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Promoting healthy athletes

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The Healthy Athletes programme helps improve the overall health and fitness of athletes by providing basic health check-ups, preventive treatment, educational information, and referrals for follow-up care.


Keeping Fit

Physical fitness is a key part of the Special Olympics mission. Fitness is the state of optimal health and performance through adequate physical activity, nutrition, and hydration. Fit 5 is based on the three simple goals of exercising 5 days per week, eating 5 total fruits and vegetables per day and drinking 5 water bottles of water per day. Resources Fit 5

HA Campaign 2 Oct-Nov 2020 #Fit5Offline

The months of October and November had five Unified pairs accept a challenge to raise the bar (of fitness) for themselves. The idea was to smoothen any obstruction that would come in their path, be it ‘Digital’ inaccessibility. Familiar with the Special Olympics Fit5 program for some time now, the pairs took up the five-week challenge made possible by the resources created by Special Olympics including the offline cards, the increasing attention in conversations and virtual events around ‘fitness’ and the continuing support of the Lions Clubs International and the Aruna Abhey Oswal Trust

 Unified Pairs from Assam, Gujarat, Jammu , Kerala and Madhya Pradesh followed the Fit 5 guide to step up physical activity, Nutrition and Hydration. An additional thrill came from marking progress each day in the tracker sheets that would show a strengthening will power and a habit that is forming. The Unified pairs were supported by a team of the youth leaders from the National YAC

The uncanny passion for fitness that binds together the Unified Pair – Sumant and Rohit from Madhya Pradesh .

“Special Olympics is a continuous platform that has kept Sumant and other Athletes so busy, more so during the lockdown. The frequent virtual sessions and increased interactions have exposed even us to the abilities of the Athletes and of my son as well. Participating in Fit 5 Offline, Sumant himself has become so careful of his water intake. We used to keep checking him earlier, but this program has drawn his attention to it. They may not be spending too much time together but Rohit is a friend who really cares and Sumant reciprocates the feeling”- Ms Manjari Kale, Parent of Sumant Kale. Read More


Nurturing Healthy Communities

 People with intellectual disabilities experience worse health care and access to services than others in their communities, and studies have found their life expectancies are shorter. The vision of the Special Olympics Health program, made possible by the Golisano Foundation, is to create a world where people with intellectual disabilities have the same opportunities to be as healthy as people without intellectual disabilities and, in doing so, allow Special Olympics athletes to perform to their best on and off the playing field.

The goal of the Special Olympics Health program is to ensure inclusive health for people with intellectual disabilities, meaning equitable access to quality health care, education, and services throughout communities

Special Olympics Healthy Community is a program recognition that demonstrates an on-going community- integrated dedication to facilitating access for people with Intellectual Disabilities to health and well- being services, education, and support everyday


Since November 2018 SO Bharat has been conducting regular Healthy Athlete screenings at the Asha Kiran Home New Delhi adding on more elements to create an environment of health, fitness and fun



Inclusive Health- Way to go

“Health Promotion is an equalizer. It’s approach is Universal. It looks at every individual as different from the other. There are no broad categories. Every individual is imparted counselling basis his/her physical or physiological needs, environment and lifestyle. Therefore a perspective of talking about Persons with Intellectual Disabilities vis-a-vis those without is irrelevant”- Dr Lovely Gupta, Clinical Director Health Promotion, SO Bharat

Dr Gupta participated in the Healthy Athletes Clinical Director Train-The-Trainer Program held in November 2019 in New Delhi. She is currently working as Senior Research Fellow (Ph.D Scholar) in Clinical Nutrition at the Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism, AIIMS, New Delhi and Department of Food and Nutrition, Lady Irwin College, University of Delhi.

Being a reviewer and author of reputed journals and research articles, the Corona virus pandemic has driven her to diversify her area of study to ‘Covid-19’. Each case of Covid is treated differently depending on the phase and severity of the condition among patients, which in turn would impact the diet designed for him/her. As she would advise anyone else, she advises the Athletes to follow a nutritious diet to build a healthy state of mind and body that would certainly impart beneficial effects to their health, immunity and hence sports performance. Along with a fitness regimen, a balanced diet (comprising adequate portions of cereals and millets, pulses and legumes, milk and milk products, raw and cooked vegetables, fruits, oil, nuts and oilseeds) and essentially being physically active overall is always promoted as a fashionable component of life.

