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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Healthy Athletes, The Greatest Service Ever Offered

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Without a doubt, the greatest service we have witnessed over the decades in the sport of open water swimming is Healthy Athletes or free health screenings for Special Olympics athletes at the quadrennial World Summer Games.

We first witnessed the sincere passion of the medical and dental volunteers, the significant amount of corporate and local support, and tremendous amount of medical equipment and supplies that are donated to help the Special Olympics athletes at the 2011 World Summer Games.

It is one thing to volunteer as a paddler or kayaker or onshore or on-the-water official at an open water swimming competition. It is something all together humbling to see so many health care providers doing so much good and sharing their compassion for participants at the competition. What we witnessed in Athens was truly a brilliant use of volunteers' skills and times.

When most people think of the Special Olympics, they think of sports competition, but the athletes who participate in those competitions often have physical and health issues that often go unaddressed in their home countries. There is a generally mistaken belief that people with intellectual disabilities and challenges receive the same or better health care than others. The fact is, in many cases, these individuals typically receive sub-standard care or, worse yet, virtually no health care at all. As a result of this disparity in health care, Special Olympics International conducts a program called Healthy Athletes that offer free health and dental screenings for Special Olympics athletes.

The program will continue around the world at different locations as well as in Los Angeles, California at the 2015 World Summer Games.

Healthy Athletes provides the screenings in a fun, welcoming environment that removes the anxiety and trepidation people with intellectual challenges often experience when faced with a visit to a doctor or dentist. The program not only serves these athletes, but it also trains health care professionals who then return to their practices with increased knowledge of and compassion for people with intellectual challenges.

Healthy Athletes currently offers health screenings in seven areas: Fit Feet (podiatry), FUNfitness (physical therapy), Health Promotion (better health and well-being), Healthy Hearing (audiology), MedFest (sports physical exam), Opening Eyes (vision) and Special Smiles (dentistry). As a part of the vision screening, athletes are provided with free eye glasses.

Photo courtesy of Edward Thompson of Special Olympics Barbados.

Copyright © 2015 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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