Each story Brian Geiger, Ed.D., tells is short, but it’s not because they aren’t important. It’s just that he has so many to pass along.

Brian Geiger recently completed his training as a clinical coordinator to assist Special Olympics Alabama with its “Healthy Athletes” initiative.

“There was this one young girl who kept falling off the balance beam and no one could figure out why,” he says. “She had her shoes and feet examined, her strength and flexibility tested. It turns out it was an inner-ear problem. She was losing her balance. The problem was discovered because of the health screening.”

Geiger, an associate professor of education in Human Studies, related several of these stories from his recent trip to Toronto where he traveled to complete his training as a clinical coordinator to assist Special Olympics Alabama with its “Healthy Athletes” initiative.

The mission of Healthy Athletes is to improve athletes’ ability to train and compete by improving their health and fitness. Special Olympics sponsors and volunteers work with events across America and around the world to provide the athletes with a variety of health screenings and services presented in a fun, welcoming environment.

“Often we find people with these intellectual and developmental disabilities have had very little health education presented to them in a way they can understand it, so the message is lost,” Geiger says.

“These screenings offer a chance to help them and their families better understand their bodies and the need for self-care.”

The initiative includes seven disciplines: Fit Feet (podiatry), FUNfitness (exercise science), Healthy Hearing (hearing), Health Promotion (nutrition, bone density, tobacco and skin assessments), Opening Eyes (eyes), MedFest (sports physical) and Special Smiles (dentistry).

Three of these (Healthy Hearing, Opening Eyes and Special Smiles) have been offered during past Special Olympics Alabama events, including the 2007 Summer Games held in Troy.

Geiger is hoping that members of the UAB community will collaborate to begin screenings in the other disciplines. “I know we won’t be able to implement all of them at once,” he says, “but I think we can eventually get them all.”  

Grassroots approach
Mark Wagner, D.M.D., vice president of Health Programs at Special Olympics and a 1965 UAB alumnus, is committed to the health and well-being of the underserved intellectual disability community, and he is proud of the grassroots approach the organization has mobilized to attract volunteers.

“This is one of the most unique approaches to bringing those who need services and those who are willing to provide services together in a non-traditional setting that also is cost-effective,” Wagner says. “To date, more than 500,000 screenings have been conducted worldwide, and the Healthy Athletes program continues to expand as new volunteers like Dr. Geiger are trained and initiate screenings in their communities. Dr. Geiger joins more than 50,000 health professionals worldwide who are leading this initiative in their local, state or national Special Olympics Programs.”

FUNfitness and Fit Feet are the first screenings Geiger hopes to implement. He is confident UAB can play an important role in this outreach project.

“Within the School of Education we have health education/health promotion, special education and exercise science degree programs. Both faculty and students will benefit from participation in Healthy Athletes,” he says. “The School of Dentistry has helped with this program in the past, as has the Alabama Optometric Association.

“I think the potential for students to learn through active service is enormous. There also are future opportunities for research and scholarship.”

One of the reasons is that the data from the Healthy Athletes venues are entered into a Web-based software application called Healthy Athletes Software system (HAS). It constitutes the largest database of health data about athletes with intellectual disabilities.

The information on the athletes is reviewed by health professionals who can then contact the athletes or their families and give them recommendations regarding any kind of treatment they need.

“The health data gathered at these events are important for planning programs, gaining support, improving policies and research,” Geiger says. “We’re collecting information on a population that’s not well studied.”

If you would like to learn more about how to help with the Healthy Athletes program in Alabama, contact Geiger at bgeiger@uab.edu or 934-8326.