Her first experience with SO Bharat goes back to 2014 when she volunteered at a Healthy Athletes screening. The experience exposed her to a different perspective. Her engagement with Athletes with Intellectual Disability made her realize that while education equips them to carry out a task, they have to keep progressing by flexing their expertise to serve a diverse population. The sessions and counselling had to be made easy for the Special Athletes. It is the responsibility of the health care professionals to continue exploring ways of reaching out to Athletes with all abilities. It should be Inclusive. Special Olympics is a platform that gives you an opportunity to implement your theoretical concepts into practical living. 

“What overwhelms me is the way Athletes are so compliant. They are readily willing to action whatever is being told to them. Any little gift given to them brings them so much joy. I recall giving something really tiny to an Athlete during a screening. He danced. And seeing him so happy uplifted my mood. It returned to me as a valuable blessing. Experiencing these moments has deepened my involvement with SO Bharat. It is truly Athlete-driven”

During this time of the Coronavirus crisis her message to the Athletes and their families is:

“Healthy food and a healthy lifestyle is never beyond anyone, and this builds your immunity to prevent and fight any infection. Identify what all is easily available and what best can you do with it. It could be simple lime water. Activate your creativity- combine any two things together. You could be anywhere or you could be belonging to any kind of a background you can always select fruits & salads of your choice. A simple walk is a great exercise to enhance blood circulation in your hands and feet and do home-based exercises.

Most of all, just remember small messages:


A HEALTHY COMMUNITY- in all sincerity

“When you cough, covering your face with your hands is not enough, cover it with your elbow” – and that is Anjana, a Health Messenger at the Asha Kiran Home for the Mentally Challenged, New Delhi. Along with her there are 40 more messengers who have been delegated the task of ensuring that strict hygiene is maintained across all the cottages located within the premises. Asha Kiran has approximately a thousand residents most of whom fall under the severe to profound category. At the sound of the alarm twice in a day, lukewarm water is provided to all the residents. Limes and Oranges have been increased to provide a healthier diet to them. Four Messengers, who are also the ‘Lemon Tree’ interns, are delegated responsibilities in the kitchen, in rotation. As they work, they train more residents.

The Health Messengers are taking a lead in ensuring that the Athletes view the colourful Special Olympics Brochures, videos on Hand Hygiene, Fit 5 etc. This is to be exercised repeatedly. There are no combined sessions, the messengers go to each cottage to deliver the message.

 ‘Donate your time to them, tell them a story, talk to them, and sit with them’- I have always maintained that but these times are extraordinary and unprecedented. It is easier to tell the residents here what to do like to maintain Hand Hygiene, Social Distancing etc, but a challenge to explain the reason. We are taking this opportunity to have the Health Messengers assume a responsible role and I can see them do it diligently too”Dr Rachna Bhardwaj, Superintendent, Asha Kiran Home

On the World Health Day , we would like to thank all our Regional Clinical Advisors, Clinical Directors and Volunteers and all the organisations who continue to support Inclusive Health touching lives of the Athletes all over the world. It is pertinent to recall what Dr Bhardwaj from the Asha Kiran Home had said earlier: “I must express my appreciation of the doctors who come through the SO Healthy Athletes program. They are so accepting of the children here. They demonstrate no hitch in engaging with them, something that does not come very easy with the others”

Health Messenger

The first session of Athlete leadership training for the Health Messengers started with a drawing exercise by 41 residents of the Asha Kiran led by Harpreet Singh and Siddhant Nath. The session was free flowing, the participants drew anything that held a place of prominence in their thoughts. It was heartening to see them draw a house, something that many are deprived of, as Asha Kiran is a Delhi Government run residential care facility for persons with Intellectual Disabilities, many of whom are abandoned. All were asked to explain their drawings briefly.

One trainee drew small circles all over the sheet making it difficult for the resource person to comprehend until he explained that it was a bouquet of flowers and flowers make him happy!

