Governor Nixon’s 100 Missouri Miles Challenge

Earlier this year, Missouri was named the “Best Trails State” by American Trails, a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting our nation’s hiking, biking and riding trails. From our cities and suburbs, to our small towns and rural areas, Missouri is crisscrossed by hundreds of miles of trails to accommodate a wide variety of activities and interests.

Governor Nixon addresses the crowd at the Opening Ceremony of the 2013 State Summer Games

Governor Nixon addresses the crowd at the Opening Ceremony of the 2013 State Summer Games

Governor Jay Nixon, SOMO’s Honorary Head Coach, and First Lady Georganne Nixon are encouraging all Missouri families to get outside and take advantage of the incredible resources found here in the Show-Me State by joining the Governor’s 100 Mile Challenge. At the Opening Ceremony for State Summer Games, Gov. Nixon invited Special Olympics athletes, coaches and supporters to complete “100 Missouri Miles” of physical activity by the end of the year. Whether you run, walk, bike, paddle or roll, everyone can participate. To sign up visit and take the Challenge!

100-Missouri-MilesThis initiative is a great opportunity to promote Missouri’s proud outdoor heritage, improve your health and – best of all – have fun with family and friends. More than 18 million Missourians visited our state parks last year and there are hundreds of other local trails, greenways and blueways to enjoy. From Forest Park in St. Louis, to the Cliff Drive Scenic Byway in Kansas City to the Ozarks Greenway in Springfield, Missouri’s nationally-recognized trails are far more than a means of getting from one place to another. They are pathways to enrichment and adventure, to time-honored traditions and new discoveries, to quiet contemplation and strenuous exertion. Most importantly, Missouri’s trails weave our communities together.

Thank you for joining the Challenge. We will see you on the trail!

Local athlete, coach and International Global Messenger Kristina Rhodes to be interviewed on KSHB-TV

On Thursday, November 8, Special Olympics athlete, coach and International Global Messenger Kristina (O’Neal) Rhodes will be interviewed on KSHB-TV. Tune in as she discusses her work with Special Olympics in Missouri and the Send a High Five Campaign, a joint initiative between VSP Vision Care and Special Olympics.

Almost 200 million people have intellectual disabilities, and up to 40 percent of these individuals are also affected by some type of vision loss or abnormality. To address this issue, VSP Vision Care worked with the Special Olympics to provide 50,000 athletes around the U.S. with the vision care they need via the “Send a High Five” campaign. For more information on the importance of healthy eyes and the campaign, check out this infographic!

Kristina, along with Dr. Lee Ann Barrett from the Missouri Optometric Association and the Opening Eyes program, will discuss the importance of an annual eye exam—particularly for individuals with intellectual disabilities—and share their own experiences in relation to eye health and the Special Olympics.

Make sure to tune in at 11:15 am on Thursday!

Healthy Athletes adds Fit Feet as new service

Having the right shoe size is essential for success in track & field and many other Special Olympics sports.

What do SOMO athletes do in between competition at state games? Perhaps they’ll grab some food to refuel, or visit with friends, or maybe receive a general foot exam.

Thanks to the development of the Healthy Athletes program, our athletes now have the opportunity to improve their health in an environment that is focused on the needs of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

At the State Summer Games in May, our Healthy Athletes program was in full swing.  Dentists, audiologists, physical therapists, and other health professionals volunteered their time to make sure our athletes were in tip-top shape to compete.

New to SOMO’s Healthy Athletes program is Fit Feet. A group of specialists – including podiatrists, Mizzou athletic trainers, and shoe store employees – completed nearly 150 general foot exams for our athletes.

Dr. Scott Foster of Columbia had been looking for a philanthropic opportunity at the same time SOMO was searching for a podiatrist to help lead the Fit Feet team, so he readily agreed to join.  With another podiatrist, he traveled to Boston for Fit Feet training and orientation.  Once at the State Summer Games, the Fit Feet team discovered a variance of issues surrounding the foot health of our athletes.

“The main issue seemed to center around shoe size and shoe type. Many of the athletes had the wrong shoe size and many had the wrong type of shoe for their sports,” Dr. Foster says.

These findings were very important because they negatively affect more than just an athlete’s performance.

“A shoe too big may slow them down, make them move awkwardly, and cause blisters or irritation from the foot moving too much in the shoe,” Dr Foster added.  “A shoe too small will also cause blisters and be uncomfortable, slowing the athlete down. Prolonged use of shoes too small may also lead to deformities such as bunions and hammertoes, which is a common deformity with individuals who have intellectual disabilities.”

These findings have led to many athletes getting the right shoes for their feet.  Connie Hinds, a member of the team Unstoppable Dawgs, talked about the effects of her experience with Fit Feet.

