DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Dr. Dennis Rowe examines Ribou Maras, 12, from Mililani Middle School. Doctors volunteer their time to screen the Special Olympic athletes to ensure they are healthy enough to train and compete.
When he was small, he bowled with his grandpa in Samoa, said 14-year-old Elliott Lutali, adding, "I would like to take over for him."
The Aliamanu Intermediate School youth was among about 100 excited students undergoing health screenings yesterday at Manoa District Park to see if they are healthy enough to participate in Special Olympics Hawaii.
The scene was hectic as school buses arrived for the second annual MedFest with students from Aina Haina Elementary, Aliamanu Intermediate, Highlands Intermediate, Mililani Middle and Kalakaua Middle schools.
Whether they were in wheelchairs, on crutches or had other physical or personal aides or disabilities, the kids were happy and enthusiastic about becoming Special Olympic athletes.
Lutali said he's starting with bowling because he's the highest scorer on his 10-member class team, but he wants to try track and field in the spring.
Aliamanu special-education teacher Jaime Tanigawa said she started Special Olympic training with her seventh- and eighth-grade students this year. "They love it; they love the trainings."
Pomai Ah Yuen, 13, leader of her bowling team at Kalakaua Middle School, said she wants to participate in Special Olympics "to learn. I want to make my mom happy."
Special Olympics Hawaii initiated MedFest last year to recruit more athletes for the competition by helping them meet medical requirements.
"Many candidates weren't able to participate in the past because they didn't have access to health care or couldn't afford it," said Dr. Susan Stewart, clinical co-director for MedFest with her husband, Dr. Dennis Rowe.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
MedFest, a Special Olympics Hawaii service, was offered at Manoa District Park yesterday to Special Olympic athletes (new and existing) to ensure they are healthy enough for training and competition. David Underwood, 12, gave his teacher, Jaime Tanigawa from Aliamanu Intermediate School, a hug after the students finished their screening yesterday. The other kids on the left are Corey Warren, 12, Stanley Hancock, 12, and Kristine McCorkell, 13.
The Maui couple's son, Joshua, 32, has been participating in Special Olympics since he was 13, Stewart said. He coaches swimming now and plays basketball and softball.
Special Olympics has given him social skills and improved his self-confidence and ability to accept responsibility, his parents said. Also, Rowe emphasized, "We don't want to downplay the fun."
Already showing some self-confidence, Shamar Joseph, 11, representing his team at Mililani Middle School, said he thinks he can be a winner in bocce ball games. "I feel really good," he said.
Students can begin training for Special Olympics games at age 6, but they cannot compete until age 8, said Sasa Finch, sports and health manager for the program. There is no age limit, she said. "We've had 60-year-olds participating."
About 2,000 athletes participate annually in Special Olympic events, but Stewart said there is a large untapped pool of special athletes in Hawaii.
Lack of appropriate health care for islanders with intellectual disabilities is a critical problem, said Nancy Botello, Special Olympics Hawaii president and chief executive.
Many doctors will not take Medicare or Medicaid patients, or they are not trained to treat those with mental disabilities, she said.
Special Olympics Hawaii collaborated with the state Health Department and University of Hawaii medical school in 2003 to launch a Healthy Athlete Village at the Summer Games with health care specialists to try and address the problems, she said.
In the 2004 tests, more than 30 percent of screened Hawaii athletes had gum disease, 15 percent urgently needed dental care, less than 33 percent passed the hearing test and 30 percent needed glasses.
"If they're in pain," Botello asked, "how can they compete? If they don't hear the gun, how can they do track and field?"