As the session concluded nine females and 9 males have been shortlisted for the next session that would take them to a higher level. It was noteworthy that the females were more vocal than the males, as most of them have gone for the World Games and have got that experience of a larger interaction

Kalyani drew ‘her country her pride’ and recalled her participation in the Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017 in Austria, in Floor Hockey where she won bronze medal. 10 Years back Kalyani, 21yrs of age then, was referred to the Asha Kiran Home, Delhi, abandoned and oblivious of her early life & antecedents. She didn’t know anything about her family and herself and was not even able to talk properly. She didn’t do activities of daily living and was completely dependent on house aunties. After spending some time in Asha Kiran and with regular intervention, she started doing activities of daily living herself. She learned to speak Hindi here. She was encouraged and continuously persuaded to participate in sports and other activities. She played badminton, cycling, volleyball, softball, athletics and floor ball. Being in sports and winning medals installed confidence in her and she also started showing leadership skills. She knows how to make different hairstyles and other grooming activities. She has lots of friends in the dormitory who listen to her and she helps and counsels them. “ Kalyani’s physical appearance has also improved. She is physically fit and looks young and smart. .Transformation in her is best manifested through her confidence which got a boost through sports and has now become a part of her personality. “- Dr. Rachna Bhardwaj, Superintendent, Asha Kiran Home Delhi

Healthy Athletes aims to:

  • improve access to care at event-based and other health screening clinics
  • make referrals for follow-up to community health professionals
  • train healthcare professionals and students about the needs of people with intellectual disabilities
  • collect, analyse and disseminate data on their health needs
  • spread the word on improved health policies and programmes for them

The Healthy Athletes programme reaches out to athletes through seven disciplines.

Read more  about Healthy Athletes

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Professor Monica Chaudhry – Optometrist

Director- School of Health Sciences, Ansal University Gurgaon (dtd October 2019)

“My experience of screening the Athletes has often made me contemplate over how many of the anomalous conditions that exist could’ve been prevented. It could be a lack of care and regular monitoring that may have led to conditions that could be reversible or perhaps irreversible. The problems are related with simple hygiene or cataract that could’ve been treated or may be just a poor eyesight that could improve with the correct lens”

“An incident overwhelms me even today. After having examined an Athlete I made her wear a pair of spectacles. She saw around and then just held my hands and kissed them. She was in her late twenties. I realized that she had never seen any better. For her that’s what the world had gradually shaped to be. That day with the spectacles everything in an instant became so clear making her so happy” 

Prof Monica Chaudhry  is an Optometrist by profession and currently  Director of School of Health Sciences, Ansal University Gurgaon, Haryana. Although her association with SO Bharat goes back to 1996, when she was a faculty  of Optometry at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and volunteered with her students  at one of the screening camps, she re-joined in 2016. She has specialized in care for Persons with Special Needs and has had international exposure in that, also having been mentored by Dr Prithi Rekhi, Regional Clinical Adviser- Opening Eyes. Prof Chaudhry has also authored a book on ‘low vision’

Having led a few screening camps she emphasizes on routine check-ups as the Athletes may not be able to express themselves. In her capacity of being Director she has introduced ‘Psychology’ as essential to preparing her students for an Inclusive practice. Communicating with persons with disabilities is the most important aspect to begin with. To train and familiarize her undergrads and post graduates in vision screening of these special needs children and adults ,they have even placed few equipment in the campus clinics  . Ansal University , health science school is entering in collaboration with the London School of Learning for  higher education for persons with Special needs with the aim to make them employable.

The most profound aspect of Inclusive health is that the doctor has first to understand and communicate with the patient while examining accurately. The added effort gradually grows into a passion, making treatment and training a continuous process. While SO Bharat grants a platform to screen a group of individuals, Prof Monica wants to prepare each of her students to be prepared anytime, anywhere to examine and treat any individual with Intellectual disabilities/Special needs.

As Chairman of the Optometry Council of India Prof Chaudhry desires to prepare a proposal to incorporate eye care for persons with special needs as part of the curriculum

“I was simply completing my education, focusing on building my career, it is when I participated in the screenings, when I engaged with the Athletes that I felt that it is our responsibility to ensure that care reaches to all the segments of the society, everyone included”


Introduced to the Special Olympics in 1991, Opening Eyes is a global partnership between Special Olympics International and Lions Clubs International (LCI) and is supported by Safilo, Essilor and Liberty Optical. It provides:

  • vision screening
  • prescription eyewear
  • referrals for follow-up care

Special Smiles was introduced in 1993. It offers:

