Health & Wellness at the TLC

What does it mean to have a sound mind, body and spirit? For Larin Bryant-McCanse, these are the key elements to becoming a healthy athlete.

Larin 1Larin is an active athlete from Kansas City, Missouri. Through Larin’s involvement with Special Olympics and competitions in area and state games, he has had the opportunity to participate in multiple Healthy Athlete activities.  Special Olympics has been able to assist him with resources to improve his hearing, physical therapy and overall health.  “It has given him peace of mind. Larin is growing each day by talking more and more with his friends and family,” said Britani Harrelson, Larin’s sister.

Larin’s insurance does not offer assistance for hearing aids and his severe hearing loss has been a barrier to his overall personal growth on and off the playing fields. Through the Healthy Athletes initiative, Larin’s family was linked to Dr. Jennifer Shoemaker, who helped them explore the opportunities in obtaining hearing aids.  Dr. Shoemaker was able to connect with the Starkey Foundation to secure not one, but two hearing aids for Larin.

“We cannot begin to express enough gratitude for the assistance and support we have received from not only Special Olympics, but from Healthy Athletes, and Dr. Shoemaker,” said Tammy Harrelson, Larin’s sister-in-law. “This past year has been a game changer for Larin and his overall growth for a sounder mind, body and spirit.”

This process has helped change Larin’s life and it continues to provide a more positive and healthy future for him. “Healthy Athletes has given Larin the opportunity to be himself once again and shine as an amazing individual,” said Tammy.

The Training for Life Campus, located at 305 Special Olympics Drive, is a facility that will serve current and future Missouri athletes with intellectual disabilities. It is the first facility of its kind in the world, with the purpose of enriching the lives of our athletes. The campus will function as a lifelong community hub and center, and will inspire a new drive in our athletes so that they may continue to develop the physical and social skills they need to be as productive and independent as possible. Not only will our athletes learn the lessons of sport and life that inspire each one of us, but they learn to adopt a whole new lifestyle centered around health and wellness. The campus is designed to accommodate training, practice and competitive events for some of SOMO’s most popular sports programs, including a track, wellness trail, basketball court, soccer field and multi-sport training areas. It will offer year-round training opportunities for athletes, coaches and volunteers from throughout Missouri.

In addition to the multi-sport activities, the campus will also provide athletes free healthcare screenings in the new clinical screening rooms through our improved Health and Wellness program. The four rooms consist of: Healthy Hearing, Special Smiles, Opening Eyes and Fit Feet. Each room is designed and equipped to give the athletes a true experience of a visit to the doctor’s office, but in a welcoming and fun environment. Everything from a receptionist desk and waiting area, to a fully equipped dental chair, an eye exam refractor and a brand new sound booth is provided for our athletes at the Training for Life Campus.

The Healthy Hearing program is changing lives in communities across the globe by providing free hearing screenings and other medicals services, such as: ear wax removal, swim molds, hearing aid maintenance and minor repairs for people with intellectual disabilities. The amount of ear problems and hearing loss among Special Olympics athletes is greater than that found in the general population. Most athletes’ hearing problems are previously undetected, unserved or under-treated. Hearing loss negatively impacts communication ability, quality of life, social interactions and health. The purpose of the Healthy Hearing screenings is to increase access to hearing care for Special Olympics athletes, as well as individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Special Smiles is the dental health discipline that provides athletes with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to take charge of their oral health. This program provides comprehensive oral health care information, offers free dental screenings and instructions on correct brushing and flossing techniques, as well as, providing preventative supplies like toothpaste and a toothbrush. The Special Smiles screenings have found that a large percentage of Special Olympics athletes are unaware of the condition of their oral health.

The Opening Eyes program is making a wide impact throughout communities by providing free eye assessments, prescription eyewear, sunglasses and sports goggles to Special Olympics athletes. The goal of this program is to collect and analyze screening data in order to raise awareness and to advocate for improved eye care for people with intellectual disabilities. Springfield coach, Kristin Knapton, expressed just how helpful the Opening Eyes program is. “A lot of our athletes really benefit from the free eye exams and getting free glasses. Many of them do not get this opportunity due to their backgrounds and family situations, so this definitely provides a need that is there. It’s an amazing opportunity that you just don’t see anywhere else.”

Fit Feet offers podiatric screenings to evaluate ankles, feet, lower extremity biomechanics, and proper shoe and sock gear to athletes. Many athletes suffer from foot and ankle pain, or deformities that impair their performance. The mission of Fit Feet is to improve the quality of life and the long-term health of Special Olympics athletes as well as people with intellectual disabilities and to increase access to foot care.

The screening rooms will be staffed by volunteer health professionals as a part of our Health & Wellness program to promote our athletes’ overall health and educate our athletes, coaches and families. We are always working hard to grow our group of referral/follow up care providers. As a provider we encourage you to reach out.

In 2015 there were 437 total screenings provided, 2016 there were 1588 screenings and in 2017 there were 1811 screenings provided. You can see the number of screenings has increased steadily over the past three years. With our new health screening rooms, we look forward to growing this and are excited to be expanding our Health and Wellness program. The free screenings will be offered not only at all three of the state games but during the year-round training camps as well.

In addition to the four screening rooms, we offer MedFest. The goals of MedFest are to provide free sports physicals and other health screening services to people with intellectual disabilities and to recruit new athletes to Special Olympics. There are more than 15,400 Special Olympics Missouri athletes who participate each year. Before they can step on the field, they are required to have a comprehensive sports physical. Therefore, MedFest was created to offer the physical screenings the athletes need prior to participating. It is sometimes the first exposure these athletes have to medical care. In many cases, life-threatening conditions have been found and treated thanks to MedFest.

Another part of our Health and Wellness program is Health Promotion, which uses interactive educational tools and displays, motivational literature and demonstrations to raise the awareness of Special Olympics athletes about the need to improve and maintain an enhanced level of wellness and self-care. Through this program, athletes are interviewed to assess their health habits, and conducts health screenings in the following areas: BMI (body mass index), BP (blood pressure) and BMD (bone mineral density). Health Promotion provides a positive, interactive and engaging environment to help athletes learn how small changes in their behavior can help them improve and maintain good health and sports performance.

We are excited to be able to take our health education to the next level and provide a comprehensive all-inclusive Health and Wellness program for our athletes. The Special Olympics Missouri Health and Wellness program promises to develop and foster a healthy community by achieving inclusive health and wellness opportunities for all people with intellectual disabilities, which includes, but is not limited to health care, education, resources and services. This program is designed to help Special Olympics Missouri athletes improve their health and fitness in their daily lives.

We hope to continue to grow our Health and Wellness program by growing current and developing new health and wellness partnerships to provide our athletes with a quality all-inclusive medical care. We always welcome volunteers and are excited to take health and wellness here at Special Olympics Missouri to the next level.

If you would like to get involved in the Health and Wellness program please contact Meagan Davis, Health and Wellness Manager, or Carol Griffin, Partnership Manager.

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