OKEECHOBEE — Special Olympics Florida was at Okeechobee High School on Aug. 17 offering free sports physicals to adults and children 8 years and older with an intellectual or developmental disability.
The organization offered comprehensive sports physicals at different stations set up in the OHS cafeteria consisting of a medical history overview, height and weight measurement, blood pressure check, cardiology test and more. The physical will allow those in attendance to now participate in Special Olympics events in Florida.
Bernard Marker, Special Olympics director for Okeechobee County, said the event was able to help 25 athletes in Okeechobee.
“Things went pretty smoothly,” said Mr. Marker. “We had 25 athletes who were able to come in and see a doctor. Now they’re all a part of Special Olympics and they’re all Special Olympics athletes. And a majority of that group are now starting bowling practice this week.”
Mr. Marker thanked Publix for donating water to the event, as well as Denise Sikorski of the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office for volunteering and OHS Principal Lauren Myers for letting the group use the campus.
In addition to his role with the Special Olympics, Mr. Marker also helps coordinate events for Special Stars Okeechobee, a sports and recreational program for children and adults with mental and physical disabilities.
“I had been trying to get in touch with the Special Olympics for a while now,” explained Mr. Marker. “Finally got in touch with the right person and now we got it started. It’s been at least 20 years since we had it here. We had Special Olympics bowling for like a year about five years ago, but that was it. But now we have a whole list of sports people can do. Things like basketball, volleyball, track and field, swimming and more.”
Last year, Special Stars Okeechobee hosted a track and field day at the Okeechobee County softball fields. The event featured cycling events, tennis ball rolling and throwing and shot put. Initially, Mr. Marker and other organizers estimated around 30 participants would sign up for that competition in Okeechobee, but as the date approached over 120 athletes registered for the event.
With the big turnout, organizers had to plan on what they would serve for lunch to those who made the trip out for the competition. Thankfully, Jersey Mike’s provided lunch to participants free of charge with the support of Gilbert Ford. Jersey Mike’s owner, Krissy Culbreth, had previously worked with Special STARS through her Jersey Mike’s location in Sebring.
Special Stars Okeechobee is scheduled to have another track and field day in October of this year, although, Mr. Marker says, they are still nailing down a location for this year’s event.
Mr. Marker says he views the track and field day as something of a feeder program for athletes who may be interested in moving on to compete in the Special Olympics.
Special Stars Okeechobee maintains a public group on Facebook to keep those interested up to date on upcoming events, which is located at www.facebook.com/groups/372000726695121. Mr. Marker also offered to answer any questions for those interested in joining the Special Olympics. He can be reached by phone at 863-801-3393.