Several people affiliated with the WWAMI Alaska program and the UW School of Medicine were among the 6,000 volunteers at the 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Anchorage, March 4 to 11. The Games attracted 2,500 athletes from around the world.
Delegations of Special Olympics athletes came from 80 nations. Special Olympics offers year-round sports training and athletic competition for older children and adults with mental retardation. Participants develop physical fitness, self-confidence and friendships.
The Winter Games events were alpine skiing, figure skating, floor hockey, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and speed skating. "I've never been around more enthusiastic athletes," said Tom Nighswander, coordinator of UW Clinical Medical Education-Anchorage. He and Peter Mjos, UW clinical assistant professor of family medicine at the Alaska Native Medical Center family practice clerkship site, were among the physicians on the medical support teams. They helped treat inherent medical conditions such as seizure disorders and asthma, as well as sports injuries. Nighswander found that many people with mental retardation have difficulty getting adequate medical and dental care, even in the United States.
"When the athletes arrived in Alaska, they were stars," Nighswander said. "Spectators applauded when the athletes walked through the crowd. I got more hugs and high-fives during the Games than I ever have in my life. I also learned a lot about mental retardation while participating in a wonderful event."