VICTORVILLE — Special-needs athletes from a local gym will make their way to Las Vegas this week for open competition, followed by an annual special needs meet in Long Beach.
Two athletes will compete as part of a 35-member team from AcroBrats Gymnasium in the AAU Gymnastics Age Group Championships on Friday and then join other special needs performers at the Special Olympics Summer Games for Southern California on Saturday and Sunday.
The team atmosphere is inspirational, a team mother and a coach say.
“Are we leaving for Vegas today?” Wyatt Jane Price has daily asked her mother, Melanie Dube-Price, with anticipation. Wyatt, 13, and Itzel Gonzalez, 14, are joining “mainstream” competitors for part of the five-day Las Vegas event.
For the weekend, the Special Olympics Summer Games attracts more than 1,100 athletes from across Southern California who will compete at Cal State Long Beach for gold, silver and bronze medals and ribbons. The games will feature six summer sports — gymnastics, aquatics, athletics (track and field), basketball, bocce and golf.
Special Olympics Southern California enriches the lives of more than 19,625 athletes with intellectual disabilities in Southern California through sports, education and athlete health, the organization says on its website.
AcroBrats special-needs team members practice individual exercises to develop physical skills and self-confidence in a team setting, Dube-Price said. They move on to specialized routines that showcase their strengths and interests, she said.
Dube-Price, a volunteer Special Olympics area director, said the special-needs athletes may find the beam the hardest exercise to approach and master, while they tend to gravitate toward floor exercises.
The two going to the AAU championships “really like the floor” exercises, select their own music and show their personalities through their dance routines, Dube-Price said.
“The parents like that we mainstream” their special needs children, AcroBrats Gymnastics gym owner Karen Bernero-Mathews said. “Our gym always mainstreams our special-needs athletes, but they all work as a team.”
Bernero-Mathews said one of the gym’s open competitors, Dillon Brower, 18, has earned a scholarship to Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.
By Gary Brodeur
Staff Writer at vvdailypress.com