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British Gymnastics are proud to introduce Disability Gymnastics Ambassadors

Posted: Tue, 13 Sep 2016 14:00

British Gymnastics are proud to introduce Disability Gymnastics Ambassadors

With the 2016 Paralympic Games underway and the eyes of the world focused on the incredible achievements of Paralympic athletes across all sports British Gymnastics is proud to announce that they have enlisted four Disability Gymnastics Ambassadors to act as inspiring role models.

Since the launch of the I'M IN programme over three years ago, an increasing number of gymnastics clubs have committed to developing inclusive opportunities. Within our gymnastics community, we now have more than 200 clubs offering specific Disability Gymnastics sessions, with many more ensuring that their mainstream offer is inclusive and accessible for all.

To support this effort and to inspire more disabled people to get involved in our sport, British Gymnastics want to showcase the opportunities that exist for everyone in gymnastics, from recreational, grassroots gymnastics up to elite levels.

The Ambassadors want to share their stories and encourage others to give it a try. The Ambassadors speak about their experience in gymnastics, what they have achieved and what they love about it. They tell other disabled people how inclusive they have found gymnastics to be, in clubs up and down the country.

The Ambassadors show that disability is not a barrier, and they act as inspiring role models within Disability Gymnastics.

NATASHA COATES [pictured above]

Disability: Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
Club: The Wire Gymnastics Club

21 year old Natasha Coates fell in love with gymnastics at the age of 8, when she tried it for the first time at a local Leisure Centre. Now part of the Wire Gymnastics Club, Natasha has a huge haul of Disability Gymnastics medals to her name and was named Sport England Pride of Sport's Disabled Sportsperson of the Year in 2015.

"The biggest high of my career was taking part in my first artistic Disability Gymnastics British Championships. "I just wanted to go, do my best and show off the skills that I had been practicing in the gym but I had no idea what to expect. I came away with the gold on all 4 apparatus as well as the all-around title for my category which was a complete dream come true!"

For Natasha, a supporting club who can understand her needs and support her to take part is really important. Natasha has Mast Cell Disorder which means that a number of triggers can put her at risk of anaphylactic shock; whether that be sweat, heat or the smell of some foods and chemicals.

She experiences complete numbness in her fingers and toes, or sometimes her arms and legs, so just needs to learn things in a different way.

"I train alongside mainstream gymnasts so I'm coached in the same way as everyone else, but my coach adapts things slightly. I run to warm-up, like most gymnasts, but I just have to make sure that I don't breathe too fast or too slowly, in order to maintain a healthy breathing rate and keep my oxygen levels up."

Through gymnastics, Natasha has met people who understand her needs, and says she has made life-long friends.

"We always talk and give each other advice when times are tough. It's so nice to train with other people who just get it straight away.

"Disability Gymnastics is a fantastic sport and I would recommend it to anyone. There are so many opportunities for disabled gymnasts of every level; it is such an inclusive sport. I'm really keen to inspire people who maybe thought that they couldn't, that anything is possible!"


Disability: Autism

Club: Jersey Special Gymnastics Club

Aged just 24 years old, Alex Buesnel has achieved an incredible amount in men's artistic Disability Gymnastics. At Jersey Special Gymnastics Club, Alex's coaches have been able to provide him with any additional support that he needed to take part in gymnastics, as he has Autism. For Alex, there have been no barriers. He is the current British Champion, having won the title for a record eighth consecutive time in September 2015!

Having started out 12 years ago due to an aptitude for balancing and tumbling, Alex soon realised the positive effects the sport could have.

"There's the discipline needed to be the best. The fitness, strength & determination to achieve the highest level in Disability Gymnastics. On a personal level gymnastics has helped me to overcome many hurdles within my disability; it has given me independence to travel away from home with both my club and coaches. It provides an opportunity to participate in a sport where you will not be made to feel inadequate. You can compete at a level appropriate to your ability and it is a way of keeping fit."

