by Symantha Misale

Fit feet exams at the State Winter Games

Foot deformities, skin disorders, nail conditions, eczema, ill-fitting shoes and other concerns are what the clinicians at Special Olympics Michigan Fit Feet are primarily concerned with.

"Are you ticklish?" Bill Thompson, a Great Lakes Bay Medical screener for Special Olympics Michigan asks an athlete as she laughs and shakes her head.

Thompson begins to examine the athlete's feet, and occasionally makes notes for himself. He explains that they are there to screen the athletes and make further recommendations to a podiatrist in the athlete's hometown. For seven years, Thompson has been screening with Special Olympics Michigan after graduating from Central Michigan University and owning four running specialty stores, including one in Mt. Pleasant called 'Runners'.

Alongside him, also screening athletes, is the General Manager of Runners, Chad Van Slembrouck.

"We're looking for anything related to the foot." said Van Slembrouck. "We also look at their shoes, and any problems that they might have related to that."

"I really want this to become a sport," Smythe said, "It provides these athletes with year-round training and cross-training for other sports. It's a piece of equipment that everybody can use."

According to Van Slembrouck, having the correct shoes for an athlete is extremely important. Some athletes are able to fully communicate, but others are not able express their need or discomfort with their current footwear. The screenings bridge that gap and allow for clinicians to make recommendations based on watching the athlete walk and testing their range of motion.

After more than a decade of work between both Thompson and Van Slembrouck, both agreed that the work was more than rewarding.

"The personalities are amazing," said Thompson, "You come in contact with so many amazing young people and old people. Good wholesome pure joy. Everyone is enjoying themselves and this moment."

Fit Feet, a program offered through Special Olympics Michigan's Healthy Athletes program, helps athletes by providing adequate shoes for their use. Currently 50 percent of Special Olympics Athletes suffer from some type of preventative foot condition that Fit Feet could help alleviate. Healthy Athletes, presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, is the initiative and strive to give athletes health screenings and information about their health. Athletes are able to participate in all or some of the health screenings at State Summer Games, State Fall Games, State Poly Hockey Finals, and State Winter Games.