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Special Olympics gets rhythmic

Valencia gym serves as training center for Special Olympics’ teams

Posted: April 18, 2009 10:26 p.m.
Updated: April 19, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Coach Sash Spivak, right, works with Tamara Wilson during a gymnastics training session held at Gymnastics Unlimited in Valencia. The gym is the official training center for Santa Clarita Valley Special Olympics gymnastics training in preparation for the summer games.

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Special Olympics Santa Clarita Valley and Gymnastics Unlimited have joined forces to bring rhythmic and artistic gymnastics to the special needs athletes of the Santa Clarita Valley.

Gymnastics Unlimited in Valencia, which features a 15,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art, air-conditioned gymnastics academy, was recently named the official training center in the SCV to prepare athletes to compete in the Special Olympics summer games, to be held in June. A dozen Special Olympics athletes, ranging in age from 10 to 49, are receiving individualized, professional coaching and training at Gymnastics Unlimited.

"We're hoping this will allow us to double the size of our gymnastics program," said Laura Mayo, regional director of Special Olympics Southern California Santa Clarita Valley. "And, it will also give us the opportunity to host a regional event, which we were unable to host before."

Under the agreement with Gymnastics Unlimited, the athletes are training at the gym until June 11, with a rhythmic and artistic gymnastics meet scheduled May 31 at Gymnastics Unlimited's facility in the Rye Canyon Business Park. The athletes are training with volunteer coaches from Gymnastics Unlimited as well as the Special Olympics head gymnastics coach, Courtney Shirley.

"Our program is free to all of our athletes, so it's great when we can do anything to keep the costs down," Mayo said.

Special Olympics is a volunteer-based, non-profit organization that provides year-round sports training and competition in various Olympic-style sports for individuals with intellectual disabilities. The local organization has nearly 500 athletes enrolled in its programs, which are designed to provide the athletes with experiences that help them develop physical fitness while experiencing the joys and camaraderie of participation in athletic activities. In the SCV there are an estimated 2,500 potential participants.

Wendy Lorton, sports manager for Special Olympics in the SCV, said the gymnastics program is providing valuable opportunities for the athletes. For example, Anna Schuricht, 30, reported that when she was growing up, she was having 50 to 60 grand mal seizures a day and was not able to participate in gymnastics programs.

"She is very happy that because of Special Olympics she has the opportunity to train in a sport that she has always wanted to try," Lorton said. Another local athlete, Tamara Morgan, 49, has participated in many different Special Olympics sports such as bowling, bocce and track. But, after she started gymnastics in 2006, she told Lorton, "I have found my sport."

Gymnastics Unlimited co-owners Craig and Lisa Eichman said they are excited to use the gym's state-of-the-art facilities to help these special-needs athletes. Founded in 1977 Gymnastics Unlimited is the valley's oldest continuously operating gym. In addition, Gymnastics Unlimited operates an exclusive training center on Rye Canyon Road for the gym's competitive girls gymnastics team, the Pikes.

"We are so honored to be able to give back to the community by helping Special Olympics train its athletes for competition," said Craig Eichman. "The local Special Olympics organization provides valuable programs that build self-esteem among its athletes, and we're extremely pleased to have the opportunity to help."

Additional information about Special Olympics Southern California is available by visiting www.sosc.org. For information about Gymnastic Unlimited, 28373 Constellation Road, Valencia call (661) 257-2GYM or visit www.gymnasticsultd.com.

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