“When I was born the doctor told my parents that I had Down syndrome. He told them there were many things I wouldn’t ever be able to do. He also told them I would always have low muscle tone and there wasn’t much that could be done about it.
I tried soccer and swimming and didn’t really enjoy them much. When I was around 8 years old I tried a gymnastics class for Special Olympics. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t very good.
I couldn’t walk on the balance beam more than a few steps without falling off. The balance beam was only a few inches off the ground. My muscles were not very strong so it took a while for me learn even the easiest gymnastics moves.
I was getting better, but very slowly. My parents thought if I got in more practice it would really help. They called around and found someone who was interested in coaching me. Dawn Pombo was a tough coach. She made me do things over and over again. As I moved to harder skills it got much harder. Dawn figured out how to break them down into smaller steps. What would take another gymnast a few months would take me a year.
There were times I thought I would never get a skill. One skill on bars took me five years.
As I started doing harder skills my ankles were always getting sprained. I was in and out of the emergency room a lot for X-rays. The doctors said I was born with loose ligaments and suggested I always use athletic tape on my ankles when doing any gymnastics. That was years ago, and I’ve had no more sprained ankles.
I was really enjoying being on a Special Olympics team and my hard work was paying off. Then Northern California Special Olympics dropped its gymnastics program. I loved gymnastics so my parents and I decided to try just a regular gymnastics team. We went to all the gyms in our area and none of them thought I would ever be good enough to compete.
That’s when Dawn came to my rescue again. She was willing to coach a team just so I would be included. For the first few years I took last place at every meet. I was very aware that my scores were very low. The judges were much tougher than in Special Olympics. My training really paid off when I started to participate in the Special Olympics National Championships. Once a year I would go to Atlanta, Georgia. That’s when I finally got a chance to feel proud of my hard work. I won that competition four years in a row. With her as my coach I won four Special Olympic National Championships and two World Championships. She always had high expectations for me and I couldn’t have done it without her!
I’m now training and competing in USA Gymnastics (with non-disabled peers).
Over the years many people have come up to me and tell me what a good job I did. Many parents tell me they have a child with Down syndrome and that I give them hope. I’m very proud and happy when I hear that!
I was contacted by H&M to do a campaign for them. They flew me to Havana, Cuba, to film it. I was also invited to walk at New York Fashion Week as well. After that, I was hooked on modeling! I loved it!
My parents looked for a modeling agency for me but most said that there wasn’t a market for models with disabilities. Briana, from We Speak modeling agency in New York had seen me in a video and contacted my parents. We Speak modeling agency represents real and healthy models of all shapes and sizes. It’s a perfect fit! I think the public wants to see real models who represent everyone.
I hope my story helps others know that anything is possible. Everyone has challenges in their lives but it’s how you deal with those challenges that makes all the difference!”
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