Local Program Helps Special Needs Children Compete In Unified Gymnastics Competitions

Provided Photography

For children with special needs, many people, experts included, cannot see beyond the label, so programs intended to help them can, unfortunately, limit their ability and the community’s ability to see their true potential. One parent took a chance and asked Paula Lord, former elite gymnast, gymnastics trainer and owner of Body by GymRoots, a Pilates and personal training studio in Fishers, if she would allow her special needs daughter to take a class with her. Lord rents space from DeVeau’s School of Gymnastics and is a member club for USA Gymnastics, and she jumped at the opportunity.   

Over the course of the past six years, the concept grew organically by word of mouth and eventually evolved into a program called DeVeau’s Show Team by GymRoots.

“Our group participates in USA Gymnastics sanctioned events both locally and nationally,” Lord says. “We have participated in the National GymFest since the early 2000s. We also perform at local events including the 500 Festival Kids Day and Mini Mini, Fishers Disability Awareness Showcase, Best Buddies events and more. We annually put on a Showcase at DeVeau’s as our end of year finale performance, too.”

The success of Lord’s program was a process as she spent the time to learn the needs of each student.

“Our mission is to provide an environment where every participant (age 8 thru adults) can join in and learn foundational gymnastics movement for group performances, as well as be challenged at their own personal potential for individual competitive experiences,” Lord says. “The reasons they participate are varied, but they initially come because they want to be in a gymnastics program. They might hear through the grapevine that the program we are providing is very therapeutic, so for example, I have one woman who said, ‘Oh this might be something my daughter can do without a therapist.’

This particular child, Lord explains, has autism.

“Within 15 minutes the mom was able to walk out of the room,” she says. “This was the first thing her child has ever done independently in her life. These type of stories get around and then other parents want that for their child.”

Lord is recognizing that every single person has different needs.

“For many of the kids with Down Syndrome, for example, it is more of a way to keep them busy because of their low muscle tone so they do it for the fitness aspect,” Lord adds. “And yet some of the kids just absolutely love to perform and use it for a performing outlet. This has also provided a social outlet as many of the students get together outside of the class and they go to movies together and do other activities.”

The most important thing that Lord wants people to know about the program is that it is a unified group.

“We not only have kids with special needs but typical peers that are in the class,” Lord says. “I am teaching a wide spectrum of ability levels and everyone, no matter who is in the group, you are always teaching something to someone that you know that they don’t. It is not only the typical kids helping the special need kids, it is the special needs kids helping the younger kids or teaching them something too.”

Paula is thrilled to use her lifelong passion, “to educate anyone who will listen about the benefits of maintaining a healthy functioning body in the pursuit of a happy, active life without pain. My greatest joy is watching my kids come through the program, and they may start with an arm that is completely paralyzed begin to work, then begin to support weight and eventually all roads lead to improved self-confidence because they truly understand what it means to have to work hard to get better.”

The program trains on Wednesdays from 6-8 and Saturdays 9-12:30 at DeVeau’s, and they invite anyone interested to come in and see what they have going on.

For more information contact the studio at 317-579-9300 or bodybygymroots.com to learn more about the types of programs offered. Those interested in helping are encouraged to donate to GymLove, a 5013c nonprofit set up to help defray monthly tuition costs, travel costs for competitions and costuming.