Healthy Athlete Initiatives
Special Olympics Healthy Athletes® is a program designed to help Special Olympics athletes improve their health and fitness. This leads to an enhanced sports experience and improved well being.
Athletes receive a variety of health services through clinics conducted in welcoming environments at Special Olympics competitions, while health care professionals learn about the health needs of Special Olympics athletes and gain confidence and satisfaction in volunteering their skills to an underserved population.
Special Olympics Hawaii introduced the Healthy Athletes Program at our State Summer Games in 2002. 2006 marked the first year we offered all six available Healthy Athlete screening areas. The key objectives of Special Olympics Healthy Athletes are:
- Improve access and health care for Special Olympics athletes at event-based health screenings
- Make referrals to local health practitioners when appropriate
- Train health care professionals and students in the health professions about the needs and care of people with intellectual disabilities
- Collect, analyze and disseminate data on the health status and needs of people with intellectual disabilities
- Advocate for improved health policies and programs for people with intellectual disabilities.
Please contact Special Olympics Hawaii to volunteer to assist in any of these programs, or to find more about the Program.
Hawaii Volunteer Clinical Director – Karen Hu, DDS and Jennifer Ernst, RDH
Special Olympics Special Smiles® is one of the core components of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes initiative, created to focus attention on the overall health issues facing Special Olympics athletes. The mission of Special Smiles is to increase access to dental care for Special Olympics athletes, as well as all people with intellectual disabilities.
Dental screenings are used as a means to increase awareness of the state of the athletes' oral health for the athletes themselves, as well as their parents and/or caregivers. The athletes are provided with hygiene education to help ensure they are doing an adequate job of brushing and flossing, as well as nutritional education to understand how their diet affects their total health. The athletes also are provided with a list of dentists/clinics in their area who will treat patients with special needs, should they have difficulty finding a dentist.
Hawaii Volunteer Director--Dr. Patricia Ichimura, OD
The mission of Special Olympics – Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes® is to improve the quality of life for the millions of individuals diagnosed with intellectual disabilities by optimizing their vision, eye health and visual skills through quality eye care.
Objectives of Opening Eyes includes providing screenings to Special Olympics athletes, educating athletes, parents and coaches about the importance of regular eye care; educating and changing attitudes of eye care professionals about the vision care needs of persons with intellectual disabilities; and increasing knowledge of visual and eye health needs of these persons through research.
Hawaii Volunteer Director – Dale Matsumoto, audiologist
Healthy Hearing is the audiological component to the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program. Healthy Hearing began providing hearing screenings for Special Olympics Hawaii athletes during the 2003 State Summer Games. Its purpose is to screen the hearing of athletes and notify athletes and their coaches if follow-up care is needed, provide corrective (hearing aids) and preventative (custom swim earplugs) services where possible, and study the prevalence of hearing loss in athletes competing in Special Olympics events.
Athletes are directed through registration/checkout desks and four screening stations. Many athletes require only the first two stations, examining the ear canals for cerumen (earwax) and an otoacoustic (OAE) hearing screening of both ears.
If athletes pass the OAE station, they exit the screening area. If they do not pass, they are checked again using tympanometry (middle ear) and pure tone screening. Upon completion of the screening, the athlete receives a copy of the report form, which includes follow-up recommendations.
Hawaii Volunteer Director--Cheri Teranishi, PT
FUNfitness is the comprehensive physical therapy component of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes initiative. FUNfitness is designed to assess and improve flexibility, functional strength and balance; to educate participants, families and coaches about the importance of flexibility, strength and balance; and to provide a hands-on opportunity for participants to learn about physical therapy. Developed for Special Olympics Healthy Athletes by the American Physical Therapy Association, FUNfitness premiered in March 2001 at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Anchorage, Alaska, USA.
At a FUNfitness screening event the physical therapist assesses flexibility of the hamstring, calf, shoulder rotator, and hip flexor muscles; functional strength of the abdominal and lower extremity muscles; and balance (single-leg stance and functional reach). Physical therapist assistants, and physical therapist or physical therapist assistant students work during the screening under the direction and supervision of the physical therapist.
FUNfitness also provides "take-away" educational materials for Special Olympics athletes and information for families and coaches about the importance of and methods to improve flexibility, functional strength and balance in sports performance and activities of daily living.
Hawaii Volunteer Coordinator--Michelle Maeda, nutritionist
Although Special Olympics has provided sports training and competition for persons with intellectual disabilities for over 40 years, its original orientation was towards training and physical conditioning and paralleled the standards and goals used by the then President’s Council on Physical Fitness. Over time, fitness and conditioning were incorporated into individual and team sports and became less prominent as objectives unto themselves. Several developments, however, have led to a renewed focus on physical fitness and promoting better health.
There have been data and increasing awareness of the decline in physical activity and the increase in obesity in America and many other countries. Health screenings conducted during the 1999 and 2001 World Special Olympics Games showed that many of the athletes were overweight or obese. These trends are directly linked with higher rates of diabetes and heart disease. Surveys of Special Olympics coaches (from all over the world) report a consensus that the athletes are in need of fitness training above and beyond what they receive during their sports practices.
Perhaps the nexus of all components of Healthy Athletes, it strives to heighten awareness and reinforce the health education athletes require to improve and maintain an enhanced level of wellness and self care. Athletes are offered body mass index (BMI) measurements, guides for healthy eating and lifestyle choices, fun ways to increase physical fitness, as well as information about tobacco avoidance, sun safety and skin care.
Clinical Volunteer Director--Grace Pascual, podiatrist
Feet was developed through Special Olympics’ collaboration with the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine.
Many Special Olympics athletes suffer from foot and ankle pain or deformities that impair their performance. Also, athletes are not always fitted with the best shoes and socks for their particular sport. During Special Olympics competitions, volunteer health care professionals screen athletes' feet and ankles for deformities, and also check for proper shoes and socks. This screening made its debut at Summer Games 2006 in Hawaii.
*If you are a clinician interested in becoming a part of Healthy Athlete,
*If you are interested in volunteering at a Healthy Athlete screening, please