Health Initiatives

Despite severe need and higher health risks, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are often denied health services and die on average 16 years sooner than the general population. When Special Olympics Washington athletes have access to needed health services and resources, they are able to get the most out of their sports performance, education, employment, and all other aspects of life.

Special Olympics Washington is improving the health of people with ID by collaborating with our athletes, healthcare providers, community organizations, universities, and governments to foster inclusivity. Inclusive health means people with IDD are able to take full advantage of the same health programs and services available to people who do not have IDD. Ensuring inclusive health at all levels gives Special Olympics Washington athletes the opportunity to reach their greatest potential on and off the competition field.

Special Olympics Washington is focused on the sustainable development of local programming that benefits everyone in the community. This means focusing on the organization and expansion of activities in diverse urban and rural communities to enable lifelong athlete involvement in quality sports as participants and leaders and actively promote healthy lifestyles and the inclusion of people with IDD.


Healthy Communities

The Healthy Communities program aims to provide year-round health and fitness opportunities to SOWA athletes through partnerships, fitness and wellness opportunities, and training Healthy Athletehealthcare professionals to provide inclusive health services.

By focusing on wellness opportunities, follow-up care, access, and education, SOWA and its partners are creating communities where athletes have every opportunity to reach their optimal health to perform at their best on the competition field.

Special Olympics Washington athletes and teams can take the next steps to become healthier and improve their athletic performance through our Healthy Communities Programs.

Visit Fitness & Wellness Programs Webpage


Fit 5 is based on three simple goals:

  • Exercising 5 days per week
  • Eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day
  • Drinking 5 water bottles of water per day


Fit 5 provides tips and information to lead a healthy lifestyle. Register your team for Fit 5 here


Unified Fitness Clubs utilize activity trackers to develop healthy lifestyles: unified fitness logo

Clubs typically meet weekly and select activity types that suit the needs of their members.  Walking is appropriate for all levels of fitness and is easy to access. Other fitness activities could include hiking, yoga, dancing, cycling, and strength training. Participants are motivated to stay active throughout the week by tracking progress on goals, typically with a pedometer or fitness tracker. Register your school for Unified Fitness Clubs here


Walking Clubs bring together individuals with and without intellectual disabilities for non-competitive physical activity.

Walking Clubs provide the platform and opportunity for individuals to challenge themselves, establish friendships, and exercise. Walking Clubs can be led or co-led by SOWA coaches, athletes, and Unified Partners. Walking Clubs can take place during a traditional sports season or as a standalone club. Register your Walking Club here



Healthy Athletes

Healthy Athletes®is designed to help Special Olympics athletes improve their health and fitness, leading to enhanced sports experience and improved well-being. Special Olympics created its Healthy Athletes program in 1997 to identify and address the health disparities that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) often experience.  The program provides Special Olympics athletes with free health screenings, education, and referrals for follow-up care in a fun, welcoming environment that removes the barriers people with IDD often encounter during a visit to a doctor, dentist, or other healthcare professionals.  The Healthy Athletes program is dedicated to changing the way health systems interact with people with intellectual disabilities. Healthy Athletes is not only a program for other athletes but, through training and hands-on experience at screenings, it is a program for healthcare students and professionals to increase their knowledge of best practices in caring for people with IDD. 

Screenings are offered in eight different health areas:

Fit Feet (podiatry)

FUNfitness (physical therapy)

Health Promotion (better health and wellbeing)

Healthy Hearing (audiology)

MedFest (sports physical)

Special Olympics-Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes (vision)

Special Smiles (dentistry)

Strong Minds (emotional wellbeing)


Find a Healthy Athletes Screening Near You! Volunteer With Healthy Athletes! Become a Healthy Athletes Clinical Director! Explore Health Resources for Athletes! 


MedFest Resources: 

Inclusive Health Training:

For Health Professionals and Students

Healthy Food & Beverage Guidelines

Special Olympics Washington has developed nutrition guidelines based upon the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which promote the principles of minimizing the use of processed foods, reducing sodium, decreasing sugary beverage intake, and emphasizing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Special Olympics Washington staff, volunteers, partners, and sponsors are asked to follow these guidelines for all competitions, sponsorship, events, and meetings.

screenshot of cover page of the healthy food and beverage toolkit

The toolkit is a resource for our community to use when:

  • Seeking healthy sponsored or donated food for events.
  • Working with caterers.
  • Shopping for team snacks before practice and competitions.
  • Setting up food stations at venues to make healthy choices the easy choices.
  • Guiding athletes towards healthier options on the road.
  • Meeting cultural and dietary needs.

The toolkit can be used as a single document or pages can be pulled and used individually as needed for specific projects or audiences.

Get the Toolkit

Learn more about how we partnered with the Washington State Department of Health to create the Healthy Food and Beverage Guidelines.

Read the Success Story


Meet Our Healthy Athletes Clinical Directors

Fit Feet:

  • Jeff Pentek, DPM – Virginia Mason Medical Center
  • Vinai Prakash, DPM – Ankle and Foot Specialists of Puget Sound


  • Matt Harnpadoungsataya, PT, DPT – Seattle Children’s
  • Laura Johnstone, PT – University of Washington

Health Promotion:

  • Cathy Armacost, RDN
  • Julie Larsen, Ph.D., RDN, ACSM RCEP, Nutrition and Exercise Physiology Instructor – Washington State University Spokane
  • Jenny Pang, MD – Kaiser Permanente
  • Susanna Block, MD – Kasier Permanente

Healthy Hearing:

  • Leah Martin, Pediatric Audiologist  – University of Washington’s Center on Human Development and Disability

Opening Eyes:

  • Michelle Carle, MD, Ophthalmologist – Kaiser Permanente
  • Katie Hash, O.D. – Alderwood Vision Therapy Center

Special Smiles:

  • Aarika D. Anderson Elter, DDS, Pediatric Dentist – Harbor Kids’ Teeth
  • Cooper Bolak, DDS, Owner – Snohomish Modern Dentistry
  • Ashland Doomes, DDS – University of Washington
  • Kimberly Espinoza, DDS, MPH, Director, DECOD Program – University of Washington School of Dentistry
  • Ara Greer DDS, PhD, Pediatric Dentist – Seattle Children’s Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic
  • Donna Quinby, DMD, MSD, Pediatric Dentist – Seattle Special Care Dentistry

Strong Minds:

  • Megan Gary, Psychiatrist – Kaiser Permanente
  • Dave O’Neal, MS, LMHC, MHP, Director, IDD Services – Sound Health


  • Becky Shwartz, MD – Renton Pediatrics
  • Sherry Zhao, MD – Kadlec Tri-Cities Cancer Center


Special Olympics Washington Healthy Food & Beverage Toolkit

Strong Minds Workbook and Mental Health Resources

Inclusive Health & Fitness Training Opportunities

2019 Special Olympics Washington Health Report

2018 Health Report

Center for Inclusive Health

Dentist Link

For more information contact Della Norton, Director of Health Programs.