For Dr. Irene Mestito-Dao, once she started volunteering with the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program, there was no going back - she was hooked. Her volunteer journey began in 2001 at her first Healthy Athletes' clinic in Prince George, BC and she's run the Opening Eyes discipline at many Provincial Games across Manitoba, as well as at National Games across the country, ever since.

What is Opening Eyes ?

Opening Eyes, is in essence, an eye exam. With different stations to test athletes' eyes, optometrists and trained volunteers run these tests and screenings. If they don’t pass screening questions, they have an exam lane to take proper measurements and then make a pair of glasses. They create the fit as best they can, send the measurements in for a pair to be made, and once they are ready, they are shipped out to coaches to be easily distributed to the athlete at their home program. And it's not just prescription glasses. Athletes also have the opportunity to receive sport goggles, sunglasses, and swim goggles (all of this is dependent on donations).

What has kept her volunteering for nearly 20 years?

"It's a good program and I like what it does for our athletes. The athletes are very inspirational and I love how they cheer each other on and how proud they are to compete," said Irene. "You come out of these events with a good feeling. Personally that’s what I get out of it, but I also know it’s just a great program. While it is true that in Canada we have a good health care system, it still doesn’t cover the need for glasses or sport goggles most of the time. Athletes wouldn’t be able to get these prescriptions if it were not for Healthy Athletes and that keeps me coming back to be able to help provide.

For a lot of Special Olympics athletes, they don't always have the means to get to their weekly programs, let alone a new pair of glasses. Sometimes, they aren't aware they even have vision problems, and they can be easily missed and continue to worsen if they don't have access to proper vision care.That's why the Healthy Athletes program is so important to offer, not just across Canada, but here in Manitoba as well. 

She most recently helped to run the Opening Eyes clinic at the 2020 National Winter Games in Thunder Bay this past February, and says it was the most memorable Games she's volunteered at to date. 

"Clinical directors from all disciplines really worked together at this one and it made it feel more unified. Everyone was very helpful with each other, the appreciation was there from coaches, athletes, and other volunteers, and we actually had time to watch the Games which doesn’t always happen," remembers Irene. "Every Games experience is a great one and shows the sportsmanship of our athletes. I'm happy I get to be a part of such a wonderful organization."

To learn more about the Healthy Athletes program, head over to our programs page.