Many, if not all, organizations and institutions across the globe have had to quickly adapt to the challenges posed by COVID-19—Special Olympics Tennessee (SOTN) was no exception. To protect the safety and wellness of athletes, SOTN quickly transitioned to virtual activities for most of 2020. This was a hard decision as the SOTN team originally planned exciting expansions to its health work like increasing the number of free health screenings available to athletes and introducing innovative community health programming. Thankfully, SOTN rose to the challenge and adapted its many events, trainings, education, and beloved sports competitions to virtual platforms.
At its heart, SOTN is an organization that loves celebrating athletic and personal accomplishment together in-person, so it has been hard finding ways to stay connected while staying distanced. Yet, despite the unique health landscape, SOTN and its athletes are optimistic in continuing to explore pathways to stronger and healthier communities to fight the health disparities faced by people with intellectual disabilities (ID).
Unfortunately, it is normal for people with ID to receive substandard care compared to individuals without ID, which results in disproportionately higher negative health outcomes. Special Olympics’ prevalence report shows that on a team of 10 Special Olympics athletes:
- 6 are overweight or obese and at risk for chronic health conditions
- 6 have problems with flexibility and 5 have problems with strength, placing them at risk for injury
- 4 have untreated tooth decay and 1-2 need urgent dental care
- 2-3 have low bone density even though they may look healthy
- 2 have never had an eye exam and 4 need a new prescription for glasses
- 2 would fail a hearing test
SOTN is fighting hard to beat these statistics through its Inclusive Health initiative. The goal of Inclusive Health is to integrate individual level Healthy Athletes screenings with community level systems change to promote prevention, early detection, provider training, and improve health systems across Tennessee so that athletes may easily access necessary, high quality, and compassionate health care.
As SOTN prepares for its return to in-person activities, the program will be kicking off the new year with its 2021 Virtual Health Summit. Community members, families, and professionals are invited to participate in celebrating the successes of three exceptional SOTN health partners: LifePoint Health, the Vanderbilt University Bill Wilkerson Center, and the Tennessee Association of Optometric Physicians. These organizations have been awarded the Tennessee Golisano Health Leadership Award (SOTN’s highest health award). The awards will be followed by the summit’s featured event: the athlete Health Messenger discussion, which will explore ways our communities can work towards Inclusive Health. These athlete Health Messengers have been trained to serve as leaders, educators, mentors, and advocates on diverse health topics and are ready to kick off these important conversations about how, together, our communities can close health gaps for people with ID. More details about the Virtual Health Summit and instructions for registering will be made available soon through this webpage: https://www.specialolympicstn.org/beyond-sports/healthy-athletes.
It is undeniable that 2020 saw many challenges to the ways people live, work, and do sport, but that has not stopped SOTN from planning ways we can work to make lasting changes so athletes can live their healthiest lives and achieve their highest potential, both on and off the playing field. It is more important than ever that communities work together to achieve health and SOTN looks forward to bringing Tennesseans together to achieve this mission!
Visit www.specialolympicstn.org for more information about Special Olympics Tennessee’s health work.