Healthy Athletes Initiative

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Caring for Special Olympics Athletes Beyond the Field of Play

Special Olympics International began the Healthy Athletes Initiative in 1997.  The mission is to improve, through better health and fitness, the athlete’s ability to train and compete.  To reach this goal programs involving dentistry, optometry, audiology, health promotion and physical therapy came together to provide services at Special Olympics events.  The program provides training for health care professionals and students about the special needs of patients with intellectual disabilities.

Special Olympics Kentucky at the present time offers seven healthy athlete programs:  Special Smiles, Opening Eyes, Healthy Hearing, FUNfitness, Fit Feet, Health Promotion and MedFest.  The programs are conducted at the SOKY Summer Games each June, annual MedFest events and other Special Olympics events when possible.

Opening Eyes Opening Eyes first saw athletes in 2001.  With the assistance of local Lions Clubs, athletes receive quality vision care.  Athletes are screened by volunteers to identify if the athlete needs additional care or may benefit from new glasses.  Prescription Sports goggles are also made available to the athletes.
Special Smiles Special Smiles began seeing athletes in 1997 with the help of the Kentucky Dental Health Coalition.  Now, operated through the assistance of the Underwood and Lee Clinic, athletes receive instruction on proper brushing and flossing techniques along with dental sealants.
FUNFitness FUNfitness came aboard in 2003.  It is a physical therapy screening program developed by the American Physical Therapy Association to work in partnership with the Healthy Athletes Program created by Special Olympics.  The screening consists of tests for flexibility of hamstrings, calf muscle group, anterior hip muscle group and functional shoulder rotation.  It is the goal of FUNfitness to provide screening that identifies how athletes can improve their performance in their sport(s) and prevent injuries.
Fit Feet Fit Feet was added to the Special Olympics Kentucky Healthy Athletes lineup in 2004. The program, developed through Special Olympics’ collaboration with the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, provides podiatric screenings for Special Olympics athletes, many of whom suffer from foot and ankle pain or deformities that hinder their performance. The screeners check for deformities and also help to recommend the best shoes and socks for a particular sport.
Healthy Hearing Healthy Hearing made its first appearance at the State Summer Games in 2009. Special Olympics Healthy Hearing program is a free hearing screening designed to ensure proper audiological care for participating Special Olympics athletes. Led by volunteer professionals, Healthy Hearing also provides tests for cerumen (ear wax) and otoacoustic emissions tests.
Health Promotion Health Promotion made its first appearance in Kentucky at the 2016 State Summer Games. Health Promotion is a discipline of Special Olympics Healthy Athletes, focuses on healthy living, healthy lifestyle choices, and nation-specific health issues. In addition to health education activities, health Promotion offers screenings for bone density, blood pressure, and body mass index (BMI). Its goals include encouraging and enhancing healthy behaviors and improving self-efficacy and self-advocacy. Health Promotion conveys and reinforces concepts on healthy living, healthy lifestyle choices, and nation-specific health issues.
Strong Minds Strong Minds is the newest addition to the Special Olympics Kentucky Healthy Athletes offerings. It made its first appearance in Kentucky at the 2018 State Summer Games. Strong Minds is an interactive learning activity focused on developing adaptive coping skills. Competition provides a natural opportunity to develop active strategies for maintaining emotional wellness under stress, such as: thinking positive thoughts, releasing stress and connecting with others.

For more information about the Healthy Athletes Program, please contact:  Brennan Smith at 502-695-8222 or via e-mail at [email protected].