For Special Olympics swimmer Jessica Grammer, 'dreams do come true'

Special Olympics swimmer Jessica Grammer, who will be competing at the USA Games (July 1-6) in Seattle, started a video blog in October -- with her dog, Tank, as co-host -- to share health-related messages. Courtesy Brandon Schatsiek

For the past few years, I have dreamed of going to Special Olympics USA Games. In 2017, I won three gold medals swimming in Special Olympics Missouri Summer Games and was chosen to attend selection camp. During camp, I was able to show the coaches and leaders my swimming abilities, including short and long distances.

Last July 2017, I watched a video from Special Olympics Missouri announcing the 2018 Team Missouri delegates who would represent the Show-Me State in Seattle. I was very excited, happy, shocked and thrilled when I heard my name mentioned.

Once I knew I made Team Missouri, I realized I had a long road ahead of me. I needed to make sure I was in the best shape for the level of competition that I'd face. Ever since I was young, I was never very active outside of the swimming pool. I wanted to help my fellow teammates train and knew I could not train on my own, so I thought doing video blogs was the best option, and I chose my dog, Tank, as my training buddy.

My reason for this is I thought most of my teammates might enjoy watching some encouraging video blogs from the two of us on topics such as stretching, eating well, walking and just living an overall healthy life.

In October 2017, the first of our vlogs was rolled out. Tank and I are pretty silly, and we wanted to extend the silliness to the athletes. That way the athletes could see that it is OK to have fun while you are training for USA Games.

Out of all the vlogs we've done, my favorite has to be the stretching one. I got to show everyone my favorite stretch by having Tank pose on the beach and use him as my model.

The vlogs opened up a great opportunity for me to attend a health messenger convention in Indianapolis this past January. It was such an honor for me to attend and then be able to come back and share what I learned with my delegation. I learned that many athletes don't have a voice when it comes to their health. I like to remind my teammates that they have a voice when it comes to what they eat and drink, and that everything they put in their body affects how they train and compete.

At a recent team meeting, I was asked to run a breakout session about healthy snacks and drinks. I had a granola, fruit and vegetable bar set up so everyone was able to create their own healthy snack and flavored water. I was able to show the team that making a healthy snack was not hard nor expensive, and also that flavored water is better than soda, juice or power drinks.

To encourage all Team Missouri delegates to train harder and be healthier for the USA Games, Special Olympics Missouri staff implemented a rewards program where we could earn points for eating healthy snacks, training for our sports, encouraging others to do the same on social media and more. We earned "MO Magic bucks" that we could spend on cool prizes!

Recently, at one of our team meetings, I heard about two of our softball athletes, Paul and John Burnett from the St. Louis area, who, because of the rewards program and wanting to be in better shape, started taking their health more seriously. For years, their parents were always trying to get them to be healthy, but like many kids, the boys did not listen to their mom and dad.

After years of inactivity and a bad diet, they were diagnosed with diabetes. Recently, though, the brothers started working out five to six days a week. Now, because of hard work and healthy eating, they've lost about 20 pounds each and are close to coming off of their diabetes medication. Paul and John have showed me that nothing is impossible if you put some effort into it.

As a Special Olympics athlete leader and health messenger, I want everyone to realize eating healthy and being active will give them a better life, a longer life, and they will feel incredible. I also want my fellow athletes to use their voices for the better. I can even say that Tank and I have become leaner, and we can now walk several miles without getting winded.

Also remember, you don't have to be a Special Olympics athlete to start a healthy lifestyle. Anyone can choose to eat healthy and get active.

Keep walking, be active and stay hydrated, my friends. Tank and I will see you at the USA Games!

Swimmer Jessica Grammer has been an athlete with Special Olympics for seven years; three years in Missouri and four years in Illinois. At her first USA Games, Jessica is looking to push herself to be the best she can be. Since being named to Team Missouri, she has produced video blogs on various health topics to make sure her teammates are eating and training right for the games. She doesn't do these videos alone though: She has a helper in her dog, Tank.