Gymnastics Program Helps Special Needs Children

Forest, VA-A local gymnastics program offers a unique class for unique kids. Elite Athletics' Sparkles class is for children with special needs.

The founder of Elite Athletics, Melissa Thompson, struggled to find a good activity for her daughter, McKayla. So, she decided to give gymnastics a try. Three years later, with the help of some devoted parents, the class continues to grow, along with the confidence and abilities of its students.

"They live for the class. It's the most exciting time of their week. They just can't wait to come here to do their Sparkles class, they just love it," said Thompson.

"They never talk about quitting. I mean, even on the days they have a really bad day, they want to come to gymnastics," said Jacqui Wilson, one of the Sparkles teachers.

"It's therapeutic, yet it doesn't seem like going to therapy for them," said Mark Wilson, Jacqui's husband and fellow teacher.

Mark and Jacqui's daughters, Alana and Isabella, are Sparkles students. Together, they work on flexibility, strength and balance.

"It's really good therapy for them to stretch and get their heart rates up, and do things that my kids in particular with physical disabilities, don't always get a chance to do," said Mark.

Alana and Isabella have cerebral palsy. Going to Sparkles every Thursday has helped them cut back on physical therapy sessions from once a week, to once a month. But their parents say that's not even the best part.

"I honestly didn't have any idea of how much they would try, and how much they would do, and how much it would help their confidence level, which is really one of the biggest changes we've seen," said Jacqui.

Their legs may be shaky, but with every try, their steps get steadier, and their confidence grows stronger. And so do the relationships they form with their classmates.

"There's giggling and laughing," said Mark.

"They've established friendships and they go to birthday parties together and exchange gifts, and just get silly," said Thompson.

Both Thompson and the Wilsons say they hope Sparkles continues to grow. They'd like to see classes for children with special needs in every gymnastics program, so that one day, their kids could even participate in competitions.