A few weeks ago, the Special Olympics World Games were held in Los Angeles. This event brought together 6500 athletes from 165 countires to compete in 26 different athletic events. It was the world’s largest sports and humanitarian event this year!
In 1997, the Special Olympics launched the Healthy Athletes program, in response to an increased awareness of the lack of quality healthcare for people with intellectual disabilities. Since then, Special Olympics has become the largest global public health organization specifically for people with intellectual disabilities. Healthy Athletes has provided more than 1.4 million free health exams to athletes and trained over 120,000 health care professionals around the world. Exams are offered in seven different areas: general fitness, podiatry, hearing, dental hygiene, healthy lifestyles, sports physicals, and VISION.
Of course, COVD members were there, providing eye exams to the athletes. Dr. Kellye Knueppel has been a volunteer at the World Games for many years. It was these photos that she posted on Facebook that drew me in. I called Dr. Knueppel so she could share some of her experiences with me (and you!).
At these World Games, the Opening Eyes program provided eye examinations to over 2,000 athletes over 7 working days. About 1,200 of them received eyeglasses. Through generous donations from the Lions, Safilo, and Essilor, most of the glasses were fabricated and dispensed to the athletes on site. Every year, Dr. Knueppel is amazed at the high prescriptions many athletes require. Dr. Knueppel and all the other doctors are challenged to think of creative ways to communicate with the athletes to determine a prescription that they will be able to wear comfortably, because there probably won’t be a follow-up appointment! This year she prescribed -15.00 to the young man from the Seychelles (holding his gold medal in the photo above) who never had an eye exam. Without glasses, anything more than 4 inches from him is just blur. The 12 year old young lady in the photo with her mom is a badminton player from Iran. She is also myopic (nearsighted) but her glasses weren’t ready before her next match. After a conversation with Dr. Knueppel, the coach made sure she had a yellow shuttlecock and she won! Can you imagine what she will achieve when she gets her glasses? The Opening Eyes program is reaching athletes all over the world and providing them with eye care they would otherwise never receive. For many, something as simple as a pair of glasses is changing their lives far beyond participating in an athletic event.
If you ask Dr. Knueppel who gains more from Opening Eyes, the athletes or the doctors, I am not sure how she would answer. Interacting with these athletes from all over the world at the World Games has provided her with so many incredible memories. And now she can say circle, square, heart and house in a bunch of different languages.