“Many Voices – Single Heart” – Healthy Athletes

dscf9768They gather selflessly three times a year to do whatever they can within those three days to improve the over-all health of our athletes.  They come from a variety of health disciplines, and they take their time with us very seriously.  They are Special Olympics New Mexico’s volunteer health professionals, who make our Healthy Athletes Initiative unarguably one of the best in the country.  So, what does that mean, and why does Healthy Athletes matter? 
With the support of Special Olympics Incorporated, the Healthy Athletes Capacity Grant, Delta Dental, and a list of other caring community partners, Special Olympics New Mexico offers five Healthy Athlete screenings: Opening Eyes, Special Smiles, Fun Fitness, Fit Feet, and Healthy Hearing.  For lack of time and space, I have chosen to take a look at one … Opening Eyes. 
In 2008, over 320 athletes who competed at our State Games had their eyes tested.  Of those who were screened, thanks to the financial and volunteer support of Lions Club International and Essilor, 226 received new glasses… ones they could actually see out of … which sadly, due to communication barriers and a lack of training in the medical community, isn’t always the case in the world of disability.  Being able to see clearly matters, especially when you are doing everything possible to not only meet the challenge of your disability, but successfully drive a golf ball, shoot a jump shot, or pick up a spare. 
We are told that 81% of medical students graduate without having any training in caring for a person with an intellectual disability.  At this point, we may not be able to influence curriculum, but here’s what we have been able to do.  Over 250 volunteer health professionals attended three of our State Games last year.  When you think about the impact of that, had Healthly Athletes not been a part of our Games, over 2,000 Special Olympics athletes would not have received  screenings, glasses, sports goggles, mouth guards, fitness programs, or referrals.  On the flip side, 250 New Mexico health professionals would not have had the opportunity to gain a better understanding of people challenged with intellectual disabilities and their unique health needs and health issues.    Healthy Athletes results in Special Olympics athletes living happier, healthier, and longer.  That does matter, and we are thankful for all who are intentionally making it happen.

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