Andrew Dziezak hair carvings reflect his goal in power lifting. Photograph: AJ Mast/Getty Images for the Guardian
The Special Olympics are, well, a special place. While inside the loving embrace of the games, athletes are well taken care of. The same can’t always be said of the support system provided by society at large.
According to Michael Furnish, CEO of Special Olympics Indiana, half of the athletes have the wrong size shoes on. Three out of 10 athletes have untreated tooth decay. Four out of 10 need glasses. Three of 10 fail hearing tests. And Special Olympics athletes are 50% more likely to die by the time they are 50 than the general population.
“Having an intellectual disability doesn’t make you an unhealthy person. Something else is contributing to this effort, ” he said.
23 million more people uninsured in a decade
As Diesel picks up the 400lb bar to match last year’s gold winning lift, the US Senate is busy negotiating a new healthcare bill in secret.
It’s based on the American Health Care Act, recently hammered out by the House, which removes protections for pre-existing conditions, of which many belonging to athletes in the weight room apply: Down’s syndrome, autism and chromosomal disorders among them. It also begins to remove Medicaid increases gained under Obamacare.
The bill, if enacted in its current form, would leave 23 million more people uninsured in a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, a non-partisan federal agency.
An athlete competes in the mini-javelin event. Photograph: AJ Mast/Getty Images for the Guardian
Are Diesel’s parents worried about the changes in healthcare happening in Washington for his sons and team-mates?
“It’s actually one of our biggest fears, ” his mother said. “We waited 13 years for Andrew to get on the autism waver [a Medicaid program to provide long-term support for those with autism], and prior to that we paid for all of his expenses out of pocket. We were fortunate to be able to do that, and we worked very hard to be able to do that—”