Kinesiology Students Collaborate with Special Olympics Athletes


By Meghan Salinas ’17

TCU Kinesiology students

Above: Students from the TCU Department of Kinesiology pose with Dr. Phil Esposito at a Special Olympics event. By working with Special Olympics athletes and examining factors like fine motor skills and reaction time, students have an opportunity to improve the lives of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities through increased physical activity and health literacy.
(Courtesy photo: Phil Esposito)

Led by Dr. Phil Esposito, assistant professor of professional practice, many students from Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences have been on a mission to improve the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

By conducting research at Special Olympics events throughout Texas, Esposito and his team of kinesiology students are looking to help create intervention opportunities in order to improve the overall health status of people with disabilities. The group hopes to achieve this goal by promoting physical activity and health literacy, not only within the Special Olympics community, but beyond.

Some of the data collected by Esposito’s group includes information on balance deficits, fine motor deficits, bone density, and body mass index. The group also provides comprehensive health screenings for athletes at the events. This research has proven to be valuable experience for the participating kinesiology students.

“One of the things we always try to do is adhere to this idea of evidence-based practice,” said Esposito. “Special Olympics is an opportunity to give some of our kinesiology students hands-on experience with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

One such student whose learning has been impacted by her participation in this research is Brianna Giovinazzo, senior movement science major. Giovinazzo has been involved in Special Olympics research for the past three years and has helped conduct more than 500 health screenings. Her senior research project on fine motor skills and reaction time in individuals with intellectual disabilities was also conducted at one of these events.

Giovinazzo will be entering the occupational therapy program at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston this fall. One of her particular concerns as a future occupational therapist involves reaction time, fine motor skills, and how those factors translate to activities in daily living.

Esposito also serves as the Senior Clinical Director for Health Promotions at Special Olympics Texas and as Regional Clinical Advisor for Special Olympics North America. In Texas, one of Esposito’s primary concentrations has been collecting important health data regarding individuals with disabilities.

Other TCU studies conducted with the organization include one planned by second-year master’s student Kyla Collins, who will be doing a secondary data analysis looking at heart rate and oxygen saturation in Special Olympics athletes across the world. According to Esposito, because Harris College’s Department of Kinesiology has become a defacto research arm for the organization, more types of research are likely to continue in the future.