Today was a pretty good day.
It was Ela's first Special Olympics gymnastics meet, and she did an amazing job. Bringing home 4 golds and a silver (winning the all around for her age/level category), I can speak for my whole family when I say that we were proud. I have done gymnastics since I was 3 years old, and I love the sport so much, so seeing Ela not only competing, but succeeding and enjoying it, makes me even more appreciative of what gymnastics can do for people.
For so long, Ela has either had to come to my gymnastics meets or stay home with a babysitter. I probably have a dozen or so meets every year during my high school gymnastics season, lasting for about 4-5 hours every Saturday or Sunday in the winter, so calling Ela a "trooper" is an understatement. But today, she finally got to shine.
She has been on her gymnastics team since September, and is just starting out in level 1. I knew that things would get pretty interesting when the first thing her coach said to my mom after her first practice was, "you brought in a ringer," and she was not wrong. Every week, Ela has felt more and more comfortable, getting to appreciate and love gymnastics like I do. Not only that, but she isn't shying away from competing or practicing, something I thought would definitely happen. But then again, I guess proving me wrong is what Ela does best. The best part of it all is that despite her constant protests to be called "Princess Moana", she giggles so much that her coach has started calling her "gigglebottom." I can tell every week that when she comes home from practice, Ela is happy.
Everything Ela has done since that first September practice has been leading up to today, but we didn't really know what to expect. This was our first EVER Special Olympics gymnastics meet, and we basically had no idea what would happen. In dance recitals, cheer performances, and piano concerts, we can never be sure whether or not she will perform, because for as confident of a kid as she is, she does not like crowds. However, Ela competed with no hesitation. She performed on vault, bars, beam and floor, and although she's still getting familiar with her routines, she looked calm and cool out there.
When she was done competing, it was time for the medal ceremony. She went up and got her medals, standing on the little podium and smiling for a camera every time her name was called, beaming with excitement. Now, I thought that Ela would have gotten more excited about all of her medals after it was over, but I realized that they weren't as important to her as the actual competition. She came home and proceeded to give me, my dad, and my mom each a medal to "keep in our rooms". When I told her that she should keep all of them, she told me that she already had 2, so she wanted to give the other 3 out to us. This sort of blew me away, because Ela is totally the type of kid who would carry those medals around with her everywhere for a week, but here she was, giving them away. To her, the medals were a sign that she did an awesome job, but the experience was what she enjoyed the most. Hanging out with her friends and coaches on the team, watching other girls' routines, and being able to participate in a sport that she had watched from the sidelines for so long is what sold her on the whole gymnastics idea in the first place, not winning or losing. I think that is why this whole Special Olympics program is so great. Ela can work hard and do well, but still have a fun time in the process, something that is really hard for a lot of people to do.
Today's competition, overall, was a highlight of my weekend. Not just because of how well Ela did, but how excited and humble she was after it was all said and done. Gymnastics is something that holds a special place in my heart, and seeing Ela competing out there makes me excited for her future with it. Her Down Syndrome does not, by any means, keep her from achieving her goals and having a good time while doing it, which is so refreshing to see. Going forward, I have one suggestion: If you know somebody with any type of special need, or even somebody who just isn't involved in a lot, get them involved. Seeing how my sister felt after competing today made me realize that when people find a passion, it drives them to do their best, and there is nothing more gratifying to watch than somebody finding joy in something new.
Hi! My name is Serra Tuzun and I am currently a junior in high school. My sister, Ela, who is 3 years younger than me, has Down Syndrome, and I thought it would be a great idea to share my experiences with her to the world. This blog is just a way for me to let other siblings to children with down syndrome know that they are not alone!