Solely mentioning Alex's British titles would do him a disservice. As well as those eight British titles, he has won gold medals at the Special Olympics, World and European Games and has been recognised in Jersey on multiple occasions, including being selected as an Olympic torch bearer in 2012.

His dedication to the sport doesn't stop there. As a qualified level 2 gymnastics coach, Alex enjoys coaching on Jersey, naming his ability to support the younger members at his club as one of his greatest achievements to date.

Alex's father, Gary, is extremely proud of his son's achievements through gymnastics: "I can honestly say gymnastics has turned Alex into the outgoing, compassionate young man he is today. He has overcome many hurdles with his disability but his achievements have been phenomenal and are down to his sheer hard work, determination and dedication. He is a role model for the younger members at his club and a true ambassador for disability sport."


Disability: Physical Disability and Visual Impairment

Club: Hereford Sparks Gymnastics Club

As an 11 year-old, Tiri liked sport, wanted to be active and was keen to find an activity she enjoyed and could succeed at. Tiri has visual impairment which means she has some usable vision in one eye but no usable vision in the other. She explains that in the past, she struggled with contact and ball sports, but always loved gymnastics and wanted to give it a try. Tiri went along to her local gymnastics club and 7 years later she hasn't looked back, being involved in trampolining, acrobatic and artistic gymnastics within that time.

"I enjoy the variety of gymnastics - no two sessions are the same! I love the feeling of achieving a new skill which I've been working towards, especially when it's been tricky to get! I also enjoy the social side; the family feeling you get in a gymnastics club."

Tiri's gymnastics clubs have always supported her to take part, adapting activities and helping her to find solutions to suit her needs.

"I can't see the vault from the end of the run-up, or the beam when I'm stood on it. We get around this by counting the number of steps I need in my vault run and memorising the distance of the beam from end to end. I have some physical disabilities which mean I need to take regular rest breaks, especially between repetitive strengthening exercises, but my club have always supported me to do that without separating me from other gymnasts."

With plenty of support from her club, Tiri has achieved a great deal of success within gymnastics. Tiri has 4 British Disability Gymnastics Championships medals to her name, also travelling around the country to take part in smaller competitions. One of her greatest moments though, has been travelling to South Africa as a Disability Gymnastics Ambassador, supporting clubs there to offer more opportunities for disabled children.

There's no doubt that Tiri is passionate about gymnastics, and the fantastic opportunities it has given her.

"Anyone can do gymnastics, regardless of ability or disability. There is always something, or some type of gymnastics which you can take part in, as long as you are enthusiastic, committed and enjoy it!"


Disability: Cerebral Palsy (Spastic Diplegia)
Club: Rowan Gymnastics Club

At the age of 3, Skye's mum took her to her to Rowan Gymnastics Club to try Pre-school Gymnastics and to try out some of their fantastic equipment. It was the first sport that Skye had tried, with her doctor recommending exercise as part of her physiotherapy. Four years later she has moved into the junior class and now takes part in recreational gymnastics classes week in, week out.

"Gymnastics is so much fun. I have lots of friends within my club and it helps me to get stronger. When I find things hard, my coaches help me. They make sure I'm included in all of the class activities; adapting exercises slightly if I'm finding them hard."

Within Rowan Gymnastics Club's recreational classes, there are a number of opportunities for all gymnasts to progress, compete and perform.

"My club runs a recreational gymnastics competition each year which I've taken part in and I've also enjoyed entering our local festival for disabled gymnasts and trampolinists. I've won a total of 4 gold medals and a bronze and am also proud to have earned my first 2 British Gymnastics' Core Proficiency Awards (numbers 8 and 7)."

Skye continues to excel within gymnastics and proves that disability is not a barrier to taking part, but her success won't stop there! She's ambitious and determined to continue to improve. Skye's goals are to be able to balance on a beam without anyone holding her and one day would like to be able to do the splits.

Confident that there are opportunities for everyone of every ability to succeed within gymnastics, Skye's advice to other disabled people is that "it might be a bit tricky at first, but you will get better. Don't let a disability hold you back, just try your best as it is great fun!"

Tags: Disability, Gymnastics