Healthy Athletes

Healthy Athletes

Since initiating the program in 1997, over 83,500 free screening have been conducted in Florida. In 2019, over 1,700 volunteers, health professionals, and students accomplished 12,826 screenings during state and area competitions, and at the Healthy Community sites.

  • To improve access and health care for Special Olympics athletes at event-based health screenings
  • To make recommendations to local health practitioners when appropriate
  • To train healthcare professionals and students in the health professions about the needs and care of people with intellectual disabilities
  • To collect, analyze and disseminate data on the health status and needs of people with intellectual disabilities
  • To advocate for improved health policies and programs for persons with intellectual disabilities
Importance and Impact
  • Over half (52%) of medical school deans and students report that graduates are “not competent” to treat people with intellectual disabilities
  • 84% of health care providers feel better prepared to treat people with ID as a result of volunteering with Special Olympics

Contact us to learn more and get involved today!

Health Initiatives

Fit Feet

Fit Feet was developed through Special Olympics’ collaboration with the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. Many Special Olympics athletes suffer from foot and ankle pain or deformities that impair their performance and athletes are not always fitted with the best shoes and socks for their particular sport. Through Fit Feet, Podiatrists work with athletes to evaluate problems of the feet, ankles and lower extremity biomechanics.

Importance and Impact

Fit Feet screenings have found that a large percentage of Special Olympics athletes in the U.S. have untreated foot conditions.

  • 64% have gait abnormalities
  • 44% have skin and nail problems
  • 29% have bone deformations
  • 51% of Special Olympics athletes in the U.S. are wearing the wrong size shoe


FUNfitness is the physical therapy discipline that addresses the ongoing health needs of our athletes. FUNfitness provides the opportunity to be screened for flexibility of hamstring, calf, shoulder rotator and hip flexor muscles; functional strength of the abdominal and lower extremity muscles; and balance. During these screenings, health professionals work with athletes and coaches to improve optimal function in sports training and competition, prevention of or reduced risk for injury and recommending exercises and other helpful strategies.

FUNfitness is the comprehensive physical therapy component of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes initiative. FUNfitness is designed to assess and improve the flexibility, functional strength and balance of individuals with intellectual disabilities.  During these screenings, physical therapists, related professionals and students offer expert guidance and exercise recommendations to prevent and reduce the risk of injury, and to improve the athletes’ optimal function in sports training and competition.

Importance and Impact

At FUNfitness screenings, we learned that a large percentage of Special Olympics athletes in the U.S. have the following health related concerns:

  • 71% have flexibility problems
  • 73% have balance problems
  • 56% have strength problems

Health Promotion

People with intellectual disabilities have higher prevalence of obesity, diabetes and chronic disease. Health Promotion empowers and motivates athletes to make healthy lifestyle choices that will improve their long-term health by using interactive educational games and literature. Special Olympics athletes are informed of their height-weight body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, and bone mineral density as part of the screening.

Importance and Impact

At Health Promotion events we learned that a large percentage of Special Olympics athletes have limited knowledge of proper health practices and many suffer from potentially serious health issues.

  • 74% of Special Olympics adult athletes are overweight or obese.
  • 50% of Special Olympics youth (less than 20 years of age) athletes are overweight or obese.
  • 26% of Special Olympics adult athletes have low bone density and increased risk for bone fracture

Healthy Hearing

Healthy Hearing is the audiological screening designed to assess the prevalence of possible hearing loss among Special Olympics athletes and to identify specific athletes who need audiological evaluations to determine if a hearing loss exists and requires treatment. Other medical services include ear wax removal, swim molds, hearing aid maintenance and minor repairs for people with intellectual disabilities.

Most athletes’ hearing problems are previously undetected, un-served or under-treated. Hearing loss negatively impacts communication ability, quality of life, social interactions and health.

Importance and Impact

Healthy Hearing screenings have found that a large percentage of Special Olympics athletes in the U.S. have untreated ear and hearing conditions.

  • 42% have blocked or partially blocked ear canals
  • 28% failed Puretone hearing examinations
  • 8% have permanent hearing loss


Individuals who wish to participate in Special Olympics first need to receive a physical exam and clearance from a medical doctor. Special Olympics provides opportunities for individuals to complete or renew their physical through a program called MedFest. MedFest screenings assess blood pressure, temperature, pulse, height, weight, body mass index, vision, hearing, medical history, potential medication side effects and general physical health.

Importance and Impact
  • 90% of primary care residency programs in the U.S. offer no training in caring for people with intellectual disabilities
  • 81% of graduating medical students in the U.S. report not having any training in the care of people with intellectual disabilities
  • 74% of adult Special Olympics athletes are overweight or obese
  • 50% of Special Olympics athletes under the age of 20 are overweight or obese

Opening Eyes

The Special Olympics Lions Clubs International Foundation Opening Eyes ® program is changing lives in communities by providing free eye assessments, prescription eyewear, sunglasses and sports goggles to individuals with intellectual disabilities.

The mission of Opening Eyes® is to improve the quality of life for individuals diagnosed with intellectual disabilities by optimizing their vision, eye health and visual skills through quality eye care. Some objectives are to provide screenings to Special Olympics athletes and educate athletes, parents and coaches about the importance of regular eye care.

Importance and Impact

Opening Eyes screenings have found that a large percentage of Special Olympics athletes in the U.S. have untreated eye problems.

  • 4% have never had an eye exam
  • 17% have an eye disease
  • 48% need new prescription glasses

Special Smiles

Special Smiles is the dental health discipline of Special Olympics Healthy Athletes® that provides athletes and individuals with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to take charge of their oral health. Special Smiles provides comprehensive oral health care information, offers non-invasive dental screenings and instructions on correct brushing and flossing techniques to Special Olympics athletes. This also includes issuing preventative supplies, like toothpaste, toothbrushes and fluoride varnish.

Importance and Impact

Special Smiles screenings have found that a large percentage of Special Olympics athletes in the U.S. are unaware of the condition of their oral health.

  • 47% have gingival signs
  • 25% have untreated tooth decay
  • 9% received an urgent dental referral
  • 12% have mouth pain

Strong Minds

Strong Minds is an interactive learning activity focused on developing adaptive coping skills. Competition provides a natural opportunity to develop active strategies for maintaining emotional wellness under stress, such as thinking positive thoughts, releasing stress and connecting with others. Athletes try a few different active coping strategies as they move through the stations. Before exiting, athletes identify the strategies they like best and volunteers provide them with visual reminders to use these tools in competition and in daily life.

Importance and Impact

Strong Minds events found that a large percentage of Special Olympics athletes in the U.S. face significant stresses on a daily basis, but have access to only a few adaptive coping strategies.

  • 12% of athletes report having no coping strategies
  • 62% mostly use avoidant strategies (e.g., not think the stressor), which is associated with increased depression
  • 26% mostly use active strategies (e.g. doing something to help themselves to feel better), which is associated with increased well-being
Strong Minds Family Tips