The Voice of a Movement
*This story is featured in Special Olympics Indiana’s 2017 Annual Report, highlighting our efforts to empower athletes to take control of their own health and fitness.
Improving and maintaining the overall health and fitness of our athletes is at the forefront of Special Olympics’ efforts toward bettering the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. But this is not a new initiative.
Officially launched in 1997, our Healthy Athletes® program has been working for more than 20 years to address the breakdowns in health education, health promotion, and healthcare that contribute to the generally poorer health of people we serve. But now, more than ever before, this program has a voice—and it’s the voice of the athletes themselves.
Anastasia Helmich was just four years old in 1997, and it would be another three years before her adoptive parents would make the trip to her native Kazakhstan to bring her to the United States. Diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and other developmental disabilities, learning English was just the first challenge on her road to becoming a Special Olympics advocate and Health Messenger.
“I used to worry about whether other people would accept me,” she told the audience at her first public speaking engagement in the fall of 2017. “But thanks to Special Olympics, the most amazing thing has happened. I now accept myself.”
Nastya, as she’s known to her friends, soon discovered a passion for playing sports, and when she was in sixth grade a teacher connected her with the local Special Olympics program. From there, there was no looking back.
Speaking with the confidence and charisma of a seasoned professional, Nastya captivated the crowd of more than 300 with her story of adversity overcome. She told them about how she had excelled as a volleyball player, and about how much it had meant to her to have a coach who believed in her and encouraged her growth as an athlete and as a person.
Nastya now serves as leader of the Johnson County Miracle Walkers—a Unified Fitness Club that meets weekly to provide opportunities for Special Olympics athletes and partners to stay active and improve their health. By tracking steps taken and miles walked, Nastya encourages the club’s nearly 50 members to follow her lead and to take control of their own health through regular exercise and improved nutrition.
In their first year, the Miracle Walkers logged nearly 15,000 miles, and Nastya personally reached the 1,000 mile marker. More importantly, she lent her voice to a movement, advocating for the importance of better health for countless Special Olympics athletes in Indiana and around the world.
“We all know we couldn’t do this without the help and love of our parents and our coaches,” she concluded her speech. “But Special Olympics reminds us that it’s not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful.”