Cats Make Great Therapy Animals

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Cats are becoming the pet of choice for emotional support animals

Emotional support animals or comfort animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan that includes therapy animals. These animals provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression and certain phobias, but do not perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.

Although dogs have more traditionally been recruited as therapy animals, and horses are the second most favored, cats are being used more and more. Animals help people heal. They reduce loneliness, depression, and anxiety. They can improve our heart health and get us to exercise more. That’s why many hospitals and nursing homes have programs that bring in dogs and cats and other animals for patients to interact with.

Therapy Cats Come in All Sizes and Breeds

The most important characteristic of a therapy cat is its temperament.

A good therapy cat must be friendly, patient, confident, gentle, and at ease in all situations. Therapy cats must enjoy human contact and be content to be petted and handled, sometimes clumsily.

Therapy Cats must be very calm and tolerant around other people and dogs, as well as being handled and held frequently by others. They must also adapt easily to medical equipment, wheelchairs and unfamiliar noises.

Cats Have Been Known To Perform Miracles in Healing

The vibration of their purring actually has healing properties.

Cats have helped people recover from infections, depression anxiety disorders, surgeries and more! Ask any number of cat owners about the benefits of petting or snuggling with a cat and the responses will likely be the same.

Cats provide their own brand of unconditional love and comfort. They help us relax and cope with the stresses of life in a special way. When our feline friends run to greet us after a long day away, it affects us physically.

Many studies have shown that having a cat can calm nerves, lower blood pressure, help prevent and treat cardiovascular disease, cancer and chronic pain, strengthen the immune system and even help you live longer.

There have been arguments made that therapy animals can work as well as or better than conventional pharmaceutical medicine for helping people relax, lowering stress levels and blood pressure decreases, causing the heart rate to slow down.

Therapy Cats Are Assets in Many Situations

One group that benefits greatly from a little cat-love therapy is children.

Therapy cats have been used to help kids with developmental disorders like autism be more comfortable with the world around them. Therapy cats are also especially valuable to the elderly or when interacting with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia patients, by stimulating both memory and forgotten emotions.

Certification for Therapy Cats

The first step in preparing a cat to be a therapy animal is to make sure the feline meets basic requirements.

These can vary by organization, but typically include being comfortable in a harness and up to date with shots. A variety of organizations train and certify pet therapy teams. Pet Partners is one of the most well-known national organizations that facilitates and promotes animal-assisted therapy and offers training and registration for therapy animal teams.

Medication for the Human Soul

People who suffer from depression often find solace in the companionship that their pets provide.

The emotional problems that depression brings about can be tumultuous and trying. A furry friend can be just what the doctor ordered, providing a special kind of support that can be considered a type of medication for the human soul, with positive results and no side effects.

The role of cats in therapeutic processes continues to amaze researchers and medical professionals, as we learn more and more about their impact on human lives and healing.

Source: disabled-world.com

SPAN Program provides specialized health care for adults with special needs

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two adults with special needs laughing together

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Regardless of age or health history, taking care of yourself and forming strong healthy habits is one of the most important things you can do. Achieving wellness looks different for all of us, but may be especially challenging for those with disabilities or special needs. Thankfully, some medical professionals have the expertise and compassion to help adults in this situation.

Dually certified in pediatrics and internal medicine, Laura Gaffney, MD, has dedicated her career to caring for adults with special needs. She started the Special Pediatric-to-Adult Need program, or SPAN, at AdventHealth Medical Group Primary Care at Shawnee Mission. The SPAN program is the only primary care program in the Kansas City area for adults with special needs including Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and genetic disorders. It was Dr. Gaffney’s relationship with her mother and grandmother that prompted her to establish the SPAN program.

“My mom had multiple sclerosis and was in a wheelchair,” said Dr. Gaffney. “I felt like she did not get the care she deserved. People would often treat her as if she had impaired intellectual ability, yet she was a pharmacist. Also, my grandmother was a librarian for children with special needs.”

As the medical director of SPAN, Dr. Gaffney has built a team that provides comprehensive, patient-focused care for adults with a chronic condition that persists from childhood to adulthood. The SPAN program offers these patients a consistent and reliable medical home with same-day appointments.

“There are few primary care clinics in the United States for adults with a variety of overlapping needs,” said Dr. Gaffney. “We work to ensure our clinic meets the needs of this unique group.”

