Special Olympics Kansas is no different serving 5,400 athletes with intellectual disabilities. Participants train daily in one or more of 20 sport offerings and competitions held at multiple locations throughout the state. 

“It’s just a really great opportunity for the students and I to be involved in something like this and to make an impact on the quality of life of the athletes participating,” Covert-Miller said. 

For the athletes of Special Olympics Kansas, the training never stops, and the benefits last a lifetime.

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