By U.S. Senator Roy Blunt
Every year, thousands of athletes, coaches, volunteers and fans come together for Special Olympics Missouri indoor, outdoor, and summer games. As a longtime supporter of the organization, I’ve seen firsthand how Special Olympics has redefined what strength, determination and courage look like in the world of sports.
This month, I had the honor of participating in the public dedication ceremony for the new Training for Life Campus in Jefferson City. This state-of-the-art, 16.5 acre facility will provide Missouri’s 15,000 Special Olympics athletes more opportunities to strengthen their skills and train for local, state, national and international competitions. It is the largest facility of its type in the world and will offer an array of programs, including: specialty camps, coach and volunteer training, and on-site dental, vision and hearing screenings, as well as physical exams.
One of the Special Olympics’ greatest achievements has been its impact on the health and wellness of athletes around the world. It is the largest public health organization specifically for people with intellectual disabilities. Individuals with intellectual disabilities are at a 40 percent greater risk for health issues, and many health professionals lack the training or experience needed to provide quality care. I’ve been an advocate for the Healthy Athletes program, which began in 1997 and has provided more than two million free health screenings and trained more than 240,000 health care professionals in over 135 countries in how to deal with special needs kids and adults.
These routine health screenings can have a life-changing impact. A special needs family can easily miss other problems, like eyesight, hearing and undetected dental problems. As one athlete told me after his first eye exam found he needed prescription glasses, “I always saw two softballs. It’s a whole lot easier when there’s just one ball.” The health screenings also provide athletes a fun, positive environment that helps reduce the anxiety they may experience when visiting a doctor’s office.
Special Olympics also helps people with intellectual disabilities build confidence and gain leadership skills. Nationwide, a little more than half of people who participate in Special Olympics have a job. Whether they’re working at a small business or inspiring others as a Special Olympics spokesperson or coach, many individuals who participate in the Special Olympics gain invaluable life skills.
Special Olympics brings together all members of the community – families, volunteers, public officials and others. In our state, the Missouri State High School Activities Association and Special Olympics have teamed up to expand the number of Unified Sports programs in schools. Unified Sports brings people with and without intellectual disabilities together as teammates to learn from one another, work together and build long-lasting relationships.
This year, Special Olympics celebrated its 50th Anniversary. As chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, we reauthorized the Special Olympics program in the fiscal year 2017 government funding bill. That legislation provides grants for classrooms and activities designed to support schools and integrated recreational programs that encourage acceptance and become models for including those with special needs.
I’m proud to see our state become home to a Special Olympics training facility that sets the standard. I’m grateful for everyone in the Jefferson City community and across the state who worked tirelessly to make the Training for Life campus a reality. I look forward to seeing generations of Special Olympics athletes take and live by the Special Olympics Oath, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”