The Healthy Side of The Games

With more than 1,100 Special Olympics athletes competing at the 48th annual Special Olympics Southern California Summer Games, health and fitness becomes as important an aspect to the Games as the competitions themselves.

With that, a major component to Special Olympics is the Healthy Athletes program, and it once again had a big role at the Summer Games.

Healthy Athletes, which provides free health screenings in six disciplines to all athletes, relied on clinical professionals from throughout Southern California to provide the best of care in a setting that is built for Special Olympics athletes.

And they were busy.

As of Wednesday, more than 1,000 screenings took place over the weekend of Summer Games in the areas of Fit Feet, FUNFitness, Health Promotion, Healthy Hearing, Opening Eyes and Special Smiles. Giveaways were a part of the incentive for athletes to get free screenings, and it was so busy that the free giveaway provided by Bombas at the Fit Feet area ran out.

“Great interactions with the athletes and they love learning about nutrition education,” said Alyssa Alvarado, a senior at CSU Channel Islands Nursing School and a Healthy Athletes volunteer. “The athletes are excited about the free services that we provide here.”

Hope Wills, a clinical health director for Healthy Athletes who has been volunteering her much-valued services for 17 years, is amazed each and every year at how the athletes overcome any limitations.

“It is such a blessing to see them overcome any limits they may have had,” she said. “Watching them in ‘people mode’ and not ‘patient mode’ is what really is important.”  Wills said there is absolutely nothing these fine athletes can’t overcome and that “it takes some very hard work to get where they are now.”

Special Olympics Southern California athlete from Orange County gets new glasses.

During Healthy Athletes, many health needs are addressed immediately. Athletes were able to receive new glasses from Opening Eyes, get fitted for mouth guards at Special Smiles, learn important nutrition tips in Health Promotion, become qualified for hearing devices at Healthy Hearing, receive proper shoe needs from Fit Feet and get advice on proper training requirements from FUNFitness. And that is just to name a few.

“This is an incredibly rewarding experience that reminds me why I wanted to be a doctor,” said Dr. Calvin Okey, a second-year volunteer from Orange County. “The athletes are here purely for the competition, to fulfill their dreams.  They enjoy themselves and their fellow athletes’ efforts.”

Volunteer Alex Gryder, a doctoral student at USC in physical therapy, has been coming out to offer health services to the athletes for five years.  Gryder admitted that the positive energy from the athletes and the Games keeps her graciously coming back. “It is such an honor to help and witness such enthusiasm from the athletes.” Gryder adds that she is always amazed to “see them overcome their ‘limitations’ with such pure joy and happiness.”

For more information on Healthy Athletes, CLICK HERE.

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