Dr. Gaffney and her team will see a patient’s family members and caregivers, which provides an integrated approach to care and a better understanding of the social and emotional needs of the patient. They also have social workers on hand and provide diabetes education. In addition, the clinic features an exam bed that lowers to 14 inches allowing easy transfers and the ability to weigh a patient up to 450 pounds.

“These are ways we are providing whole-person care to adults with special needs,” said Dr. Gaffney. “We have also identified dentists, physical therapists and other specialists who are interested in caring for people with special needs and doing it with respect.”

Dr. Gaffney describes herself as a curious and empathic person. These traits coupled with her background as an internal medicine and pediatric physician give her a unique perspective allowing her to provide excellent medical care for patients with special needs.

“I have been trained to understand genetic, developmental and intellectual issues and how those change as people age,” said Dr. Gaffney. “People with genetic diseases, neurologic diversity and cerebral palsy are living longer lives and there are few physicians that are willing and educationally able to care for this group.”

Click here to read the full article on Shawnee Mission Post.

Selena Gomez launches new media platform with a focus on mental health

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Selena Gomez smiling at the camera at a red carpet event

By Megan Marples, CNN

Talking about mental health is good for you, according to pop star, actor, and producer Selena Gomez, and she’s determined to be the catalyst for positive change.

The “Ice Cream” singer announced the launch of her latest venture, Wondermind, a mental health platform focused on connecting people with educational resources and ending the stigma around mental illnesses.

She teamed up with her mother, Mandy Teefey, and The Newsette founder and CEO Daniella Pierson to create the media company, which is set to launch in February 2022.

Gomez hasn’t been shy when it comes to discussing her mental health publicly. She previously wrote for CNN about how she’s a “big advocate for social media detoxes” and therapy.

And she announced on Miley Cyrus’ Instagram show “Bright Minded” in April that she has bipolar disorder.

“I went to one of the best mental hospitals in America, McLean Hospital, and I discussed that after years of going through a lot of different things, I realized that I was bipolar,” Gomez said. “And so when I got to know more information, it actually helps me. It doesn’t scare me once I know it.”

Her mother revealed being misdiagnosed for over 20 years with bipolar disorder that later turned out to be attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, with trauma, according to the Wondermind website’s welcome video.

Pierson opened up in the video as well, saying she has dealt with obsessive-compulsive disorder since she was a child.

The three said they struggled to find a safe space online where they could engage with uplifting content about mental health on a daily basis. Enter Wondermind.

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

The Tourette’s community is livid over the ‘TikTok tics’ media frenzy

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The Tourette’s community is livid over the ‘TikTok tics’ media frenzy

By Jessica Lucas, Input

Last month, a Wall Street Journal article titled “Teen Girls Are Developing Tics. Doctors Say TikTok Could Be a Factor” went viral on social media.

The piece reported a rise in young women presenting with symptoms of Tourette syndrome, a widely misunderstood neurological disorder that impacts roughly 0.6 percent of children and causes people to experience tics — involuntary and repetitive movements or sounds.

The Journal cited “a spate of recent medical journal articles,” in which doctors claim many girls with unexplained tics “had been watching videos of TikTok influencers who said they had Tourette syndrome.” The piece, which featured two teenage girls who linked their tics to TikTok, said that pediatric movement-disorder centers across the U.S. had reported “an influx of teen girls with similar tics.”

“PEOPLE automatically think we’re doing things for ATTENTION, or that there’s NO WAY that Tourette syndrome can be REAL.”
The article acknowledged that the “TikTok tics” epidemic was anecdotal and even quoted an academic who cast doubt on TikTok being the root cause of this phenomenon. “There are some kids who watch social media and develop tics and some who don’t have any access to social media and develop tics,” Dr. Joseph McGuire of Johns Hopkins University Tourette’s Center told the paper. “I think there are a lot of contributing factors, including anxiety, depression, and stress.”

But the headline was damaging enough. And it was worsened by subsequent coverage: Buzzfeed, the New York Post, People, and Business Insider ran with the story — all without any input from the Tourette’s community itself, which has been horrified by the press frenzy.

