I first heard about Special Olympics International and its British contingent, Special Olympics Great Britain (SOGB) a couple of years ago through conversation with a member of their Board; the eminent humanitarian Mr Philip Nathan, MBE, Board member of MedicAlert International and the chairman of The MedicAlert Foundation (UK and Ireland), where I am a trustee. At the time, SOGB were hosting their National Games in Leicester in 2009.
Four years on and the next National Games are upon us and as a special care dentist, I’m proud to be directing both their Special Smiles programme and their Healthy Athletes programme which, in addition to dentistry, also houses several other health disciplines such as Opening Eyes (eye tests and the provision of glasses) Healthy Hearing (audiology tests and hearing aids), Fit Feet (podiatry) , Funfitness (physical therapy), Health Promotion (better health and well-being) and MedFest (sports physical exam).
Healthy Athletes is a global movement with roots in the USA. In 1994, Dr. Steve Perlman, a Boston University Goldman School of Dental Medicine professor and long time advocate of people with intellectual disabilities, founded the Special Smiles® initiative after working with the Shriver family as they struggled to find adequate dental care for Rosemary Kennedy – sister of Eunice Kennedy Shriver (the founder of Special Olympics) and John F. Kennedy. Dr. Perlman’s concerns about health disparities for people with disabilities prompted the Officially launched in 1997, Healthy Athletes organizes its events in a welcoming, fun environment. Its screenings educate athletes on healthy lifestyle choices and identify problems that may need additional follow-up.
Miracles happen at every screening. A volunteer dentist from California, USA saved an athletes life by finding his mouth cancer. On another occasion, a female athlete in Egypt, fitted with a hearing aid, heard her language and her coach for the first time in her life. Stories like these are inspiring nations like Egypt to expand their offerings to athletes and all Special Olympics Egypt athletes now receive medical examinations and follow-up care.
SOGB falls under the regulation of Special Olympics International and is part of the Olympic family, but is different to the general Olympic and Paralympic Games in that it provides year-round sports training and competition opportunities for children and adults with intellectual disabilities (IQ 75 or below) of all abilities and ages, rather than a single event for elite (professional) athletes.
The charity, led by sterling CEO Karen Wallin and her dedicated team is important in the lives of thousands of people with learning disabilities and their families across Great Britain. SOGB have proven that sport can transform the lives of people with intellectual disabilities, helping them to develop the skills and confidence and overcome the barriers and discrimination that they face everyday life.
Right now SOGB has over 130 groups run by over 2,800 volunteers and provides coaching and competition opportunities to 8,000 intellectually disabled athletes.
This year SOGB has its National Summer Games (28th August-1st September, 2013) in Bath (golf), with a few sports to be held in Bristol (swimming and bowling). There are just under 1,600 athletes competing this year and, as part of these games, there is a healthy athletes programme which I am coordinating and directing.
I am looking for dental volunteers and dental supplies for the Special Smiles screenings. It’s a great opportunity and wonderfully heartwarming and inspiring experience. Special Olympics Great Britain transforms lives! Wouldn’t you like to be a part of that?! Please have a look at our website: www.specialolympicsgb.org.uk.
Dr Amber Qureshi: Specialist in Special Care Dentistry / Clinical Director, Special Smiles, Special Olympics Great Britain / Healthy Athletes Program Director, Special Olympics Great Britain.