Choosing to live a healthy life can be hard for anyone. We asked Special Olympics athlete Daniel Smrokowski, Chicago Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks and his wife Emma Hendricks to share their motivations and daily routines to make health and fitness a priority in their lives.
Daniel Smrokowski was born three-and-a-third months premature and was diagnosed with learning disabilities and a severe language disorder. While communication was one of Daniel’s big struggles, it was also his passion. He graduated from Roosevelt University with a B.A. in Journalism, and founded Special Chronicles, a nonprofit media platform that produces podcasts, news and opinion pieces featuring the voices of people with autism and other special needs. Daniel is a Special Olympics athlete, Global Messenger, and board member of Special Olympics Illinois.
Kyle Hendricks is a professional American baseball pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, a Major League Baseball team. His wife Emma is a talented athlete, having competed for Eastern Washington’s cross-country team during her college days. Kyle and Emma Hendricks are also Star Champion Ambassadors for Special Olympics Illinois.
What was the moment that sparked your interest in baseball as a career?
Kyle: When I was young, all I ever wanted to do was play baseball or practice with my dad or friends at the local fields. I’ve always just loved to play the game.
What does your typical fitness routine look like?
Daniel: I love walking or going on bike rides. I compete for Special Olympics Illinois in swimming and basketball, and I need to stay fit throughout the year to stay at the top of my game.
Kyle: For my fitness regimen, I usually do 4–6 days a week of different cardio and weight lifting routines. I’ve also incorporated yoga into my routine and typically do that 3–5 days per week. It is very important for me to stay fit year round because it helps prevent injuries. Once I start to fall behind on my fitness routine it becomes more and more difficult to get back into shape.
Emma: My fitness routine consists of walking or jogging 5 times a week. I try to get on my mat and practice yoga 2–3 times a week and when I can, I go to the gym to lift weights. This time of year it’s hard to get to the gym because we are in the process of moving to our home for the baseball season, so I prefer to work out by myself. During the regular season, I will try to lift or go to a high intensity interval training class two times a week, but for now it’s all about staying active and not necessarily pushing myself to the limit lifting weights!
What’s the best way for someone to motivate themselves to get fit and stay healthy?
Daniel: What has worked for me and what I’d suggest others to try is setting workout reminders on the calendar, and telling your family and friends about your goals so they can support you too.
Emma: Some of my best motivation to get fit comes from social media. I follow a number of yogis and runners and they always post routines or running tips and tricks that have worked for them. On days that I don’t feel motivated enough to work out, I at least try to walk to the grocery store or around the block for fresh air! I’ve never regretted going for a walk to get some fresh air and a lot of times it ends up being a jog or run. At the very least, it’s good to sit and stretch every day, for example, right when you wake up or while you’re watching TV. I think getting to the gym is often the hardest part of the workout!
What fitness advice would you give to Special Olympics athletes that are training to compete?
Daniel: I look up to Kyle for being our Special Olympics Illinois ambassador and for combining sport and fitness. He motivates me to want to challenge myself to get in better shape so I can do my best when I’m competing and in my daily life. I’m thankful that Kyle understands the importance of our Inclusion Revolution.
Kyle: Some advice that I would give is to always maintain good fitness throughout the year, whether competing or not. Also, eating healthy and drinking a lot of water are extremely important to being able to compete at your best, and to prevent injuries.
Emma: Training to compete is more Kyle’s specialty, but from the races and triathlon that I’ve done, I’ve noticed that rest and hydration are very important. My three tips before a competition are to fuel your body with healthy food that is nutrient-rich, drink lots of water to stay hydrated and get a good night’s sleep so you are rested for your competition!
If starting a fitness regimen sounds like something you’d like to do, Special Olympics offers fitness programs that have changed the lives of many athletes. Fit 5 is a guide to achieving fitness and personal best by following the easy to remember goals of exercising five days per week, eating five total fruits and vegetables per day, and drinking the equivalent of five bottles of water per day. The guide provides tips and recommendations for achieving these goals and includes a fitness tracker to record progress.
Fit 5 fitness cards demonstrate how to do exercises for endurance, strength and flexibility. They can be incorporated into gym or home workouts. Special Olympics athletes are featured on the cards completing the exercises along with written instructions for proper form. The cards are leveled 1 through 5, with 5 being the most challenging, making these cards great for groups with varying degrees of ability. Fitness videos also complement the cards. They are an easy way to watch the exercises if reading or following the instructions are challenging.