Ben Brown, host of the Tourette’s Podcast, has been deeply perturbed, as have his listeners. “There’s a lot of frustration. Some people are just livid,” says Brown, who is 41 and based in North Carolina. He was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome at the age of five, but lived a “closeted” life with the condition while he worked as a photojournalist. Brown “came out” with Tourette’s when he launched his podcast in 2018.

“Now we have scientists who are saying things we know from experience are just not safe,” Brown says. He and many others living with Tourette syndrome fear the current rhetoric around TikTok tics could further stigmatize Tourette’s, especially for young women.

Britney Wolf is a 31-year-old Tourette’s campaigner from Ohio. “People automatically think we’re doing things for attention, or that there’s no way that Tourette syndrome can be real,” says Wolf, who was diagnosed with Tourette’s at the age of seven. She interviews people with the condition on her YouTube channel in a bid to challenge stereotypes. “There’s already so many of these people trying to tear us down,” she says, “and articles like this give them more fuel to start claiming that all advocates are faking it.”

Jaleesa Jenkins, a 24-year-old Tourette’s YouTuber from California, is most frustrated by the suggestion that Tourette-like symptoms can be “caught” through platforms like TikTok. “The idea is really oversimplified and really stigmatizing,” she says. “It’s just not true. It makes people afraid, suspicious, or scared to be around us.”

It seems that the recent press attention has undone years of campaigning. “People with Tourette syndrome have worked hard for a very long time to feel understood — particularly for people to understand that tics aren’t voluntary or done for attention,” says Dr. Christine Conelea. The clinical practitioner and researcher is an assistant professor of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Minnesota and has worked with Tourette’s patients for 15 years. “I worry that those who are doing advocacy on social media spaces will be questioned and targeted.”

Wolf finds the situation heartbreaking. “So many people have told me how much they have learned about Tourette’s because of people online,” she says. “It felt like we were finally getting somewhere. Now it feels like we’re being pulled back.”

Click here to read the full article on Input.

Boris Kodjoe on prioritizing his ‘spiritual, mental and physical health’: ‘I take time every single day to just be with myself’

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Boris Kodjoe sitting and smiling for the camera

By Erin Donnelly and Stacy Jackman, Yahoo! Life

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

On-screen, Boris Kodjoe is saving lives as a firefighter on the ABC action-drama Station 19. Off-screen, he’s hoping to do the same by amplifying a new Men’s Health Awareness Month campaign highlighting the risks of prostate cancer, particularly for Black men like him, who are 75 percent more likely to be diagnosed with the disease and twice as likely to die from it.

In a video interview with Yahoo Life, the Austrian-born actor stresses the importance of looking after one’s physical and mental health. In terms of the former, he’s partnering with Depend and the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) for the return of the Stand Strong for Men’s Health initiative to destigmatize male incontinence and offer support to those being treated for prostate cancer; Depend will donate up to $350,000 to the cause.

Kodjoe calls the cause a “very personal” one, as he saw a close friend and mentor undergo his own battle with prostate cancer.

“It reminded me that I needed to take care of myself,” he says. “And the first step to do that is to talk about health issues, to talk about everything that concerns us — spiritual, mental and physical health — to be vulnerable, to be open and not to consider it as a weakness to talk about these things. And as Black men, we are facing a lot of things every single day. There’s a lot of weight on our shoulders, but in order to take care of others, we’ve got to take care of ourselves first.”

The Soul Food actor hopes the initiative and breakthrough in cancer research will help draw attention and find solutions to the racial disparities present in access to quality health care. He also wants to spark conversations about other pressing health issues within the Black community, including obesity and the mental strain brought upon by the pandemic and social justice unrest.

Now 48 and a father of two — he and his actress wife Nicole Ari Parker share a daughter and son — Kodjoe is prioritizing his own health needs as he gets older.

“I’m getting to an age now where I’m the guy now holding the phone six feet away from my face so I can read what’s on the screen,” he jokes. “It’s undeniable that we’re all getting older and so we need just those constants… I’m the first one to admit that I didn’t do a great job always taking care of myself. I have a family and they depend on me, so I need to do that.”

That includes looking after his mental headspace, too.

“I practice what I preach and I take time every single day to just be with myself, whether it’s my morning prayer, meditation or laying down and stretching in my trailer when I have five or 10 minutes between shots,” he says. “There’s stuff that you can do that’s pretty simple to include in your daily routine that you could turn into a habit. And it’s important because we have so many habits that are detrimental to our health. We need to balance that out with habits that are actually good for ourselves — whether it’s mental health, spiritual health or our physical health — that will ensure that we’re here for a longer time.”

