In addition to year-round sports competition, Special Olympics International also provides leadership, personal development, and health education opportunities to its athletes. At most major events, like USA Games or Special Olympics Illinois’ state Summer Games, you will see a large room filled with medical professionals and volunteers providing screenings for our athletes. This is part of the Healthy Athletes initiative, and the best part is, it’s free.

Last month, our 105-person delegation traveled from the Prairie State to the Sunshine State to compete at the Special Olympics USA Games. The athletes and Unified partners who were selected to represent Illinois did their part in preparing for their respective sport. From practices, to team dinners, to solo workouts, and more, #TeamSOILL put in the work to give their best.

This pre-USA Games regimen also included participating in Healthy Athletes activities – for example, each athlete and Unified partner monitored their steps and heart rate leading up to USA Games using a Fitbit. Then, at USA Games, each delegation spent a significant amount of time at the Healthy Athletes Experience presented by Orlando Health.

Athletes being screened at USA Games' Healthy Athletes Experience

The screenings at USA Games covered seven health disciplines: podiatry, vision, dentistry, physical therapy/fitness, nutrition and healthy habits, audiology, and emotional well-being. More than 12,000 free screenings were conducted in total, and all athletes who completed screenings in at least five disciplines received a complimentary pair of shoes courtesy of Zappos. More than 100 athletes received free hearing aids and almost 1,000 athletes received free prescription glasses.

One athlete from #TeamSOILL had a particularly exciting experience at USA Games’ Healthy Athletes. Rebecca Davis from Region B says it was a great experience. “They taught us good stuff and made sure we were all healthy,” she said, “I got a free pair of shoes AND hearing aids!” In fact, Rebecca went into the screening hearing at a level four and after her visit, she left hearing at a level ten. How exciting!

Rebecca, front, receiving a medal at USA Games

Rebecca, who was part of #TeamSOILL athletics, says she had a great time at her first USA Games. “Coach Tim had a mantra for us. He would yell, ‘What time is it?’ and we would yell, ‘It’s track time!’ and then we would clap,” she said. “It was so much fun meeting people from other states. And when we got home, we were able to watch a recording of the athletics events on ESPN. I got to see my races on TV!”

Rebecca left Orlando with new friends, new memories, a bronze and gold medal, new hearing aids, and better health. No doubt she will remember this experience for years to come.

To learn more about the Special Olympics Illinois Healthy Athletes initiative, go to soill.org/healthy-athletes.