Special Olympics Michigan State Summer Games: Opening Eyes Program

A few final steps before the action begins.

The Special Olympics Michigan State Summer Games are here, but it’s about more than just competition.

While nearly 3,000 athletes are in Mount Pleasant to give it their all in their sporting events, there are plenty of other things keeping them busy. 

The Healthy Athletes Program provides free screenings; everything from a visit to the dentist, the physical therapist, even the podiatrist, all under one roof.

9&10’s Michelle Dunaway shows us the vision behind Opening Eyes.

Athletics may be the focus at the SOMI State Summer Games, but today, for some, the "eyes" have it.

"I got new glasses," says J.J.

J.J. hails from Pentwater.

William is from Clare.

They are just two of the more than 1,000 athletes who will have a full vision screening here.

"If they wear glasses we will check the prescription, if they don’t we will check what they can see. We run tests to see if they use both eyes together, we check color vision, health of the eyes, if they need a script we can make the glasses here for them, and usually have them the next day," says Jamey Seals, O.D., director of Opening Eyes.

This is the Opening Eyes program, one part of healthy athletes.

It’s place where volunteer professionals are trained to check everything from teeth to feet, a much needed service for many.

"Our athletes do not get the medical care they need. If they do go to a physician, they may not know how to work with the population. One of the awesome benefits from this program is not only giving the service, but the training to the clinicians that are here so they can go out into the professional world and be able to work with people with intellectual disabilities," explains Ann Guzdzial, SOMI chief program officer.

Opening Eyes is now in its 18th year.

"In 1999 Dr. Phil Irion came to us and said, ‘I just attended the World Games and we have to do this in Michigan!’ He approached us and said, ‘I have this vision and this dream and want this to happen.’ Our program is one of the biggest in the country, and he was instrumental in getting us started," says Ann.

But he has since passed the torch.

"This year is a little bittersweet because we lost Phil unexpectedly this year, so we’re dedicating the games to Phil," explains Ann.

The champion of a program for volunteers.

"They have a waiting list to come do this. They have 100 volunteers, they get on a waiting list to be able to come," says Ann.

A program for the athletes. It’s just one piece of what makes the Special Olympics so special.

"When you come here, you just get hooked because it’s such a beautiful atmosphere. It is so inclusive and inviting, there’s just so much to love out there," says Ann.