The Real Husbands of Hollywood star — who will soon make his directorial debut with the Lifetime movie Safe Space, in which he stars opposite his wife — says that his work can also be “therapeutic.”

“It’s a creative outlet,” he says. “It’s a way for me to represent who I am, to represent us [the Black community] in the most multi-dimensional way possible. Historically we’ve been sort of portrayed in one-dimensional ways. And I think that every role we take on, we try to make sure that you represent our culture in a way that shows how multi-dimensional we are. It’s an outlet that I’m really grateful to have.”

While that work is rewarding, Kodjoe is careful to maintain what he calls a “work-life list of priorities,” with his family at the top.

Click here to read the full article on Yahoo! Life.

Local Teen Clings To Hope Almost A Decade After Epilepsy Diagnosis

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Local Teen Clings To Hope Almost A Decade After Epilepsy Diagnosis

By Derrick Stuckly, Brown Wood News

The month of November is known as a time when we gather around the table with our friends and family to celebrate what we are thankful for. But for more than 3.4 million Americans the month of November means so much more. November is Epilepsy Awareness Month.

According to the National Epilepsy foundation 1 in 10 people will have a seizure and 1 in 26 will develop epilepsy during their lifetime.

Ellie Mclver, a 16 year old junior at Santa Anna High school, is 1 in 26.

For most teenagers their list of worries usually involves what they’re going to wear to winter formal, acne, sports, and narrowing down what college they will apply to. But for teenagers like Santa Anna junior Ellie, her list looks a little different. I had the opportunity to get to know Ellie and her mom Brandi as they both courageously shared with me what Ellie’s life has looked like since she was diagnosed with Epilepsy at the tender age of 8.

Ellie was in class her 3rd grade year when she had her first seizure. Tests performed after that seizure led to an epilepsy diagnosis. The epilepsy diagnosis was hard enough for the family but the news only got worse as they would later be told by doctors that Ellie’s seizures were considered irretractable. Ellie explained to me that this means medicine does not work to control her seizures.

Not even a year after her diagnosis Ellie went in for her first major brain surgery. This was a terrifying time for the entire Mclver family. They weren’t even sure this surgery was going to help but with medicine out of the question, this was their only option to try to stop the seizures.

After surgery Ellie’s family walked around cautiously but eventually a week passed, then a month, and before they knew it Ellie had been seizure free for 4 years.

Time went on and as most families do Ellie’s family gathered around the table for Thanksgiving in 2018 when family members noticed Ellie was “zoned out.” For any other teen this is a pretty normal occurrence but for Ellie this indicated a seizure. After 4 years Ellie was experiencing a focal seizure which meant she was no longer seizure free. Her seizures progressively got worse after this occurance. In September of 2019 Ellie’s family had a hard time pulling her out of a seizure and they had to call an ambulance. Once again Ellie had no choice but to undergo another brain surgery. This time the surgery was unsuccessful, she was still having seizures.

Ellie is 16 now and she knows she is facing more complex brain surgeries in hopes that one day she will be completely seizure free. Ellie is not fearful for what is ahead; she is ready to head into battle to do what she needs to do so she can have more freedom. With that, I asked her if there are things are she’s had to overcome because of epilepsy that other teens her age haven’t had to deal with. She said, “The hardest thing is that I can’t get my drivers license!” She also went on to say, “I miss a lot of school because after a seizure it can take a few hours or even days to recover so I feel like I’m always playing catch up.” I was amazed to learn that even though she is forced to play catch up Ellie’s resilience and urge to be great outweighs the task of that catch up. She told me she is the president of their FFA chapter, she plays clarinet in the high school band, and she takes dual credit classes. She did have to give up playing high school sports because the stress was more than her brain would physically allow her to handle.

Although Ellie has had to give some things up and she has a lot to manage and figure out, she still expressed little concern for herself and more concern for her friends. She shared with me that her friends have never seen her have a seizure and she hopes they never do. She said, “but they do see a lot of side effects from my medication. My medications can be hard to regulate so sometimes I seem “high”, and I have tons of “brain fog.” She said her teachers and friends are great at knowing when she isn’t doing okay, and they do all they can to help support her.

