RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The healthy athletes program at the Virginia Special Olympics is giving athletes the opportunity to receive top notch healthcare to help them perform at their highest level - all without costing them a single penny.
Coreen Bookout cheered loudly for her daughter Erica as she went for gold.
"She did her personal best on that race, so she shaved five seconds off her time in the past," Coreen said.
Because she knows if Erica wants to be the best, she can't have anything holding her back, especially her dental health.
"Your teeth are kind of the gateway to the rest of your body," Coreen said. "It affects your blood and your bone density and all of it."
Luckily for Erica, on top of winning gold in the 1500 meter run Saturday, she also received a winning smile.
"It's just fun to show everybody that I can do something," Erica said.
Erica got two tooth fillings, a procedure that would normally cost her mother hundreds of dollars anywhere else. But at the University of Richmond, it was free - all thanks to the Virginia Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program.
Virginia Special Olympics President Rick Jeffery says hundreds of athletes just like Erica come to this pop-up health center every year to receive specialized health care.
"People with intellectual disabilities are often times very marginalized when it comes to healthcare," said Jeffrey. "If you don't feel good, you can't perform good, can't perform good in school, you can't perform good at the workplace, and you can't perform good on the playing field."
For some athletes, it's dental work or physical therapy; others get personalized prescription glasses made for them on the spot.
"Probably 64 percent of our athletes need glasses or new ones; 38 percent suffer from preventable tooth decay," said Jeffrey.
All of these services valued at more than half a million dollars are donated by health professionals from all over Virginia.
Jeffrey adds that up to 800 athletes treated in just one day with more $40,000 of dental work done in total.
For some athletes, it's the primary healthcare they will receive all year.
Executive Director of the Virginia Dental Association Terry Dickinson, volunteers his dental services for the the Healthy Athletes Program.
He says the real reward comes from improving the lives of athletes
"Working with Special Olympics is one of my favorite projects because of the people we're able to take care of who so often struggle to get good dental care," said Dickinson.
Jeffrey say the Healthy Athlete Program is preparing these athletes for victory in all aspects of life.
"We're making them healthier and fitter with a chance to win on and off the playing field," said Jeffrey.
Organizers say that the Healthy Athletes Program also gives healthcare workers valuable experience working with individuals with special needs.
If you are a medical professional and think you can donate your time and resources to future Healthy Athlete Programs, call the the Virginia Special Olympics at 1-800-932-4653.
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