FARGO — The thrill of competition helped fuel Connor McGovern from his days at Fargo Shanley High School to the National Football League. The Denver Broncos starting offensive lineman now wants to share that passion in his hometown with people who may not often get the chance to compete.
"I couldn't imagine life without physical activity, so I want to make sure everybody has that opportunity," McGovern said.
McGovern was at TNT Kid's Fitness and Gymnastics on Thursday afternoon to officially launch registration for the inaugural Fargo Able Games, which are scheduled for April 3-4 at Scheels Arena.
The Able Games is an all-inclusive functional fitness competition, similar to CrossFit. McGovern partnered with TNT Kid's Fitness to create an event where able-bodied and special-needs athletes compete together.
"It 100% had to be inclusion," said Kim Pladson, the executive director at TNT Kid's Fitness. "This is something that has never been done at this level."
According to event organizers, the Able Games are expected to draw around 600 athletes spread across six divisions, ranging from novice to high-level athletes. Registration is open until mid-March or until all spots are filled.
"The focus of the Able Games is to really allow people with disabilities to compete alongside and with world-class athletes, and also to allow everyday people to compete with world-class athletes and also disabled athletes," said McGovern, who graduated from Shanley in 2011.
McGovern recently completed his fourth season with the Broncos and has made 36 starts during his NFL career. During this past season, he brought national exposure to the Able Games and TNT Kid's Fitness during the NFL's "My Cleats My Cause" campaign. McGovern wore cleats for one game that had a rainbow-like color scheme with a "TNT" logo, "Fargo Able Games" and "Fitness Gymnastics" printed all over the shoes.
"Personally, I thought I had some of the coolest cleats," McGovern said.
Those game-worn cleats are going to be auctioned off during a gala at the Able Games weekend.
"We've got some really fun ideas cooked up," Pladson said.
"We want it to be more than just the cleats," McGovern added. "We're working on how to really maximize that item."
CrossFit stars Mat Fraser and Brooke Wells are among the celebrities who have already committed for the Able Games. McGovern said he's working on NFL players and local athletes to be added to the celebrity list.
McGovern said some celebrities that he's reached out to are intrigued by the event. First, because it's for a good cause, and second, the location.
"It's been kind of funny because everyone wants to come and check out Fargo. There's been movies and TV shows," McGovern said. "Fargo is starting to attract people."
McGovern said it was important for him to create a fitness-related event in his hometown that included special-needs athletes. His goal is to provide the same support he received on his way to becoming a professional football player.
"I wouldn't be here today standing in front of you guys if it wasn't for my family, if it wasn't for the teachers, if it wasn't for the coaches at Shanley. It takes a village to get someone this far," said McGovern, who played college football at the University of Missouri. "You can't just go out on your own and achieve great things. ... It's really allowing us to help get a village behind those people, too."
Each of the divisions is going to feature four-person teams that have two able-bodied and two special-needs athletes. The ages for competitors range from junior-high athletes and older.
"It gives the people with disabilities the feeling that they can do everything an able-bodied person can," McGovern said. "It's to show how able they are. ... At the end of the day, they're going to learn the skill. They are going to do it with so much pride because they haven't been given that many opportunities."
McGovern is grateful that he's in a position to help people.
"Luckily I was good at a sport that gave me this opportunity to make an impact," said McGovern, who plans to make the Fargo Able Games an annual event. "I don't just want to be a football player, I want to impact people's lives for the positive."