Ellie’s mom Brandi confirmed this by saying, “Ellie has a huge support group and so many people praying for her every day. She gets notes from people in our church, other churches, and several cards a month from a sweet group of ladies that don’t even live in our town.” Brandi went on to say that Ellie calls these things her ‘fan mail” and the encouragement makes a huge difference on this journey.

I asked Brandi what it has been like to watch her daughter battle epilepsy for more than half of her life and I was so inspired by her when she said, ‘Ellie has handled every obstacle in her path with grace and although it has been heart wrenching to watch her go through all that she has, Ellie has never lost faith, so how could I?”

Ellie continued to share her faith and confidence in God when she said “When things get tough, I cling to the verse 2 Timothy 1:7, which reads, “God hasn’t given us the spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind.”

It is without a doubt that even at such a young age with such a tough diagnosis Ellie has power, love, and a sound mind about her. People who don’t know Ellie would never know that she currently takes 3 medications that must be administered on a strict schedule, they don’t know how often her family must make the drive to Fort Worth to be seen and monitored by her neurosurgeon, and they don’t know that sometimes she suffers in pain and in a fog. Her radiant smile would surely tell you otherwise.

Click here to read the full article on Brown Wood News.

Epilepsy Foundation Rolls Out #RemoveTheFilter Social Media Campaign for National Epilepsy Awareness Month

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Epilepsy Foundation Rolls Out #RemoveTheFilter Social Media Campaign for National Epilepsy Awareness Month

By PR News Wire

Today marks the start of National Epilepsy Awareness Month (NEAM) and the Epilepsy Foundation is leveraging its community’s strength to reduce the fear surrounding epilepsy and bring hope to those facing challenges.

Through a social media campaign called #RemoveTheFilter, the Epilepsy Foundation is asking everyone to “remove the filter” by empowering them to take action and make a difference for those affected by epilepsy.

“For many, epilepsy and seizures are not something that is openly discussed because they fear discrimination, bullying or simply because they don’t know how to explain it to others,” said Laura Thrall, president and CEO, Epilepsy Foundation. “The focus of this campaign is to break the silence surrounding epilepsy and bring awareness so that people with epilepsy feel safer in their communities.”

One in 10 people will have a seizure and 1 in 26 will develop epilepsy during their lifetime. Through a series of stories, #RemoveTheFilter encourages people affected by epilepsy to leverage the power of their eJourney to decrease fear, encourage conversations and inspire action. Those featured in the stories highlight the challenges of epilepsy, how they overcame barriers, and why they removed the filter.

As part of the campaign, the Epilepsy Foundation is encouraging everyone to get Seizure First Aid Ready to save a life. The Foundation, in partnership with SK Life Science Inc, recently introduced a 30-minute on-demand course for people to learn the basics of seizure first aid. The course is available online free of charge on the Foundation’s Epilepsy Learning Portal.

Other ways people can #RemoveTheFilter during November:

  • Share their epilepsy journey
  • Become an Epilepsy Awareness Ambassador
  • Participate in the Walk to END EPILEPSY®
  • Join Others in Fundraise Your Way

For more NEAM 2021 activities, please visit epilepsy.com/NEAM.

Click here to read the full article on PR News Wire.

Local school districts set aside ‘mental health’ days for students, teachers

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Several school districts in central North Carolina are setting aside time for students and teachers to take a "mental health" break.

By Matt Talhelm, WRAL

Several school districts in central North Carolina are setting aside time for students and teachers to take a “mental health” break.

“Our mental health is declining at an unsustainable rate. Our administration and mental health specialists are trying their very hardest, yet we need more,” said Chapel Hill-Carboro City Student Body President, Madi Lin, during an Oct. 21 board meeting.

“Students need to hear from our district that it is acceptable and encouraged to take a mental health day. We need to know that it is normal and healthy to take a break,” she said. Lin is also in charge of a school organization focusing on students’ mental health, Bring Change 2 Mind, according to her mother.

Officials with the Wake County Public School System, Durham Public Schools and Cumberland County Schools also decided to designate Nov. 12 as a “mental health” day for students and staff. Employees are still asked by the district to work from home on that day.

