Healthy Athletes & Communities

Healthy Athletes

Special Olympics is the world’s largest public health organization for individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID), providing access to free health services for a population with significant, unmet health needs.

Through the Healthy Athletes® program, Special Olympics Ohio athletes receive free screenings in a fun, welcoming environment that removes the anxiety and fear individuals with ID often experience when faced with a visit to the doctor or dentist. Our mission is to improve each athlete’s health and fitness, leading to enhanced sports experience and improved well-being.

Benefits to Athletes
Statistics show that individuals with ID often do not receive the health care attention they need. Our impact on the health and well-being of our athletes is significant, in some cases life-saving, by discovering unknown health issues or providing health care that otherwise would not have been available.

Our ultimate goal is to improve each athlete’s ability to train and compete in Special Olympics as well as succeed in life.

Healthy Athletes provides basic health care screenings and testing to SOOH athletes at no cost.

Any SOOH athlete who has a valid medical form on file is welcome to participate in the Healthy Athletes Program.

Health Care Providers
In addition to providing health services and education to SOOH athletes, Healthy Athletes is also changing the way health systems interact with individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Health care professionals and volunteers receive free training on the specific needs of individuals with ID, allowing them to return to their practices and classrooms with increased knowledge of and compassion for these patients.

Volunteers Wanted
Are you a health care professional? Consider becoming a Healthy Athletes program volunteer. It’s fun and can be life-changing. Contact Amy O’Neal, Director of Health Strategies, for more information.

Fit Feet

Special Olympics Fit Feet is a free podiatric screening for participating Special Olympics athletes evaluating ankles, feet, lower extremity biomechanics, and proper shoe and sock gear. In partnership with the International Federation of Podiatrists (FIP) and the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, Fit Feet also provides referrals for those participating Special Olympics that require follow up services.

At a Fit Feet event, athletes are screened by podiatrists and podiatry students and educated on their correct shoe size as well as nail and skin care. Thanks to a generous donation from Dr. Comfort, Dr. Comfort shoes are available to athletes free of charge.

Fit Feet screenings throughout the US has indicated that a large number of Special Olympics athletes have untreated foot conditions.

  • 58% have gait abnormalities
  • 44% have skin and nail conditions
  • 24% have bone deformation
  • 41% of Special Olympics athletes in the U.S. are wearing the wrong size shoe


FUNfitness screenings are designed to identify needs, help athletes improve flexibility, strength, balance and aerobic condition, as well as educate athletes, coaches and their families on the importance of these aspects of health. In addition, the screening provides a hands-on opportunity for athletes to learn appropriate exercises from physical therapy professionals. FUNfitness is the result of an established professional relationship between American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and Special Olympics, Inc.

FUNfitness screenings throughout the US have show that a large percentage of Special Olympics athletes have other untreated health concerns.

  • 58% flexibility problems identified
  • 42% have balance problems
  • 32% strength problems identified

Health Promotion

Health Promotion events are focused on improving the quality and length of life for Special Olympics Ohio athletes by providing them with knowledge and tools to make better decisions about their health and well-being.

To encourage healthy behaviors, reduce risky behaviors and improve self-efficacy and self-advocacy, health care professionals provide athletes health screenings (BMI, blood pressure and bone mineral density (BDM) measurements), interactive educational tools and motivational health information.

Health Promotion focuses on the following core areas:

  • Nutrition/hydration
  • Bone health
  • Sun safety and skin care
  • Tobacco avoidance and cessation
  • Physical activity

Additional health topics include hygiene and sanitation, sleep deprivation, food and water-borne illness, cardiovascular health and night safety.

Health Promotion events throughout the US have found that a large percentage of Special Olympics athletes have limited knowledge of proper health practices.

  • 37% adult athletes are overweight or obese
  • 24% have low bone density
  • 23% children and adolescents are overweight or obese

Healthy Hearing

Healthy Hearing screenings are free exams 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. The amount of hearing loss among Special Olympics athletes is much greater than that found in the general population. Most athletes’ hearing problems are previously undetected, un-served or under-treated.

