Staying positive during these times is something everyone is striving for.
For former Quesnel residents the Rutledge sisters, being optimistic is top of mind, and together they’re tackling their new normal. Both live in Kelowna now.
Kassidy, 21, a Special Olympics BC athlete and speaker, and Kimberly, 24, a mental health and positivity coach, would normally be practicing their crafts in a public setting. However, COVID-19 has forced them to adapt.
Despite this, they’re focusing on the positive. Each day, they train both their bodies and their minds as well as inspire others to do the same. Together they have been helping people stay active and connected during the pandemic.
Every day, Kimberly takes part in virtual coaching sessions through her role as a mental wellness educator and activist. Simultaneously, Kassidy exercises — hoping to one day make it a national competing level.
Around the country, 49,600 people compete in the Special Olympics. The organization aims to enrich the lives of people with intellectual disabilities, a feat that has been difficult to achieve over the past 10 months.
COVID-19 has prevented athletes from getting together and training, something that people like Kassidy very much look forward to. With many athletes immunocompromised, gathering is made even more difficult.
For most Special Olympians, competing is their life. With limited opportunities for activities, many people with disabilities turn to sport.
“The athleticism is a huge part of it, but I’m going to say maybe 50 per cent is (about) the socializing because they are — they’re all friends — they’re all teammates and they all support each other, and love each other,” Kimberly said.
“So that’s something they’re obviously all feeling right now. They’re not with their friends.”
However, Kassidy hasn’t let that prevent her from pursuing her dream. Her love for competing is enough to drive her out of bed each morning.
She swims, skis, runs, power-lifts and show-shoes competitively at both the BC Games, and locally. Last year, the swim season was cut short, including a competition scheduled for the end of the year.
“It’s just disappointing, obviously they train so hard, and then for this to happen,” Kimberly said.
For Kassidy, working out and creating art is her saving grace.
Every second day, she works out a different part of her body; in between, she swims.
Twice a week she participates in art classes downtown Kelowna. Outside of that, she’s connecting with others and spending time in the gym.
Every week, she trains virtually with her Special Olympics coach.
She has also used the pandemic as an opportunity to learn how to cook. As a result, she’s eating healthier.
“I stay fit so that when I do go back to my sports I’m ready,” she said.
The athlete encouraged others to follow suit, and also stay connected.
“Reach out to people, because we’re all struggling. So reach out to someone to talk to them about their problems.”
Staying connected doesn’t stop on the phone, either. Kassidy has been penning letters to friends and family around the country. She does this to ensure they know they’re not alone.
Most importantly, the sisters inspire each other. “I’m always envisioning a world that’s better for people with disabilities. I think she is my motivation,” said Kimberly.
When she isn’t focused on school, Kimberly’s helping to mentor children with special needs designs programming for Special Olympics BC, coaches sports and mentors people struggling with mental health.
A stigma surrounding mental health, she said, needs to disappear, adding the way to break the stigma down is to openly talk about mental health with others.
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