Abbott has a rare genetic disorder, Prader-Willi Syndrome, which results in intellectual disability, and is frequently associated with insatiable appetite, low metabolism, and subsequent obesity. Yet today, at age 37, she is 150 lbs. lighter and took home three gold and two silver medals at the summer 2010 Special Olympics USA National Games in Lincoln, NE.
Abbott and her family credit her physical transformation to the dedication and support of the Special Olympics Minnesota coaching staff and the rigorous training schedule for her ball, ribbon, rope and hoop gymnastic routines. For Abbott and others just like her, Special Olympics is about more than sports – it allows people with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to be more fit, make more friends, and be a special part of a team. In the process, Abbott has also become an inspiration to her family and fellow athletes.
"I want them to exercise like I did and lose weight and watch what they eat," Abbott said.
Obesity is a problem for most people with intellectual disabilities. Due to a health condition or the medications they take, the lack of opportunities to exercise and other issues, approximately 75% of adult Special Olympics athletes are overweight. In response, Special Olympics issued a call to action during its National Games Health Symposium in July.
"We have a lot of work to do," said Special Olympics Chairman and CEO Timothy Shriver. "The health condition for people with intellectual disabilities is nothing short of a crisis – one that will not improve on its own. All of us must act. This isn't a problem for a few to handle. The solutions will come when everyone is engaged."
In its call to action, Special Olympics details steps that should be taken by various segments of the population, including the general public, health professionals and elected officials. The organization asks the public to donate their time and push their representatives to support policies that address these concerns. Healthcare providers should increase their knowledge of intellectual disability and welcome these patients into their practices.
Special Olympics hopes that if more people join its fight against obesity, more athletes will be able to find the same healthier lifestyle that enabled Sara Abbott to achieve her goals.