This summer, Special Olympics Kansas (SOKS) and Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) pivoted from exercise challenges to a nutrition challenge through the 16-week 2021 SOKS & SOMO Grow a Garden Program. The program aimed to enable athletes to grow healthy foods, no matter their environment, and also strengthen healthy eating habits. However, Mr. Harley Rich has confirmed that the program improved more than his health. It also improved his leadership skills and his sports performance. In April 2021, when Harley heard about the program, he was curious and wanted to give it a try.
In April 2021, Harley broke out of his comfort zone. He had no previous gardening experience but he knew that his family would be there to support him. Provided by the Hartley Family Foundation and K-State Research and Extension, Harley and his family received a Grow a Garden Starter Kit which contained a seed variety, peat pellets, hand rake, hand shovel, garden journal, pencils, rulers, and fertilizer. Harley got right to work. He learned how to plant seeds, watch them grow, water them regularly, pull pesky weeds, and pick the fruits and vegetables when they were a good size. Harley grew his favorites — bell peppers, banana peppers, and cucumbers. He was very excited to eat the foods that he grew! He then stated that he was pleased to sharpen his professional skills in responsibility, caring, and nurturing.
Harley developed a new competitive edge in his sports of basketball, volleyball, track and field, and softball. During the Grow a Garden Program, he worked on his garden during the day and went to sports practices in the evenings. He states that the Grow a Garden Program put him in shape this summer with weight loss and a healthy diet. During this ongoing softball season, he has felt stronger at bat and faster in the field. If Harley could give any advice to his teammates, he states, “Try something new.”