Healthy Athletes changes the course for Special Olympians

Interactions with Special Olympics athletes lead to referrals back into the health care system.

In 1997, the creation of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program forever changed the course for health for individuals with intellectual disabilities around the globe.

Since its inception, Healthy Athletes has been providing free health screenings and education for people with intellectual disabilities in the fields of Fit Feet (podiatry), FUNfitness (physical therapy), Health Promotion (better health and well-being), Healthy Hearing (audiology), Special Olympics-Lions Club International Opening Eyes (vision), Special Smiles (dentistry), and Strong Minds (mental training).

Through Healthy Athletes, health care professionals receive training about the specific health care concerns of people with intellectual disabilities and learn how to ask the right questions, helping to draw out issues. Their interactions with Special Olympics athletes lead to referrals back into the health care system that ensures the individuals will get the treatment they need.

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Since 1997, Healthy Athletes has delivered more than two million free health screenings globally and distributed more than 110,000 free pairs of prescription eyewear. Special Olympics now maintains the largest dataset on the health of people with intellectual disabilities.

Through data collected, we can now see that people with intellectual disabilities, worldwide and right here in Canada, face significant health challenges largely stemming from a lack of exercise, poor nutrition, and inadequate access to quality health care.

It is for this reason that Special Olympics is so focused on providing opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to get involved in a sport. With the right supports and opportunities, people with intellectual disabilities can live longer, healthier lives.

From Feb. 21 to 23, 2019, Greater Vernon will play host to the 2019 Special Olympics BC Winter Games. These Games are much more than just a sporting event. They provide the motivation for many individuals with intellectual disabilities to train year-round in their community.

Coaches will encourage athletes to eat better so that they can perform better, and they will work with athletes on living a healthier lifestyle.

There will also be Healthy Athlete Screenings offered at the Games. Anyone with an intellectual disability, whether an athlete competing in the Games or someone who is not currently registered in a Special Olympics program, can access these health screenings at the Games for free.

The Games in Greater Vernon are important: not just to see who can win a gold, silver, or bronze medal, but as a catalyst for better health. Visit www.sobcgamesvernon.ca for information on how you can get involved, or to learn more about the Games.

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