Educators with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district are taking the mental health days a step further, and starting next year, hope to give students a break two times a week. On “Mindful Mondays” and “Wellness Wednesdays,” students would still come to school, but they would have a more relaxed schedule to reduce stress and anxiety.

Students will also get an extended Thanksgiving break and an additional day off in February, starting in 2022-23, officials said.

Dr. Amy Ursano, a child psychiatrist with UNC Health, said that the mental health days could add stress on parents due to child care concerns. She encourages those families to take the breaks together.

“We’ll be very generous to each other if we can just simply acknowledge that we don’t always know what we need to do, but we’re doing it together, and we’ll figure it out,” Ursano said. “I think those are gigantic messages for our children.”

One mom, Megan Stauffer, has two children in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district. She said that she is glad that the school is offering both students and their teachers a break.

“We can use these days to our advantage, to just recoup strength and then come back to school ready to go,” she said.

Click here to read the full article on WRAL.

Pediatricians say the mental health crisis among kids has become a national emergency

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Pediatricians say the mental health crisis among kids has become a national emergency

By , NPR

A coalition of the nation’s leading experts in pediatric health has issued an urgent warning declaring the mental health crisis among children so dire that it has become a national emergency.

The declaration was penned by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, which together represent more than 77,000 physicians and 200 children’s hospitals.

In a letter released Tuesday, the groups say that rates of childhood mental health concerns were already steadily rising over the past decade. But the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the issue of racial inequality, they write, has exacerbated the challenges.

“This worsening crisis in child and adolescent mental health is inextricably tied to the stress brought on by COVID-19 and the ongoing struggle for racial justice and represents an acceleration of trends observed prior to 2020,” the declaration from the pediatric groups says.

When it comes to suicide in particular, the groups point to data showing that by 2018, suicide was the second-leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24.

Teenage girls have emerged particularly at risk. From February to March of this year, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts were up 51% for girls ages 12 to 17, compared with the same period in 2019, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overall, the data shows that in 2020, the percentage of emergency department visits for mental health emergencies rose by 24% for children between the ages of 5 and 11 and 31% for those 12 to 17, compared with 2019.

“Young people have endured so much throughout this pandemic and while much of the attention is often placed on its physical health consequences, we cannot overlook the escalating mental health crisis facing our patients,” the American Academy of Pediatrics’ president, Dr. Lee Savio Beers, said in a statement.

The crisis affects children of color even more
The declaration from the pediatric groups notes that the disruptions children and families have experienced during the pandemic have disproportionately affected children of color.

A recent study in the journal Pediatrics showed that 140,000 children have lost a parent or grandparent caregiver to COVID-19. A majority of those children were kids of color.

The study showed that, compared with white children, Native American children were 4.5 times more likely to have lost a primary caregiver. Black children were 2.4 times more likely, and Hispanic children nearly twice as likely.

“We are caring for young people with soaring rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicidality that will have lasting impacts on them, their families, their communities, and all of our futures,” said Dr. Gabrielle Carlson, president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Click here to read the full article on NPR.

The first IRONMAN with Down syndrome turns his winning moment into a growing movement for inclusion

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The first IRONMAN with Down syndrome races forward for inclusion

By Julia M. Chan, CNN

Chris Nikic’s journey to becoming an elite athlete began with a single step. What kept him going was a single recipe for success: get “1 percent better” every day.

“One percent — stick with that goal,” Chris says. “If you stick with that goal, (you) can succeed and be a successful person.”

Last fall, Chris showed the world the power of small but consistent improvement, setting a Guinness World Record as the first athlete with Down syndrome to complete an IRONMAN triathlon: a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bicycle ride, ending with a 26.2-mile marathon. But crossing that finish line was only the beginning.

Now, the 22-year-old Special Olympics Champion Ambassador from the Orlando area is on a mission to promote inclusion and highlight human potential.

Early hurdles

From birth, Chris faced a number of cognitive, physical, and sensory challenges, according to his mother, Trish Nikic. He underwent open-heart surgery at five months old and years of therapy to help with things like eating, speech, and balance.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle he encountered, though, was how other people perceived him.

“People treated me different,” Chris recalls. “They were telling me that I can’t do that or can’t do this.”

When Chris was eight, he and his family found a supportive and welcoming community in Special Olympics Florida. Inspired by his athletic older sister, Chris eagerly took to sports like basketball, golf, and track.

