Helping Special Olympians around the world stay healthy
Shriver Center's Gleason leads fitness screenings at the Special Olympics World Games
By Sandra GrayJuly 15, 2011
UMass Medical School Communications
Athens, Greece, the birthplace of the original Olympic Games, was recently the site of similar world games celebrating physical prowess and vitality. This June, athletes with developmental and intellectual disabilities (IDs) from 180 countries around the globe converged there to compete in the 13th Special Olympics Summer World Games.
On hand to help at the biannual event was James Gleason, MS, PT, who was invited to train a cadre of international health care professionals in the FUNFitness health screening protocol that is part of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes Initiative. Gleason, associate director of the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) at UMass Medical School's Eunice Shriver Kennedy Center, has long been involved with Special Olympics Massachusetts (SOM) and Special Olympics International, serving on a team of three Global Clinical Advisors for FUNFitness.
"The sole reason Healthy Athletes was created is because people with IDs don't get the health care they need," said Gleason, who was instrumental in developing FUNFitness in collaboration with Special Olympics International and the American Physical Fitness Association, and initiating its implementation in Massachusetts. FUNFitness "creates an opportunity for health care providers to gain clinical skills, while opening up their eyes to the needs of this population—and what a pleasure it is to work with them!"
One of seven Healthy Athletes programs, FUNFitness provides athletes with a health screening that evaluates flexibility, balance, strength and aerobic fitness. Gleason spent two days in Athens training health professionals from Ivory Coast, France, Germany, Tanzania, South Korea and South Africa to perform the screening, and two days conducting and supervising athlete screenings, which trainees were then able to continue for the remainder of the games. "More than evaluating their fitness status, we teach athletes and coaches exercise routines to improve it," said Gleason. "Even the best athletes can benefit."
Gleason has spent his entire career championing the health care needs of people with IDs, who experience large and persistent health care disparities—health issues that are easily resolved in the general population often ignored or mistreated. He was gratified when, in December of 2008, SOMA and UMass Medical School signed a groundbreaking affiliation agreement that created one of the first formal relationships between a disability services agency and a school of medicine. Gleason is committed to making what was previously a niche area of expertise among the health professions into part of mainstream health care practice. "There are still many disparities to be overcome," he said. "Through their involvement with Healthy Athletes, UMass Medical School and other institutions are creating opportunities for students to incorporate caring for individuals with intellectual disabilities into their education."
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