Healthy Athletes’ Runup to the 2011 World Games

From the Desk of the Vice President: November 2010

By Darcie Mersereau, VP, Health Programs

The entire Special Olympics Movement is gearing up for our 2011 Summer World Games, which will take place in Athens, Greece next June 25 – July 4. An estimated 7,500 athletes from 185 nations will compete in 22 Olympic-type sports, and joining them will be 40,000 family members, 2500 coaches, 3000 technical officials and referees, and 25,000 volunteers from Greece and around the world. Athens, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, provides a unique platform to showcase the courage, dedication and talents of our athletes.

Healthy Athletes will have a prominent role in these Games, offering screenings in six Healthy Athletes disciplines free of charge to all competing athletes. Forty-five new Clinical Directors will also be trained in Athens, and will then return home to later run Healthy Athletes events in their own communities. Special Olympics has already secured support for these Games from many of its current sponsors, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lions Clubs International, Health One Global, Sunray Technology, Fudan Microelectronics, Essilor, Safilo S.p.A, Hologic, and Liberty Sport, and will continue to seek partners and sponsors to ensure that we can offer a quality health experience for all of our competing athletes.

The world stage provided by these Games also offers an opportunity to highlight the acute and chronic health concerns of our athletes – to leaders from government, academia, media, and the philanthropic sector. We all know that many of these athletes – competing at the World level – will be competing in pain. We know that more than 40% will come to Healthy Athletes wearing shoes that are more than 1.5 sizes too large or too small. We know that a quarter will fail hearing tests, and almost 15% (most of whom will be young adults) will already be experiencing low bone density. Further, we know we will find many athletes have multiple health concerns.

We also know that our health screenings, education, and services will make a tremendous difference to our athletes both on and off the playing field. I think of one of our New Jersey basketball players named Charlie, whose average score jumped from 2 to 10 points after he received glasses from Opening Eyes. I think of Irma from Bosnia and Herzegovina, who came to Fit Feet with an active leg infection and an ulcerated wound, not aware that she had a severe infection that, had it gone untreated, could have killed her. I think of the pre-cancerous lesions, high blood pressure, and cataracts we will discover – and the hearing aids, mouthguards, and glasses we will provide. While I know that we will not be able to address all of our athletes’ health concerns directly, I am confident in our network of more than 12,000 clinical volunteers worldwide who have, time and again, connected athletes needing the most urgent care to community providers after they return home.

The work we will do in Athens, and the work that our volunteers do every day at events around the world is so important because it is provided with dignity, respect, patience, and thoroughness, and because we teach all of our new volunteers how to provide this same level of care. That this experience is different from the norm was recently captured by a letter we received from the mother of an athlete named Christa. The mother wrote:

“We recently had the chance to participate in the Special Olympics Greece National Games in Athens in May 2010.  One of our greatest experiences was attending the Special Olympics Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes program.  As a mother, I was able to see first- hand in Athens what a comprehensive eye exam Opening Eyes represents.  It is truly how an eye exam should be given to a person with intellectual disability.”


Preparing for an event on this scale is a major undertaking and we have a fantastic global team in place working to make Healthy Athletes a success. While not all of you will be able to join the Games in Athens, we hope we can bring a taste of them to you over the coming months through our communication efforts. We will update you about the planning for the Games and highlight some of members of our team who are helping to ensure that stories like Christa’s are not unique and that all of the athletes who come to Athens will experience a world class health experience.

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