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The Special Olympics (SOI) unites millions of adults and children with intellectual disabilities, volunteers, coaches, families, and healthcare practitioners all with the goal to educate participants about healthy living, fitness and nutrition.  With close to 4.5 million athletes from about 170 different countries, the Special Olympics flourishes with diversity of race, ethnicity, and culture, it stands as the largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities (ID).

A large part of the Special Olympics is the Healthy Athletes Program that aims to provide and improve health care services for people with intellectual disabilities.  Free health services are given to athletes to measure a range of physical capabilities including:

  • Flexibility
  • Strength
  • Balance
  • Aerobic fitness

FUNfitness is a program guided by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and Special Olympics Healthy Athletes that performs free screenings for the athletes, educates on how to rehabilitate injured areas and improve overall fitness of everyone involved in the program.

Physical therapists apply their knowledge and training during the screening to perform assessments of the athlete’s major muscles.  The physical therapists will generally measure flexibility performance of the hamstring, calf, shoulder rotator, and hip flexor.  They are not limited to those measures though, they will also assess the functional strength of the abdominal, upper, lower extremity muscles as well as balance and stance of the athlete. Aerobic fitness will come into play with a Step test or Wheel test, for people who cannot step for a duration of two minutes; both tests measure cardiovascular fitness.
Licensed physical therapists who are interested in starting this event in their country: take note, Special Olympics actually provides a “Train the Trainer” program to get you started. Even if you are not a physical therapist, there are many ways to get involved in Healthy Athletes FUNfitness program! Physical therapy students and physical therapy aides are extremely beneficial assistants in many areas of the event, providing direct aid to therapists and athletes.

Special Olympics – Train the Trainer

Visit this site to find events near you to see how you can make a difference in the Healthy Athletes Program!  The direct interaction with athletes, and practitioners for the Special Olympics is an extremely rewarding and memorable experience that will open your eyes to the power of sports!