“I got the right shoe size now,” she says. “I wear a 6.5. I feel a lot better!”

Christopher Thebo of the Power Punch Bunch adds, “I would do it again.  They were very nice.”

Sounds like a win-win to us.  Healthy Athletes means happy athletes, and that’s what we’re all about.

To support the Healthy Athletes program or volunteer your time at an upcoming Healthy Athletes screening, email Diannah White.

Promoting Health Beyond Sports

Diannah White is the Chief Communications Officer for SOMO. She has worked here 17 years and can be reached at This post is part of a series of posts that look back on SOMO’s 40-year history.

Excellence in life and in sports depends on good health. In Special Olympics, we take this very seriously. 

The Special Olympics movement was founded on a mission to provide sports training and athletic competition to children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Our vision goes beyond the sports field and into improving the quality of life of our athletes. We’ve seen research that shows participation in our program leads to better performance at school, work and home. Now we know we can affect their health as well.

The doctors found that William was nearly legally blind. His eyesight was so bad that to improve his vision, he would need three different prescriptions, each one stronger than the other before he would be able to see correctly.”

Special Olympics, Inc. commissioned a Special Report on the Health Status and Needs of Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities. The report identified areas that, if made available, could improve the quality and length of life for Special Olympics athletes. The findings showed that as few as 30% of patients with intellectual disabilities receive care from medical specialists, even though it is estimated 92% of them need specialty care related to eyesight, oral health and heart disease.

Special Olympics, Inc. came up with a solution: Healthy Athletes was launched in 1996 as a means to promote better health for our athletes and bring attention to the lack of health care for those with intellectual disabilities.

Here at home, with the prompting of then-board chair Naomi Cupp of Columbia, we began offering Healthy Athlete initiatives in 2003. Since SOMO began offering the screenings, 541 dentists, hygienists, optometrists, opticians, audiologists, physical therapists, nurses and physical therapy assistants from all over Missouri have donated their time.

The Healthy Athlete disciplines we offer in Missouri include:

Special Smiles is a dental screening to detect cavities and other oral health issues. In 2010, 20% of athletes going through Special Smiles needed follow-up care because of pain or decay. In contrast, slightly more than 2% of all US employed adults reported that their last trip to the dentist was because of pain of a toothache. This initiative is made possible by the Missouri Dental Association.

One of the questions that the volunteer dentists ask each athlete is who their dentist is. More often than not they hear, “You are.” This is the only dental screening many of our athletes will get due to financial restrictions.

FunFitness is a screening to assess and improve flexibility, strength and balance. Athletes are moved through a variety of stations all run by volunteer physical therapists from the MO Physical Therapy Association. Athletes take exercise ideas home with them to incorporate into their training.

Health Promotion is a screening which looks at the overall health of the athlete. We own our own bone density machine to check for early stages of osteoporosis. As well, this discipline checks BMI and provides education on nutrition and sun safety. On average, 60% of our athletes are identified as obese and receive education to improve their diet.

Healthy Hearing is relatively new to our offerings but it has fast become a huge asset. Athletes receive a hearing test by trained audiologists. As may as 28% failed their hearing tests in 2011. This program is led by the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Missouri State University.

Opening Eyes is the most comprehensive screening we offer. This entire program is done in cooperation with Lions Club International. Coordinated by the Missouri Optometric Association, this is a complete vision screening like you would receive at a doctor’s office.

On average, 43% of SOMO athletes who have been through our Opening Eyes vision screening over the past eight years have needed and received a new or updated prescription and free eyewear. Athletes who don’t need prescription eyeglasses all get to take a free pair of designer sunglasses.

We have seen the most dramatic success with this program. William Johnson, an outfielder from Kansas City, is living proof. William would look one way and throw the ball the other way. His coach took him through our very first Opening Eyes screening. The doctors found that William was nearly legally blind. His eyesight was so bad that to improve his vision, he would need three different prescriptions, each one stronger than the other before he would be able to see correctly. Through the Opening Eyes program, he got three pairs of glasses and now when he looks one way he can also throw that way!

Fit Feet is a free podiatric screening for participating Special Olympics athletes evaluating ankles, feet, lower extremity biomechanics, and proper shoe and sock gear. We hope to host our first screening at our 2012 Summer Games.

As an added bonus, every $1 spent for Healthy Athlete Programs returns $5 in pro-bono services thanks to the great partnerships with health care professionals.  These screenings are provided through partnerships with licensed healthcare professionals at the Missouri Optometric Association, Missouri Dental Association, Missouri Physical Therapy Association and others. Special Olympics serves as the largest provider of health screenings in the world. 

We take the health of our athletes very seriously. Consider ways you can support Healthy Athletes. Professional healthcare volunteers are always needed as is funding of offset the costs to offer the screenings.