PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — The cancellation of sporting events the last two months affected athletes at all levels – and that includes Special Olympians. The biggest event of the year for Special Olympics Arizona is the Summer Games, typically held in May.

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“I got bummed out,” says athlete Ronny Jones. “Because some of my teammates and my coaches are my best friends. So, it was hard to stay communicating with them during this tough time.”

SOAZ knew it had to find a way to empower and engage its 25,000 Special Olympics athletes. Especially after hearing from some of them.

“One in particular really hit home,” said Special Olympics Arizona President & CEO Jamie Heckerman. “They posted on our social media, and it was just a comment, but it said, ‘If Special Olympics goes away, I have nothing.’”

“Nothing” is no longer the case, thanks to SOAZconnected. On Special Olympics Arizona’s website and Facebook page, there are videos for Motivation Monday, Wellness Wednesday, and Fitness Friday. Athletes are sharing pictures of their cooking, their painting, and their pets. There’s even a SOAZ Dance Challenge.

“Because a dance is the best part for our athletes. Not only to get together and compete, and show their skill and see their friends from across the state, but to share in that victory,” Heckerman said.

Special Olympics Arizona’s mission is to stop the isolation of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Through bingo nights and Esports competitions over Zoom, SOAZ Connected is helping accomplish just that.

“We have a chance to actually see [fellow athletes and coaches] and to interact with them also,” says Jones.