When it comes to sports, good health and wellness are fundamentals for all athletes, whether they are competing on the track, in the pool or on a bike. This year at the 2016 Special Olympics North Carolina Summer Games, seven Healthy Athletes disciplines came together to offer free health screenings to all competing athletes. As part of Special Olympics NC’s 2016-2020 strategic plan, these screenings will address research that has shown that people with intellectual disabilities are consistently left out of specific health systems.
Athletes, like Kristine Hughes, were given a Healthy Athletes passport in order to document their trips to FunFitness, Health Promotions, Healthy Hearing, MedFest, Special Smiles, Strong Minds, Strong Bodies and for the first time ever at Summer Games, Opening Eyes.
Hughes began her journey at Opening Eyes. After an internal and external exam of her eyes, she became eligible for new glasses, glasses that were made for her on the spot.
“I’m sure a lot of these athletes are in the same boat as I am and have a difficult time getting glasses,” said Hughes.
Throughout the night, many athletes waited their turn at taking the vision exam; some of them for the first time in their lives, and receiving their new pair of eyeglasses, sunglasses or sport goggles.
“It gives an opportunity for athletes to get prescription glasses who cannot afford them,” said Jones County athlete Dennis Lecher.
As Hughes moved on to Healthy Hearing, she passed her audio test with flying colors. With another stamp on the passport, the next stop was FitFeet, where a foot analysis analyzed the general structure of her foot, her range of motion and her knee rotation.
After earning another stamp on her passport, Hughes was off to Strong Minds, Strong Bodies, which provides a variety of coping techniques on managing stress. For many athletes, this station offers them different options on dealing with this stress, anxiety and often times, depression.
“This station is about helping athletes think positively about themselves. They are given a mirror and are asked to identify themselves with positive characteristics, such as talented or strong,” said volunteer Tracie Street.
For Hughes, she believes that her experiences as a Volleyball official and an athlete have helped her to think more positively about herself. “I like to think that when I’m on that court or on that stand, I’m doing my absolute best,” said Hughes.
Hughes’ final stop was Special Smiles, a station that many Special Olympics athletes may be hesitant to visit due to previous experiences visiting the dentist.
“This service is especially difficult because a lot of dentists don’t except Medicaid or really understand how to treat people with intellectual disabilities. Therefore, people with intellectual disabilities develop a fear of going to the dentist,” said BAYADA Division Director/Habilitation Practice Leader Donna Heatherly.
Through Special Smiles, athletes are guaranteed a health screening in a safe environment with professionals that they can trust.
“These screenings are really so much help because many of us spend time worrying about how our insurance will cover these doctors visits. With Healthy Athletes, some of that stress is taken away,” said Hughes.
At the end of the night, athletes were proud to showcase their fully stamped passports signifying the completion of these vital health screenings and to showcase the importance of overall health for all Special Olympics athletes.