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Healthy Athletes Initiatives

Doctors attending to a child at a health screening event.

Special Olympics Healthy Athletes Initiatives helps athletes to improve their training and competition by focusing on overall health and fitness. This is achieved through basic health screenings during Special Olympics events, provision of preventative and treatment services, educational information, and referrals for follow-up care. Athletes have enhanced sports experiences and improved well-being as a result of receiving critical health services.

Healthy Athletes includes several disciplines: Fit Feet, FUNfitness, Health Promotion, Healthy Hearing, Opening Eyes® and Special Smiles®, as well as MedFest, a program that facilitates the required standard sports physical examination for current and prospective Special Olympics athletes.

In Nigeria, the following Healthy Athletes disciplines are currently in operation: Opening Eyes, (Supported by lions club international, this initiative is designed to assist athletes with eye related issues and after neccesary examination are provided with prescription glasses.) Special Smiles, (Designed to cater for athletes dental needs and hygiene) MedFest (This is a total general body screening excersise)as well as Healthy Hearing, a program designed to ensure proper audiological care for current and prospective Special Olympics Nigeria athletes.


MedFest is a Special Olympics Healthy Athletes screening program that facilitates the required standard sports physical examination for current and prospective Special Olympics athletes.

The Special Olympics General Rules require that all athletes who want to participate in Special Olympics must be examined by a physician or trained medical professional who completes the ‘medical certification’ section of the Athlete Registration Form. With the help of local volunteer health care professionals, MedFest provides people with intellectual disabilities the chance to participate in year-round Special Olympics sports training and athletic competition.

The physical examinations at MedFest are conducted by volunteer medical professionals and are free to current and prospective athletes. Exams include: Registration and assessments of medical history; height and weight; blood pressure; cardiovascular; abdominal; musculoskeletal evaluation; and check-out/referral for follow-up care. MedFest exams also address questions and concerns of athletes’ parents and guardians.

Benefits to the Community:

MedFest provides people with intellectual disabilities:

  • Opportunities to participate in Special Olympics sports training and competition
  • Avenues for inclusion and acceptance for an underserved population
  • Free clinical service that results in enhanced physical fitness and comfort with the medical community.

MedFest provides the medical community:

  • Interaction with people with intellectual disabilities and specialized training in assessing their health status
  • A relationship with Special Olympics, the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities

MedFest provides schools and residential living facilities:

  • Opportunities for students to participate in exciting physical activities and competition
  • A means of fostering acceptance and inclusion among student bodies by integrating schools into the MedFest program
  • Heightened visibility of the school’s commitment to provide opportunities to people with intellectual disabilities.

Medfest is currently in operation in Nigeria under the supervision of Dr. (Mrs.) Odumosu and Dr. Osholowu.

Special Olympics Lions Club Opening Eyes

“To be a healthy athlete, one must be able to see the finish line.” – Timothy Shriver, Chairman, Special Olympics.
The mission of Special Olympics – Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes is to improve the quality of life of individuals diagnosed with intellectual disabilities by optimizing their vision, eye health and visual skills through quality eye care.

The objectives of Opening Eyes include:

  • 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 worldwide, increasing knowledge of visual and eye health needs of persons with intellectual disabilities through research.

The generous support of the Opening Eyes Partners, who provide time, expertise, supplies such as ophthalmic lenses, optical glasses and frames, sunglasses and sports eyewear, enables Special Olympics to reach and assist more members of one of the world’s most underserved population – those with intellectual disabilities. Opening Eyes is currently operating in Nigeria under the supervision of Dr. (Mrs.) Nwakaego Ikoro; Dr. (Mrs.) Ogechi Nwokedi; Dr. Obinna Awiaka as Clinical Directors.

Special Olympics Special Smiles

Special Olympics Special Smiles has demonstrated remarkable success in its mission: increasing 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.

Providing solutions to chronic dental problems, or providing an athlete with a mouth guard, can enhance the athlete’s performance. At a Special Smiles screening, Special Olympics athletes are provided with the following:

  • Hygiene education to help ensure they are doing an adequate job of brushing and flossing
  • “Goody bag” containing toothbrush, toothpaste and floss
  • Nutritional education to understand how their diet affects their total health
  • List of dentists/clinics in their area who will treat patients with special needs (should they have difficulty finding a dentist)
  • Free mouth guards (at most locations) for athletes competing in contact or high-risk sports

Clinical supplies for the screenings and products for the “goody bags” given to each participating athlete are supplied or paid for by the generous support of our Special Smiles Partners.

Data is collected for each athlete who receives a dental screening, and compiled for analysis. This generates a snapshot of the oral health of a representative sample of the hundreds of Special Olympics athletes in Nigeria. These data are used to encourage more dental schools to increase the special needs instruction they offer, and to demonstrate to governments of all levels that access to oral health providers for this population must be increased.

One of the primary objectives of Special Smiles is to increase the number of dental professionals who will serve people with intellectual disabilities in their practices and clinics. This is accomplished by encouraging dental students, as well as practicing dentists, to conduct screenings at Special Smiles events. It is a wonderful way to break down the barriers that too often prevent dental care professionals from working with this population.

Special Smiles event is currently been carried out in Special Olympic Games in Nigeria. The initiative relies on volunteers to staff the events. Special Smiles event is currently operating in Nigeria under the supervision of Dr. (Mrs.) Folakemi Oredugba.

Healthy Hearing

Special Olympics Healthy Hearing programme is a free hearing screening designed to ensure proper audiological care for participating Special Olympics athletes. Led by volunteer professionals, Healthy Hearing provides tests for cerumen (ear wax) and an otoacoustic emissions tests.

Reduced hearing can have a significant negative impact upon a Special Olympics athlete’s ability to respond to directions in training, as well as understand other oral information from coaches, trainers and judges. The safety of the athlete also can be impeded by a hearing loss, as can the athlete’s interpersonal relationships. Screening of hearing is the first step in the process of identifying an athlete’s hearing loss and preventing its negative effects from occurring in sporting and social events.

The purpose of Healthy Hearing 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.

During a Healthy Hearing screening, athletes are directed through two registration/checkout desks and four screening stations, all made possible through the generous equipment donations of our Healthy Hearing partners. Many Special Olympics 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 all examinations and screenings, the athlete receives a copy of the screening report form, which includes follow-up recommendations. The Healthy Hearing discipline is operating under the supervision of a Volunteer Clinical Director, Mr. Simeon O. Afolabi.

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Created By The Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation for the Benefit of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities
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