How gymnastics has developed sassy and shy Jessie Rawson


“Special Olympics here I come…Could I? Should I Mum?”

For 15 year old Jessie Rawson nothing, including having Down Syndrome is going to stop her from living her dream on competing at the Special Olympics.

Having grown up watching her sister train at Geelong YMCA and watching other gymnasts perform their routines on YouTube, Jessie has always wanted to be a gymnast.

Described as a “joyously enthusiast for life” by her mum, Christine, Jessie originally started gymnastics as a way of strengthening her gross motor skills.

“Jessie’s first introduction to gymnastics was through our local KinderGym program. We had heard how gymnastics was a great way for Jessie to develop her physical fitness, strength, flexibility, emotions and her social connectedness,” said Christine.

“It has really been in the last 3 or 4 years that she has taken it more seriously. It is her spark each week. She is so motivated to attend every class. We never have to push her to go.

When asked what she loves most about gymnastics, Jessie quickly responded with the Floor and Vault, although Christine believes it might be more the music as she has a “little boggie as she moves to the next apparatus.”

“At Geelong YMCA, they have set up a club that is very inclusive. Every week Jessie’s class is in the same space as all competitors and gymnasts. There are no exclusions at the club. She gets to see the skills and capabilities and competencies of her peers and watches them and aspires to be like them.”

“I am very competitive,” chimed in Jessie. “My coaches help me with the hard stuff.”

For a number of years, Geelong YMCA have run their MAP (Move, Adapt, Play) program understanding that it is important participants such as Jessie are given the opportunity to participate in gymnastics in a way that is comfortable and safe to participate in, but most importantly, encourages the gymnasts to have fun.

“Our MAP program involves most apparatus in the gym, we vary the programs throughout the year so sometimes they are working on building their skills and then towards the middle and end of year we help them create routines,” said MAP Coach, Jackie Page.

“Having coached Jessie for a number of years now, it has been inspiring watching her improve in leaps and bounds, even other people around the gym notice.

“I think it is so important to run these programs as it gives everyone an opportunity to participate in gymnastics. Personally, I couldn't imagine not having our MAP program at our club. It provides an opportunity for everyone to be involved,” said Jackie with pride.

It is not only on the competitive floor that, Christine can see the development in Jessie.

“All the benefits of Gymnastics have flowed outside of the gym and into all aspects of her life. Her high school have a gymnastics excursion program as part of the curriculum which has been great for her to showcase her skills,” said Christine.

“Although no one notices me Mum. They are all focused on what they are doing!!!” Jessie announced.

“There are still times when Jessie doubts her potential and lacks confidence in herself. She may take the easy option and walk on the lower beam when we all know and even she knows she can walk on the high beam, and then there are other times when her stubborn, determined side kicks in. This is OK. Gymnastics is helping her overcome these aspects of her development.

“It’s so heart-warming to have found an activity she is passionate about doing and brings her such joy and that she is enthused and motivated to participate in,” said Christine.

On this International Day of People with a Disability, both Jackie and Christine believe it is important for us all to challenge that way we think about disability and see the ability in disability.

“Gymnastics is truly a sport for everyone. Everyone has different limitation of what they can do and that they want to do. As a club, we try our best to encourage everyone to give new things a go, even when they don’t think they can achieve it or they find it scary. It’s how we can achieve together,” said Jackie.

Christine agrees and said “We should not be reacting with Oh Wow. They did That? when people with disabilities do good things. They are humans like the rest of us. They are not special. They are as special as everyone and achieve and falter as we all do together.”

…….and for Jessie “I am not special mum. I am just sassy!”