Health Initiatives

Despite severe need and higher health risks, people with intellectual disabilities 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, health care providers, community organizations, universities, and governments to foster inclusivity. Inclusive health means people with ID are able to take full advantage of the same health programs and services available to people who do not have ID. Ensuring inclusive health at all levels gives Special Olympics Washington athletes the opportunity to reach their greatest potential on and off the competition field.

NEW: 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.

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 a 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

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.

At least one out of four athletes in Washington are experiencing either gingival signs, skin and nail conditions on their feet, blocked ear canals, or low bone density. New eyeglasses prescriptions were given to 30% of athletes screened in 2018. More than half of SOWA’s adult athletes are obese, and we have identified alarming rates of flexibility, strength, and balance problems. When athletes cannot see the basketball, hear the starting gun, or maintain their balance while performing a beam routine, how can they be expected to perform at their best?

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 becoming healthier and improving their athletic performance through three Healthy Communities programs:

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.

SOfit focuses on four areas of wellness:

  • Nutritional
  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Social

This holistic approach to wellness equips athletes to maintain healthy bodies and minds, on and off the competition field.

TeamBuildr is an app-based program:

For athletes who are looking for sport specific training plans to build strength, endurance, and speed. Workouts are developed by SOWA’s fitness expert and customized to each sport and skill level.

Sign up for a Healthy Communities Program!

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 ID face. The program provides SO athletes with free health screenings, education, and referrals for follow-up care in a fun, welcoming environment that removes the barriers people with ID often encounter during a visit to a doctor, dentist, or other healthcare professional. The Healthy Athletes program is dedicated to changing the way health systems interact with people with intellectual disabilities. The Healthy Athletes program includes eight disciplines:

Special Olympics Washington is doing BIG things to help get our athletes healthy. Read more about it!

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!


Health Professionals: Join the Revolution for Healthcare Inclusion!

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


  • Pam Rock, Rehab Services Manager – Kaiser Permanente
  • Matt Harnpadoungsataya, PT, DPT, Seattle Children’s
  • Laura Johnstone, PT, University of Washington
  • Natasja Ysambart, PT, Pediatric Physical Therapist – Renton School District

Health Promotion:

  • Susanna Block, MD, Kaiser Permanente
  • Jenny Pang, MD, Kaiser Permanente
  • Abby Pattison, RD, Mid-Valley Hospital
  • Julie Larsen, Ph.D., RDN, ACSM RCEP, Nutrition and Exercise Physiology Instructor – Washington State University Spokane

Healthy Hearing:

  • Susan Porter, Manager of Audiology Services – Kaiser Permanente
  • Mihwa Kim, AuD, Director of Audiology – Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center
  • Leah Martin, Audiologist – Starkey Hearing Technologies

Opening Eyes:

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

Special Smiles:

  • Ashland Doomes, DDS, University of Washington
  • Kari Sims, DDS, Pediatric Dentist – Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic
  • Kimberly Espinoza, Director, DECOD Program – UW School of Dentistry
  • Travis Nelson, Clinical Associate Professor – University of Washington
  • Aarika D. Anderson Elter, DDS, Pediatric Dentist – Harbor Kids’ Teeth
  • Jessica De Bord, DDS, Pediatric Dentist – Children’s Village
  • Ara Greer DDS, PhD, Pediatric Dentist – University of Washington

Strong Minds:

  • Kara Rice, Clinical Supervisor for Behavioral Health Integration – Kaiser Permanente
  • Megan Gary, Psychiatrist – Kaiser Permanente


2019 Special Olympics Washington Health Report

2018 Health Report

Center for Inclusive Health

Dentist Link

Share your health story with Special Olympics Washington

Become a Health Messenger

Fit 5 Fitness Cards

NEW: Special Olympics Washington Healthy Food & Beverage Toolkit

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



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