Healthy Athletes®

What if you could help people who suffer needlessly from chronic pain and disease, blindness and hearing loss, shortened life span, and other health conditions? That's what we do everyday!

Healthy Athletes® offers health services and information to athletes in need. In the process, we have become the largest global public health organization dedicated to serving people with intellectual disabilities. In Virginia, health programs are generously supported by sponsors and partners including the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation, Delta Dental of Virginia Foundation, Virginia Dental Association Foundation's Mission of Mercy (MOM) Project, JMU's School of Audiology, VCU Children's Hosptial, VCU School of Dentistry, Lions Club International, Genworth, the CDC and the Golisano Foundation.

Despite a mistaken belief that people with intellectual disabilities receive the same or better healthcare than others, they typically receive sub-standard care, or virtually no healthcare at all. As a result, people with intellectual disabilities are at an increased risk for poorer health and preventable health conditions. In fact, in a large study of Special Olympics athletes:

  • 29% failed hearing tests
  • 35% had untreated vision impairments
  • 29% of males and 13% of females had below normal bone mineral density
  • 50% had one or more foot diseases or conditions

To address these concerns, Healthy Athletes offers free screenings - vision, hearing, dental and fitness assessments - providing free care when possible and making referrals to local practitioners when appropriate. Beyond screenings, Healthy Athletes also trains healthcare professionals about the needs and care of people with intellectual disabilities.

Across the state, the following Healthy Athletes initiatives are offered at several events, including Summer Games:


Physical therapists assess and record our athletes’ flexibility, functional strength and balance improving health in daily activities and overall performance for competition. Athletes and their families receive educational literature, illustrated guides and practical at home techniques on how to improve physical fitness.

Healthy Hearing®

Trained audiologists screen athletes, refer patients to professionals in their community, and in some cases, can provide free hearing aids to athletes in need.

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Lions Club International Opening Eyes®

Doctors complete eye exams and provide athletes with a free pair of prescription eyeglasses or designer sunglasses upon completion of their screening. Worldwide, Special Olympics has given out more than 90,000 pairs of prescription eyeglasses to athletes who needed them.

Special Smiles®

Dentists and hygienists provide one-on-one instruction on proper tooth brushing techniques, an oral health screening using tongue blades and flashlights and information on the value of nutrition in maintaining good oral health. Through a partnership with Missions of Mercy, full dental services are provided to athletes in need of cleaning, fillings and extractions at no cost to the athlete and his or her family.


MedFest examinations help make it possible for hundreds of athletes to join sports training programs safely. Offering free pre-participation sports physicals allows people with intellectual disabilities the means to become a Special Olympics athlete and provides individuals who are already Special Olympics athletes the means to remain athletes by supplying the necessary re-qualification physical examination, as well as advice on how their health can be improved.

Health Promotions®

The Health Promotion Program provides athletes with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to take charge of their own health. Health Promotion focuses on such areas as nutrition, blood pressure, bone health and bone density, sun safety, tobacco avoidance, hygiene and physical activity. Health Promotion uses interactive educational tools and displays, motivational literature and demonstrations to heighten the awareness of athletes, reinforcing the need to improve and maintain an enhanced level of wellness and self-care. 

Contact Us

For more information on Healthy Athletes®, including how to get involved as an athlete, sponsor, volunteer, or healthcare provider, contact:

Vice President of Program
Dave Pawlowski
[email protected]