COLUMBIA — During each year's Special Olympics Missouri State Summer Games, Diannah White gets a glimpse into the health care resources available to the participating athletes.
"In our Special Smiles program, which offers oral exams, when athletes check in, one of the questions we ask is, 'Who is your dentist?' " said White, a Special Olympics Missouri vice president. "Probably 50 percent of them say, 'You are.'"
In 1997, the national Special Olympics organization developed the Healthy Athletes program to assist athletes who do not have the resources to get regular health services.
Six years later, Special Olympics Missouri began offering Healthy Athlete Park, a clinic where athletes can receive a variety of health screenings at no charge.
On Saturday, hundreds of athletes rotated between the stations of the clinic at Hickman High School.
The stations included physical therapy services, health information and a Fit Feet station where podiatrists checked athletes’ feet to determine their proper shoe sizes.
This year, MU student athletes donated more than 200 pairs of gently used athletic shoes, which were distributed to Special Olympics athletes at no charge.
Athletes were offered hearing and dental exams on Friday night.
Paul Durnett, who coaches a Special Olympics team in Jefferson County called NextStep for Life, said he encourages all athletes to visit the clinic.
“Some of them are older, and they don’t have families, so they don’t have time or access to get this care,” Durnett said. “A lot of times, in the past, there’s been athletes who found they had other health issues through this.”
All services are provided by health care professionals who donate their time to the program. If a screening reveals a more serious problem, the athlete is referred to a medical professional who can provide further services.
But much of the program is aimed at encouraging athletes to be proactive about their health.
"The Missouri Physical Therapy Association offers what we call health promotion, trying to get people to buy into doing exercise regularly and maintaining their health,” physical therapist and volunteer Teresa Briedwell said. “It’s not something they need to go to their health provider for. We’re trying to empower them to be able to do it on their own.”