Next month, some of the world’s greatest athletes will be competing at the Winter Olympics in Pyeonchang, South Korea. In July, Seattle will host some pretty impressive athletes as well during the Special Olympics USA Games. Coaching Team Washington Gymnastics is Seattle Gymnastics Academy President, Elaine Walker. We chatted with her to find out more!
In the fall of 2017, Seattle Gymnastics Academy started a new Special Olympics of Washington Gymnastics Team. Gymnastics had not been part of SOWA programming for several years. How did the gymnastics team come about?
A year and a half ago, Terri Chudzik and some other Seattle Gymnastics Academy (SGA) parents that have children with Down syndrome, along with Joe Hampson from Special Olympics Washington (SOWA), reached out to me about adding gymnastics to SOWA programming. I worked with SOWA to get the program set-up, ensuring all requirements were met and running from a Special Olympics standpoint. I also held a seminar at the USA Gymnastics State Congress to let other gyms know about the opportunity. Terri pulled families together to create the first girls SOWA SGA gymnastics team in the fall so that they were able to qualify for the 2018 USA Special Olympics Games that will be in Seattle in July of 2018.
Tell us about the team.
Our team is made up of all girls, ages 7-18. All have Down syndrome, which just happens to be circumstance. All girls that qualify for SOWA events can participate in the future.
So will you have a team competing in the USA Games?
Yes! We held a mock meet with girls from our Star League to get practice before the State Championship meet in December. There were 4 teams at the State Championship meet (SGA, Bainbridge Island, Clark County, and Enumclaw). Three girls from our team made it through the SOWA process and will compete in the USA Games in July.
How exciting! Will you be expanding the program in the future?
This team was simply a pilot to see how doing a SOWA team would work. It was very successful. My hope is to have a Special Olympics team at each of the SGA locations (Columbia City, Ballard, and Lake City). Coach availability, the SOWA 4:1 ratio requirement, and interest in the classes are all a factor. I already have coaches interested in the other locations, so expansion is likely and we may add a boys team.
Has SGA always been an inclusive gym?
SGA has always been open to having people of all abilities. I have always wanted every child to be able to participate in gymnastics in any way they can. In the past, SGA has capped a class in order to accommodate kids of different abilities and for many years we had a sensory integration class on Sunday mornings. We also offer a sign-language and deaf class at our Ballard gym. We are always looking for ways to include more kids!
What has been your favorite part about coaching a Special Olympics team?
The joy I see in the children’s faces when they succeed, along with their smiles and enjoyment when they finish the routines. I love the pride and excitement of the gymnasts and enjoy being able to share in that experience.
Make sure to come out and support SOWA Gymnastics at the USA Games this July! The DSC will be sure to share the schedule. Go Team Washington!!