We interviewed Sarah Sowers, Chair of Nike’s Ability Network, about how she inspires her mentees to stay active and fit. Nike’s philosophy of “If you have a body, you are an athlete” is demonstrated through their Ability Network, which strives for the inclusion of individuals with disabilities and to influence the perception of athletes overall. Sarah volunteers for Special Olympics Team Wellness, which is a program that provides an opportunity for athletes to learn about fitness and healthy eating and helps supplement their sports programming. This program focuses on changing habits to help Special Olympic Athletes realize the importance of continuously being active and eating right.
Q: How did you get involved with the Special Olympics and mentoring?
A: I started working with Special Olympics at an event and saw the excitement and enthusiasm that the athletes brought. I thought to myself, “How can I help and be part of this?” I grew up playing a lot of different sports, I never had a “one-sport mentality,” and that helped me to have a variety of different experiences and introduced me to all types of people. Sports have taught me a lot and I wanted to help pass on what I’ve learned from being on sports teams to others. I also think it’s important for everyone to have the opportunity to be part of a team in some way, and sports can provide that opportunity for a lot of people. I began with coaching basketball, transitioned into officiating, and added leading the Team Wellness Program about 3 years ago.
Q: How do you encourage the “getting active” lifestyle with your mentees?
A: We try to make “Team Wellness” a sport – this allows these Special Olympics athletes to play their sport each season, accompanied by an overall wellness program to help them achieve their goals. A group of 8-15 athletes train in small groups, sometimes with Nike trainers. This program includes coaching and visibility once a week, along with teaching them the importance of eating healthy and figuring out portions, drinking enough water, and working out for at least 30 min each session. Each week we set goals and try to help them achieve these goals by the next week. These programs run for 12 weeks at a time, three times a year. This helps the athletes to stay in shape even while they aren’t necessarily in training for their particular sport.
Q: How do you inspire your mentees to get active?
A: I try to inspire my mentees by showing them that getting active can be fun – whether that’s playing a sport or just going outside for a walk. Getting active doesn’t have to be boring, it’s not always about being super intense or serious, but it can be fun and light as well. I also try to give them exposure to new things, such as a new exercise, stretch, or food. They’re often intrigued and interested in learning more when they have the opportunity to try new things.
Q: How are you inspired by your mentees and mentors?
A: I’m most inspired by my mentees when I can really feel their energy. When I see them try something they haven’t done before, or achieve a goal they’ve set, or improve in some measurable way, it really keeps me inspired to do better and try new things as well.
My mentors have inspired me in a lot of different ways. I think that mentoring is dependent on where you’re at in life, so my mentors have been largely situational. My most recent mentor is a Division 1 basketball official, and she inspired me to stay fit and strive to get to that level of officiating as well. I wanted to move up the rankings of officiating and she helped me to stay motived and minimize distractions to achieve that goal. I could relate to her stories and struggles, and that helped me to take my game to the next level.
My philosophy to all of my mentees is to always pay it forward and create a positive impact for others!