  • dental screenings
  • health education
  • prevention services and products such as mouth guards
  • referrals for treatment by community-based dentists

Sunidhee, Special Dentistry Care Clinic Modinagar

Sunidhee,a Special Dentistry Care Clinic at the DJ college of Dental Sciences and Research became operational on September 24, 2014, opening doors to Athletes from SO Bharat for quality Dental screenings and cure, within their vicinity. Sunidhee, the special child after whom the Clinic gets its name, was present at the clinic to receive the Athletes, going to each presenting them with oral care products and to ensure they were fine. Full Report

The clinic was a culmination of passionate efforts by Dr. Reena, Clinical Director for Special Smiles with SO Bharat, Principal, Divya Jyoti College of Dental Sciences & Research, Modinagar and Hony Secretary, IADH, India. The clinic opens with support from IADH (International Association for Disability & Oral Health) India Chapter that was launched on September 15, 2014 in the presence of Dr. Dimitris Emmanouil DDS, MS, PhD, President, IADH.  Launch Report Special Care Dentistry had reached new heights with athletes receiving dental treatment free of charge every day since Sept 2014.  

 IADH, launched in 1971, is a group of individuals concerned about oral health and quality of life of persons with Special needs, having a presence in 40 countries, today.The members are a group of like-minded professionals who are concerned about the well being of people with disabilities and disadvantages, working together with their communities, professional societies and social or service organisations to improve the oral health and quality of life for people with special needs. Under the banner of iADH India Chapter number of scientific activities, awareness drives, Oral Cancer Screening , Tobacco intervention and cessation programs are conducted for athletes from Special Olympics and their families and care givers.

More on Divya Jyoti College of Dental Sciences & Research


Close to 20,000 athletes from 60 cities across 24 states were screened between 2007 and 2011.

The screening was the first medical examination for almost 50 per cent of these athletes. In the same period, we have added close to 1,500 doctors as volunteers to our programme.

FUN fitness was developed by the American Physical Therapy Association for Special Olympics International and has been a part of our events since 1999. Through the programme:

  • Physical therapists, helped by assistants and students, provide an assessment of athlete flexibility, functional strength, balance and aerobic condition
  • Athletes are examined for flexibility of hamstring, calf, shoulder rotator and hip flexor muscles, functional strength of the abdominal, upper extremity, grip and lower extremity muscles, static and dynamic balance, and aerobic fitness
  • The assessment is used to educate and counsel athletes and coaches to improve their performance.

Healthy Hearing introduced to Special Olympics in the year 2000. It provides:

  • external ear canal inspection, evoked otoacoustic emissions screening, tympanometry and pure tone screening
  • individual moulded swimming ear plugs
  • referrals and access to hearing aids
  • assessment of the hearing of individual athletes, wherein the reports are provides to coaches and caregivers for follow-up care

Started in 2001, Health Promotion focuses on healthy lifestyles. We help athletes make healthy choices in nutrition, bone health, hydration, sun safety, and enable them towards prevention and cessation of tobacco usage. People with intellectual disability frequently develop chronic medical conditions such as heart diseases, obesity and diabetes, and they tend to develop these conditions at earlier stages of life. We believe overall health wellness will help them overcome and prevent the occurrence of such diseases.

Fit Feet was developed in 2003 in collaboration with the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. The discipline is based partly on anecdotal reports from podiatric doctors about frequent foot and ankle pain among people with intellectual disability. Screening events confirmed this. The extent of podiatric concerns in athletes with intellectual disability was also affecting their sports performance. Fit Feet helps athletes:

  • check for deformities through foot and ankle screening
  • choose the right footwear and protective gear
  • learn about foot care
  • get referrals for follow-up care and treatment

Med Fest has been a part of Healthy Athletes since 2004. Since the early days of Special Olympics, ‘Medical Volunteer Days’ have helped athletes obtain the necessary sports physical examination for participation. In 1999, volunteers in Chicago, US, coined the term ‘Med Fest’ to describe these events. Med Fest:

  • provides athletes with high quality sports physicals
  • connects athletes with physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals
  • recruits new athletes to the Special Olympics while retaining the existing ones
  • works to forge new partnerships between the Special Olympics and the community
  • introduce local sporting attractions to the new athletes

Become a Special Olympics athlete.

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Special Olympics World Games


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