Caribbean welcomes SOJ-hosted healthy athletes screening programme

Senior staff reporter

Saturday, November 04, 2017

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Special Olympics (SO) members in the Caribbean have welcomed the opportunity to adopt best practices from the healthy athletes screening programme, hosted by Special Olympics Jamaica (SOJ) at Treasure Beach Sports Park in St Elizabeth.

The local body will today facilitate broad-based health screening for approximately 60 athletes with intellectual disabilities, while also staging unified football to strengthen awareness of the need for inclusion.

Yesterday, the focus was on preparing clinicians and other medical practitioners to conduct screening of athletes.

Sezevra Joseph, director of Special Olympics St Vincent and the Grenadines, said this event provides the template of what she wants to conduct in her country.

“This healthy athletes programme is something we want to do ourselves, so I really wanted to be here for these two events — the training and the unified soccer programme. I moved the earth to get here; I hopped all the way on four planes. In St Vincent and the Grenadines we have a very small programme in which we have close to 200 athletes and we do six sports,” she told the Jamaica Observer after yesterday's training session.

Joseph declared that the unified competition — which allows people with intellectual disabilities to compete with and against people without these disabilities — is another component she wants to learn from.

“We are also doing the unified soccer and we want to see how Jamaica is doing it and how they are able to accomplish it successfully. We're hoping that the information that I can gather here will be good for us to boost our programme, because we've been trying to get our healthy athletes programme off the ground for the last two years.”

Lorna Bell, the SOJ executive director, expressed satisfaction with Jamaica's central role in bringing the Caribbean together.

“I am so excited, and it's an honour to have representatives from other SO programmes in the Caribbean here in Jamaica with us, to help ensure all athletes with intellectual disabilities have proper health care.

“I see this as goal achieved. Having the Caribbean countries come together in this manner has been a long time in the making and I am elated to see this come to reality,” Bell explained.

Karel Williams, the director of Special Olympics Aruba, and his counterpart in Belize, Philip Marin, are also relishing the chance to glean useful strategies that can be implemented in their respective nations.

“This is the first time that Aruba is participating in something like this, and this is something that we have to learn and to bring it back and start organising healthy athletes activities in Aruba also. We have had two healthy athletes events — very small — before our national games that we have every year, and this will be something good to improve our work with these kids,” Williams told the Observer.

Marin added: “This is one programme that we want to adopt and strengthen in Belize because it looks at the various areas. The popular sports we practise are football, basketball, volleyball, bocce and athletics, and because of [lack of] facilities and those things we just look at those five areas. We are preparing for our national games in December and we will have different healthy screening for athletes.”

Health care, through healthy athletes screening, is a key facet of the Special Olympics movement. Under the initiative, athletes have access to free health services with emphasis on the eyes, ears, teeth and feet. Athletes are also exposed to physiotherapy and general health awareness.

The healthy athletes training and screening this weekend are organised and coordinated through a partnership with Pan American Health Organisation, the regional office of the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, Lions Club International, Digicel, Sports Development Foundation, Law Enforcement Torch Run and the Treasure Beach-based Breds Foundation.

The Special Olympics movement focuses on breaking down barriers that exclude people with intellectual disabilities from mainstream society.

It offers year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sporting events for people with these disabilities — which may be acquired or genetic and include cases of Down's syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, and traumatic brain injury.




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