Olympians geared up to take part in some healthy competition on Saturday. Special Olympics Pennsylvania (SOPA) Fall Festival returned to Villanova University for the 27th consecutive year. Approximately 1,600 participants came out to the event, competing in activities such as bocce, long distance running/ walking, soccer, powerlifting, roller skating and more.
Although sports were the main attraction, the event had more to offer than just games. Students from Temple’s School of Medicine were there to conduct health screenings through a program called Healthy Athletes. The Healthy Athletes program offers another component to the Special Olympics.
“Healthy Athletes is part of the original initiative of Special Olympics going back to Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who was the founder. The physically challenged, the mentally challenged were not getting the proper care. And we have an audience here that we can examine at one time and give them advice to help them,” said Dr. Howard Palamarchuk, a professor at Temple’s School of Podiatric Medicine.
Health care professionals set up activities and conducted medical examinations that were available to athletes throughout the day. Screenings were held to examine eyes, ears, teeth and feet. Students from Temple’s Department of Physical Therapy were also there to help test the athletes’ strength and flexibility. The Special Olympics and it’s affiliation with Healthy Athletes help to ensure that a broader portion of the disabled population gets the proper medical care they often need.
“The thing about special needs patients is there is not a lot of people who know how to handle them. So this is one of the few times that they are able to get screenings because they don’t want to spend money at a practice. Here is one of the few times that where they can get it for free” said Jennifer Wolf, the Secretary of Temple’s Pediatric Club.
After some thorough flossing and warmup stretching, it was of to the races. The competition on the field was fierce, but this competitive and exciting environment made the medical examinations a little more bearable for the athletes.
According to Wenona Sutton, the SOPA Marketing Communications Coordinator, “having the combined effort of the competition, the fun, the Olympic Town, the festival along with the medical component allows the athletes to be more comfortable getting screened.”
The festivities continued on the dance floor at the Olympic Town Carnival where competitors were joined by Star Trek stormtroopers and Special Olympic volunteers.