Over the last 10 years, the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program has provided health screenings to over 1 million Special Olympics (SO) Participants worldwide. Their testimonies tell the story of a program that has made an extraordinary impact.

Athletes share their stories

As a member of the Healthy Athletes Team, over the years I have heard many personal stories about the program. I remember speaking with one athlete who tearfully related how the Healthy Athletes (HA) Program saved his life. He spoke about going to the Special Smiles Dental screening where an oral cancer was discovered.

Others have received prescription eye glasses and goggles so they can see better. In fact, one young woman told me she didn’t know there was a line on the bottom of the pool until she received special goggles.

In Boise Idaho, I sat next to a local resident at dinner one evening and he was amazed at how well he could hear, having just received a new pair of hearing aids. He hadn’t been able to hear a conversation for over 10 years.

These may sound like extreme examples, but the HA program is also finding at least 30% of the athletes screened will need some form of education or intervention. For many, the result is a healthier lifestyle.

Athlete chooses healthy lifestyle

Yesterday I met with Colin Davidson, a Massachusetts SO athlete who participates in many sports including soccer, basketball, track and field, skiing, sailing and golf.  Colin competed in the U.S. National Games with his soccer team and at the Athens Special Olympics World Summer Games (2011) where his relay team won the gold medal; he also competed in 800 m and 1600 m events.

Colin attended the Dental, Vision, Hearing and FUNfitness screenings which he passed without finding any major problems. Yet he does feel he learned a lot about how to stay healthy.

“I eat better, drink water and milk and last year I worked out with a personal trainer to prepare for the Athens games,” Colin said. “All of this was very important for helping me to get to a healthier weight and stay in shape. Now I try to exercise almost every day and I feel better and more confident”.

A healthy outlook

When I asked Colin if he thought Special Olympics participants should attend the HA screenings, he answered,  “Yes, it will help you to be a better athlete.”

His further advice to everyone, “Never give up, and keep being positive in life.”

Next week be sure to join us as I share the experiences of health professionals responsible for the Healthy Athletes screenings.

About the author

Jim Gleason is an Associate Director of the Shriver Center University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) and a faculty member of the UMMS Shriver LEND Program.Jim Gleason

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