An Eye-Opening Healthy Athletes Experience

By Naomi Cahill and Tracy McDannald

Donna Wilson and her daughter, Vanessa, look at Special Olympics as more than a sports organization – thanks to an examination at a Healthy Athletes station.

Donna and her husband have five children – three of them adopted and with Down syndrome. The two eldest boys grew up playing sports and Donna wanted the others to have a similar experience. However, Donna said, a secular sports program was “not as welcoming as we would like.”

“So we sought out Special Olympics,” she said, adding that the family has been involved in coaching and fundraising roles since 1999.

“Our three athletes really enjoy their Special Olympics family and are willing to share how important it is to them wherever they go. Special Olympics has positively challenged our children – physically, mentally, and emotionally – in ways that they would not have been challenged, and for that, I am grateful.”

Vanessa Wilson Healthy AthletesVanessa, 22, is currently a patient at Jules Stein Eye Institute where they are monitoring her eyesight and adjusting different lenses to help her eyes, which needed both corneas replaced. Although she is still having vision problems, if it were not for the doctors and interns at the Healthy Athletes Opening Eyes station in 2014, Vanessa’s eyes may not have found the care they needed, Donna said.

“They told me at Jules Stein that it was not something that I, as a parent, would have ever seen myself,” Donna said. “So, it really was Healthy Athletes that did that for her.

“Had Healthy Athletes not alerted me to a problem, Vanessa’s vision would have just completely and rapidly deteriorated.”

Poor vision is not stopping Vanessa from doing what she loves. She enjoys competing at Special Olympics Santa Clarita & Tri-Valley events, shifting her focus from softball to basketball and bowling for Antelope Valley. With assistance, she can find her spot on the basketball court and make good shots.

“The coaches and even the coaches from the other area, they’re so cool,” Donna said. “When she tries to play basketball, they put a mark on the floor and she just stands there and the other coaches pull their teams back because they figured out she can’t see, and she’ll make a basket.”

Vanessa’s eyesight is still on the road to recovery, but until then, she continues to enjoy herself and play sports.

Healthy Athletes is free to all athletes attending Summer Games. Screenings include optometry, podiatry, hearing, dental, dietary and fitness. For more information, visit

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