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Every athlete wins in Healthy Athletes Programme

Hear Waikato nurse Janet’s story about volunteering at this National Summer Games’ Healthy Athletes programme to improve health outcomes for athletes with intellectual disabilities.

Every athlete wins in Healthy Athletes Programme

Special Olympics New Zealand is gearing up for one of its the biggest logistical exercises to deliver an extensive health screening programme for over 1200 athletes with intellectual disabilities. 

With exactly 100 days to go until the Freemasons New Zealand Special Olympics National Summer Games kick off in Hamilton on December 8, the event organisers have put out the call to any volunteers with a health background to enable a potentially life-changing element of the games. 

“As well as creating an opportunity to compete against their peers, the National Summer Games aim to deliver a broad range of health screening opportunities,” says Dr Jonathan Kok, who has been involved in the Healthy Athlete Programme (HAPS) for several years. 

He explains how the programme includes dental health, podiatry, hearing, vision and health promotion.  

“People with intellectual disabilities often experience poorer health outcomes and disparities in access to quality healthcare. We strive to spread the important message of healthy lifestyles and wellness to our athletes and their families,” says Dr Kok.  

Athletes getting their Fit Feet screening at the 2017 National Summer Games

The Palmerston North-based physician got involved with HAPS by chance while at medical school and says it has been an enriching experience, both personally and professionally. 

“It is incredibly rewarding to see our athletes embrace ideas and knowledge gained from Healthy Athletes into their daily lives,” says Dr Kok, who adds that the National Games organisers are still short of the 150 volunteers required to deliver the Healthy Athlete Programme, who work along the 450 other volunteers to support the athletes during the competition. 

Waikato-based registered nurse Janet Hodgson is one of the hundreds of volunteers from Waikato and around the country, who have put up their hand to enable the athletes to compete and get their health checks. 

“I’ve been involved in sports since I was little, watching my father compete in athletics and later as an official, but I never saw anyone with an intellectual disability. That part of our society seemed to be closed to people with a disability,” says Janet. 

“When I came into contact with the local swimming group in Te Awamutu, I was really pleased to see that Special Olympics enables people with disabilities to compete and decided to put my hand up when the call came for volunteers.” 

Janet has a strong personal connection with the disability sector after raising her son Simon, who has an intellectual disability, as well as cerebral palsy, and says volunteering for the National Games is a great way to give back to the community. 

The team of Healthy Hearing volunteers at the 2017 National Summer Games

Not that she is not doing enough of that, as volunteering is clearly in Janet’s blood. She even had to give up her nursing job because of her commitments to the foodbank, her church and Loving Arms, a local organisation supporting families with young babies. 

Dr Kok says the National Summer Games offer a unique opportunity to gain confidence and skills in providing healthcare for people with intellectual disabilities, and calls on any current or former clinicians and health students to consider signing up as volunteer. 

“We are in search of a wide range of health volunteers in order to help us deliver an effective and impactful Healthy Athletes Programme.  

“Your time and dedication will be rewarded with a fulfilling experience with the Special Olympics family.” 

The National Summer Games run from December 8-12 with 10 sports across 8 venues around Hamilton. 

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer can sign up at nsg2021.specialolympics.org.nz 

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August 2022 Fanletter