Healthy Hearing screenings throughout the US have found that a large percentage of Special Olympics athletes have untreated hearing conditions.

  • 42% have blocked or partially blocked ear canals
  • 29% failed Puretone hearing screening


MedFest® is a free health screening that meets the requirement of a standard sports physical, required under the General Rules of Special Olympics, Inc. Led by volunteer physicians, nurses, physician assistants and medical students, the MedFest® screening consists of the following stations: medical history, height and weight, blood pressure, cardiology test, musculoskeletal test, orthopedic tests, abdominal evaluation and a check-out station.

MedFest® also helps recruit new athletes to Special Olympics, retain current athletes, and provide physicians, nurses and other health care providers with training and specialized experience in the examination and assessment of people with intellectual disabilities

MedFest® screenings throughout the US have found that a large percentage of Special Olympics athletes have significant secondary health concerns. Unfortunately medications commonly taken by people with intellectual disabilities are often associated with long-term side effects such as osteoporosis, weight gain, and sun sensitivity.

  • 90% of primary care residency programs in the U.S. offer no training in caring for people with intellectual disabilities
  • 81% of graduating medical students in the U.S. report not having any training in the care of people with intellectual disabilities
  • 60% of adult Special Olympics athletes are overweight or obese
  • 29% of Special Olympics athletes under the age of 22 are overweight or obese

Opening Eyes®

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.

Led by volunteer vision care professionals, Opening Eyes® provides:

  • vision screenings, refractions and dispensing of appropriate eyewear (prescription eyewear, sunglasses and sports goggles) to Special Olympics Ohio athletes
  • education to athletes, parents and coaches about the importance of regular eye care
  • permanent changes in the attitudes of eye care professionals about the vision care needs of persons with intellectual disabilities worldwide
  • increased knowledge of visual and eye health needs of persons with intellectual disabilities through research.

Through a grant from the Lions Clubs International Foundation, the partnership of Special Olympics and Lions Clubs International is dramatically expanding the effort’s scope. The formal partnership encompasses sustained continuous vision screening programs across the world, as well as the development of Train-the-Trainer sessions to create a strong volunteer force of vision health professionals. The partnership enables Opening Eyes® to reach one of the world’s most underserved population: those with intellectual disabilities.

Opening Eyes® screenings throughout the US have found that a large percentage of Special Olympics athletes have untreated eye conditions.

  • 35% need new prescription glasses
  • 15% have an eye disease
  • 5% have never had an eye exam

Special Smiles®

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. Athletes are given 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.

At Special Smiles® screenings, dental professionals provide screenings, health education and prevention services and refer athletes for follow-up care. Athletes are given a new toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss. Free mouth guards are provided for athletes competing in contact or high-risk sports. Athletes that have completed a permission slip also receive a fluoride varnish.

Special Smiles® screenings throughout the US have found that a large percentage of our athletes are unaware of the condition of their oral health.

  • 47% have periodontal conditions
  • 24% have untreated tooth decay
  • 12% have dental pain
  • 10% are in need of urgent care

Healthy Communities

The Special Olympics Healthy Communities initiative takes the principles of the Healthy Athletes program and expands them from a series of single events to a steady presence in the lives of our athletes and their families at a local level.

The Vision
To create communities where Special Olympics athletes and others with intellectual disabilities have the same access to health and wellness resources as all community members.

Driving It Local: Healthy Communities
The Healthy Communities plan includes priorities and targets for Healthy Athletes at a local level; to improve the sustainability of our local Healthy Athletes programming, to increase its local impact, and to enhance its relevance to local health issues. As a result, Special Olympics Ohio is committed to financially and administratively supporting relevant projects/events organized by local agencies. Examples of local Healthy Community Projects may include, but are not limited, to:

  • Family Health Forums – Athletes/ Coaches/ Caregivers participate in opportunities that provide direct access to relevant health care information and resources.
  • Community Wellness Opportunities – Athletes participate in classes at a local fitness center, join a walking club, take part in a community garden.
  • Special Olympics Wellness Opportunities – Athletes participate in Special Olympics Walking Clubs, Cooking Classes, Weight-loss Classes