Special Olympics is the biggest untold secret in healthcare. For over 20 years, the organization has been getting people with intellectual disabilities healthy and lowering their risk of deadly – and costly – conditions like cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer.
As the only leader in health for people with intellectual disabilities, Special Olympics is driving the global direction of health policies for people with disabilities through its life-changing health programming.
Almost 300,000 athletes in 109 countries are currently participating in Special Olympics health and fitness activities, making inclusive health a reality for this vulnerable and marginalized population.
A new study from Jefferson Health examined how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected people with intellectual disabilities, which makes up 1–3% of the U.S. population. The study, published earlier this month in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) Catalyst, found that intellectual disability was second only to older age as a risk factor for dying from COVID-19, and that people with intellectual disabilities are almost six times more likely to die from COVID than the general population.
Like other sports organizations, Special Olympics has cancelled in-person practices and competitions across the globe since the pandemic began. To ensure athletes, caregivers and coaches stayed informed on practicing COVID-19 prevention tips, Special Olympics has armed its community with ongoing education materials on staying safe during COVID. Over the last year, the organization has prioritized the development of at-home fitness resources, including fitness videos and creating stress reduction challenges to help athletes stay fit and active during the pandemic.
The latest fitness resource available to Special Olympics athletes has been launched in partnership with WWE. WWE Superstar Drew McIntyre has teamed up with Special Olympics athletes to create a brand-new online workout called School of Strength: Class Is Now in Session. The workout was created for all ability levels in mind and explores fun nutritional tips and mindfulness strategies.
The campaign also introduced Unified Fitness Kits, which include cones, an agility ladder, a resistance band, a jump rope, an exercise ball, an activity tracker, and printable exercise cards. The “fit kits” encourage Special Olympics athletes to keep their fitness levels up at home by taking advantage of basic exercise equipment available in the comfort of their living rooms and backyards.
This newest addition to School of Strength builds off the success of the original School of Strength campaign released in March 2020, which was created in response to Special Olympics athletes’ requests for the development of more fitness resources that excite and inspire them to stay fit year-round, especially now, when they aren’t able to train or compete alongside their teammates.
“Physical exercise, a nutritious diet and a strong mind are the keys to a healthy lifestyle. I’m proud to be part of School of Strength, so I can amplify this message to Special Olympics athletes around the world,” said WWE Superstar Drew McIntyre.
During the month of March leading up to World Health Day on 7th April, Special Olympics is continuing its “Revolution is Inclusion” five-year global campaign targeting health care professionals and the younger generation of Millennials and Centennials by demonstrating the power of inclusive health and fitness and raising awareness of the health disparities that exist for people with intellectual disabilities.
“Current research indicates that people with intellectual disabilities are almost six times more likely to die from COVID-19 and face serious inequities in many areas of health care resulting in premature deaths. We have been working hard to create at-home health and fitness opportunities for our athletes to help them stay committed to their health and fitness and stay safe while doing so,” said Dr. Alicia Bazzano, Chief Health Officer, Special Olympics. “We are thrilled to again partner with WWE for our School of Strength campaign and promote a shared focus on inclusive health, where every athlete has the ability to be healthy and fit. We look forward to seeing our athletes meeting and exceeding their fitness and wellness goals.”
The organization is making prominent marketing and communications push to urge doctors, nurses and other frontline healthcare professionals to learn how to better treat people with intellectual disabilities and offers specialized training for medical professionals to educate them on how to adapt their routine or office to treat people with intellectual disabilities. The campaign also seeks to attract a younger generation of supporters to teach them to adopt inclusion and be advocates for people with intellectual differences.