COLUMBIA — The Special Olympics Missouri Summer Games may be a sporting event, but Wednesday it doubled as health screenings for the athletes.
Health specialists came from across the state to help run the Healthy Athletes event at the Mizzou Student Center, a central location for the athletes competing at this week's games in Columbia.
The screenings, which are offered at no cost to the athletes, have six different sections. On Wednesday, Healthy Hearing and Fit Feet checkups were offered. Special Smiles, Opening Eyes, FUNFitness (tests for strength and flexibility) and Health Promotion (information about nutrition and health precautions) are set to be held Thursday.
Michael Steer, a volunteer from the Audiology Department at Missouri State who worked in the Healthy Hearing section, said he thinks the event is important because some problems with Special Olympic athletes can go undetected.
“Hearing loss is something that doesn’t hurt as people are having hearing loss,” Steer said. “They can get misdiagnosed as intellectually disabled or autistic. What we are doing here today is a first-line detection.”
Jason Box, a hearing specialist and one of 15 volunteers from Missouri State, has been with Healthy Athletes for the past five years and said he really enjoys it. Box and Steer both said they enjoy being able to talk with the athletes about their events and awards.
The volunteers in Healthy Athletes are able to write up referrals, and when they catch things, they can inform coaches and athletes’ friends or families so that they can get things taken care of. There were about 200 athletes that participated in Healthy Hearing at the 2011 Special Olympic event in Springfield.
Mandi Steward, a staff member with Special Olympics, said she is happy that Healthy Athletes is offered.
"It's a cool thing for our athletes," Steward said. "A lot of times they don't have the ability to go to these doctors, or they don't have a ride to the doctor. Our mission is for the athletes to be more healthy, and that's more than just competing in sports."