Health & Wellness

At the heart of our mission is sports, but we also recognize that in order for our athletes to take the field of competition they need to be in the best shape possible through training, health exams, and proper nutrition. Health & Wellness is an important part of Special Olympics Missouri programming. Read below to see how we provide inclusive health options to people with intellectual disabilities, their families, and the health community at-large.

Special Olympics Health, made possible by the Golisano Foundation, and in the United States in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is creating a world where people with intellectual disabilities have every opportunity to be healthy.


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.

We're changing that. See how, below.

Healthy Athletes® is a Special Olympics program that provides free health screenings and health education in a fun, welcoming environment at SOMO state events, local competitions or stand-alone events with a focus on removing the anxiety people with intellectual disabilities often experience when faced with a visit to a medical professional.

Healthy Athletes® is not only a program for athletes but, through training and hands-on experience at screenings, it is a program for health care students and professionals to increase knowledge of best practices in caring for people with intellectual disabilities. Since 1997, Healthy Athletes has discovered undetected health problems, alleviated pain and provided health services that otherwise would not be available.

Measuring our successes

The Healthy Athletes® program began in 2011 and offered more than 702 free health screenings in the disciplines below. Since then, we've offered more than 5,385 screenings for athletes at all three state competitions and a handful of area competitions as well.

SOMO has thousands of success stories from this amazing program. Click the videos below to see a few of them!

Larin Bryant-McCanse

Allen Tobin

Amanda Koch

Lynna Hodgson





Dentists and hygienists provide one-on-one instruction on proper teeth-brushing techniques, an oral health screening using tongue blades and flashlights (no treatment is given), and information on the value of nutrition in maintaining good oral health.

Physical Therapists assess and record information about flexibility, functional strength and balance. They test flexibility of the hamstring, calf, anterior hip and shoulder rotator muscles; functional strength of the abdominal and leg muscles and balance.

Healthy Hearing was created to assess the hearing of athletes using multiple screening methods such as pure tone testing and tympanometry. In some cases, Healthy Hearing volunteers provide free hearing aids that immediately restore hearing for athletes.

Nearly 50 percent of Special Olympics athletes experience one or more preventable or treatable foot conditions that can affect their participation in sports training and competition. Volunteer podiatrists work with athletes to evaluate problems of the feet.


Health professionals provide health screenings, interactive educational tools and motivational health information. The main objectives of the Health Promotion program are to: encourage and enhance healthy behaviors; reduce risky behaviors; improve self-efficacy and self-advocacy; and increase the investment of health promotion leaders for people with intellectual disabilities.


The mission of Opening Eyes is to improve the quality of life for the millions of individuals diagnosed with intellectual disabilities by optimizing their vision, eye health and visual skills through quality eye care. Special Olympics athletes who participate in an Opening Eyes screening may be fitted for new eyeglasses, sports goggles, or sunglasses at no cost to the athlete.


MedFest is a screening program that facilitates the required standard sports physical examination for current and prospective Special Olympics athletes. With the help of local volunteer health care professionals, MedFest provides thousands of people with intellectual disabilities the chance to participate in year-round sports training and athletic competition.


Strong Minds is a form of interactive learning focused on developing adaptive coping skills. Competition provides a natural opportunity to develop strategies for maintaining emotional wellness under stress: thinking positive thoughts, releasing stress & connecting with others. Strong Minds teaches athletes the importance of mental health before, during, and after competition.

Fit 5 is a guide to achieving fitness and your personal best with physical activity, nutrition, and hydration. Fit 5 aims to improve athlete health through a routine of exercising five times per week, eating fruits and vegetables five times per day, and drinking five bottles of water per day.

Staying physically active is an important part of training for sports and maintaining overall health. The bridge between health and fitness is top health and performance through sufficient nutrition, hydration, and physical activity.

We offer an eight-week Fit 5 course (can even be taught virtually!) for individuals, workshops, group homes, etc. If you are interested in this program, email us!

Fit 5 Overview

To be recognized as a certified Healthy Community by Special Olympics, Inc., a program must meet certain criteria that will expand access to healthcare for thousands of people in the state of Missouri who have an intellectual disability. This could include certain Health & Wellness events, six-week Fit 5 courses, nutrition lessons, and much more.

For more information on Healthy Communities, email Carol Griffin.

In 2020, we had...

  • 70: Family members/caregivers who participated in at least six sessions
  • 42: Health, wellness, or fitness programs that are at least six sessions in length 
  • 60: Unified Partners who participated in at least six sessions
  • 599: People who are NOT SOMO athletes who participated in at least six sessions
  • 1,840: SOMO athletes who participated in at least six sessions

A Health Messenger is a Special Olympics athlete who has been trained to serve as a health and wellness leader, educator, advocate and role model within their Special Olympics communities and the community at large.

Special Olympics Missouri has a handful of officially-trained Health Messengers through the curriculum with Special Olympics, Inc. They are trained and engaged at the global level and right here at home in Missouri.

SOMO also offers a Health Messenger training through Athlete Leadership program so they can learn and lead health initiatives locally.

Your next chance to become a Health Messenger is at our 2024 Spring ALPs University Weekend, April 12-14, 2024. Questions? Reach out to Maci Arnold at!