Skip to main content

During Super Bowl media week, Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver and Special Olympics Champion Ambassador Mack Hollins and Special Olympics advocate Vanessa Robles teamed up to talk about the importance of health resources for these Special Olympics athletes.

Special Olympics is an organization that not only provides free training and sports competition for people of all ages with intellectual disabilities, but also provides their athletes with other resources, like inclusive health options.

Vanessa Robles, who started in Special Olympics when she was seven, is now a veteran Special Olympics athlete of 32 years. As a multisport athlete, she is representing the United States at the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, Germany in June. This is the largest inclusive sporting event this year as it will host more than 7,000 athletes from 190 different countries in 26 sports. In her first time outside of the country, she gets to compete as a part of the U.S. basketball team.

“It's been a great experience being back at the Super Bowl, being in my own backyard and getting to represent an organization that is like a family,” said Robles, who lives in Arizona.

The main work that she is trying to shed light on is the lack of health services and resources available to people with intellectual disabilities. Staggeringly, these individuals on average die 16 to 20 years earlier than those without intellectual disabilities, even though the conditions are preventable. Robles talks about what needs to be changed in both communication between each athlete and doctor.

“It is important to communicate with their doctor to get the healthcare that we need," said Robles.

An individual that is trying to help raise awareness to make these healthcare opportunities possible is Mack Hollins. For more than five years, Mack has been working with Special Olympics in various ways as well as helping to support Special Olympics Nevada.

“What is so special about these athletes is that when they compete, they compete hard and they play hard, and then when it's done, it's done. They are all supportive of each other,” Hollins said. “I think that is often lost at my profession, and even collegiate sports where the guys don’t know how to cheer each other on and support each other. It's unfortunate because you lose sight of why you play the game.”

Hollins is working this year to help get more physicals and health screenings available for Special Olympics athletes and to help teach better nutrition. With the help of health care professionals and students, Special Olympics is hoping for more equitable health care for those with intellectual disabilities through taking free classes on their website.

“When you are inclusive to everybody, it really reaches a new level and a new high of learning and physical activity, mental health, and all of these different aspects," Hollins said. "It's really amazing when people can get together. In 2023, it's all about ‘How can we be inclusive to everybody and bring the best out of everybody?’”

As a social media influencer, Hollins is hoping to make videos cooking meals to help Special Olympics athletes move in the right direction to live healthier lives. He sums up the 2023 goal as improving health opportunities for thousands of Special Olympics athletes.

“Our next mission is to be able to do it [improving health] on the nutrition level. Being able to do that is really the next step in what goes on in Special Olympics,” Hollins said. “Being able to do these things mentally, physically, nutritionally....If you can get all of those things going in the right direction, the 16–20 years turn into zero years, like it should be.”