Their true benefits went beyond exercise for the growing boy. Athletics “gave him an opportunity to be socially included with others,” Chris’ father, Nik Nikic says.

Leveling up

As Chris got older, he became more sedentary while recovering from a series of ear surgeries. After Special Olympics Florida launched its triathlon program in 2018, Chris’ parents encouraged him to try it to get in shape and have fun.

“The first time he ever did a sprint with Special Olympics, he came in dead last,” Trish says. “But you know what? Chris was happy.”

Chris soon outgrew his first triathlon coach. Dan Grieb, the captain of a local triathlon club, came on board to help take Chris to the next level. In a year and a half of training, Chris went from the couch to a sprint 14-mile triathlon.

Chris set his sights on a half IRONMAN race scheduled for May 2020. When Covid-19 forced organizers to scrap the official event, Chris and his team held their own race. CNN affiliate Spectrum News 13 followed Chris’ journey, ultimately ending with him qualifying to compete in the full IRONMAN competition in Panama City.

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

Next Big Thing: ‘Eternals’ Star Lauren Ridloff on Becoming Marvel’s First Deaf Superhero

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“I’m hoping that more people are going to be able to dream bigger,” says Lauren Ridloff of playing the first deaf superhero in a Marvel film. COURTESY OF ERIK CARTER

BY ABBEY WHITE, The Hollywood Reporter.

Being a superhero wasn’t part of Lauren Ridloff’s plan. The Eternals star wanted to be a children’s book author before an American Sign Language tutoring gig for the director of Broadway’s Children of a Lesser God led to a starring role in the show’s revival.

Theater, she says, is a “much more natural and inviting medium for deaf actors,” and the production came fully staffed with a toolbox ready to support its deaf and hearing artists. But coming off that critically praised performance in 2018, Ridloff wasn’t sure she wanted to keep acting. TV and movies weren’t a place she had seen herself represented growing up, instilling the idea that it couldn’t be part of her dream.

Yet, after scoring The Walking Dead as her first TV role, Ridloff found herself in demand. Now, she’s set to star in the Chloé Zhao-directed Marvel movie that will take her and deaf representation to marvelous new heights when it releases on Nov. 5.

During her transition from stage to screen, Ridloff says she’s felt like she wanted to prove she’s easy to work with, something that has led to her not always advocating for what she needed as an actor. But being on this massive Marvel production full of A-listers who “know exactly what they want” helped change her outlook.

Ahead of The Eternals’ anticipated release, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Ridloff about her journey from stage to screen, how working on a blockbuster as an emerging actor changed her perception of self-advocacy on set, and why the Eternals cast wasn’t sure what to expect in the final cut.

Your journey to acting was a bit of being in the right place at the right time. Before that Broadway break-out, what were your acting ambitions and how have those changed?

My goal growing up was to write a book. That’s why I studied English and creative writing in college, and that is a big reason I started teaching. I wanted to write children’s books. I felt that the best way to understand how a child thinks in their mind is to be with them all day. So I started teaching because of that. I didn’t dream of acting. I didn’t want to pursue acting. I had some acting experience — your basic high school play, or I was a part of a performance group in college, a dance group. I just didn’t see enough people on the screen like myself. Every once in a while, like maybe Marlee Matlin, I saw on the big screen, and then years went by, and you would see somebody appear on one episode of a TV show or another episode there. Acting on Broadway came so completely as a surprise to me. It wasn’t part of my plan.

And, yes, absolutely, my goals have changed since I’ve gotten into acting. When I was on Broadway, my manager was interested in pursuing and looking for other projects, and I told him to then I didn’t know if I wanted to continue acting. Maybe this was just a one-time thing. I wasn’t even sure if it was my thing. But then, when I saw the theater audience full night after night, and I saw the lines forming at the back door, I realized that my classroom just got a lot bigger. I made a bigger impact here. It seems like I can act, and I enjoy the opportunity to fully immerse myself in a character, which is very connected to reading and writing. When you write, you need to drop into that character and how it represents itself on the page. So I felt like it was a very natural leap into acting because of that.

Click here to read the full article on The Hollywood Reporter.

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  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. CSUN Center on Disabilities 2022 Conference
    March 13, 2022 - March 18, 2022