Dr. Phil Irion (left) with Special Olympics Michigan President and CEO Lois Arnold (right).
Every athlete wants to be at their peak performance. However, an athlete can't perform their best when they can't see that ball on the field. The Healthy Athletes® Village at the Special Olympics Michigan (SOMI) State Summer Games aim to help athletes achieve the goal of performing their best.
When Dr. Phil Irion first came to SOMI after seeing the Healthy Athletes® program at the 1999 Special Olympics World Games. Here, Dr. Phil saw hundreds of athletes from around the globe receive eye testing and glasses. For some athletes, this was the first vision care they had ever received. Irion wanted to implement the program in Michigan so athletes could continue to perform their best.
Although the idea sounded wonderful, the lacked funding for the program and volunteers was halting any progress. Dr. Phil assured the staff at SOMI that would all be taken care of. Fast forward 17 years later, and the Healthy Athlete Program has become a staple fold for SOMI and its six state events. The Opening Eyes clinic at the State Summer Games gives on the spot eye exams, providing athletes with prescription sport goggles for free of charge before they leave at the end of the games.
"These goggles are going to help me in the pool," said Emilee Kimmel, an Area 7 athlete who participates in swimming events.
A SOMI athlete receives an eye exam during the State Summer Games presented by SpartanNash.
The Healthy Athletes program gives athletes an opportunity to receive yearly health screenings, as well as athletic gear to help athletes perform. For some athletes this is an important visit, as it is free for all athletes. The Healthy Athlete program has thrived, now offering seven healthy programs to the athletes. Healthy Athletes the world's largest global public health organization dedicated to serving people with intellectual disabilities.
"The Healthy Athlete Village is marvelous, I've had kids who couldn't see get fitted for glasses," said Connie Shelton, Area 20 coach.
SOMI offers several healthy programs, free to athletes, including Opening Eyes, Special Smiles, FUNfitness, Healthy Hearing and Fit Feet. The Healthy Athletes Village is a hub center during the games. Through these programs, athletes receive medical care that they often lack when they are home.
"The Healthy Athletes Village is great, the State Summer Games as a whole are great, but this little part right here is amazing," said Kevin Meede, father of an athlete from Area 7.
Sadly, this past March Dr. Phil passed away after battling an illness. However, Dr. Phil's vision lives on, since its implementation, Opening Eyes has performed over 13,000 eye exams and fitted 7,000 pairs of glasses for athletes.