Acro GymAbility: A gymnastics dream come true

When the stars align – magic can happen.

Every week, as Willow Thompson watched her sister Ava train at United Gymnastics Academy, her love for the sport grew. It wasn’t long before the 8-year-old was begging her mum to join in the fun.

The young girl, who lives with quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy and autism, started off doing one-on-one lessons. She then wanted to join a class like her sister, and spend more time in the gym.

“I always watched my sister do it and it looked like so much fun,” she said. “I knew I could do it because I work really hard already in my physio. It helps me feel stronger and the people are nice and supportive.”

Doing gymnastics had also helped the young girl with her confidence, social skills and separation anxiety, said mum Tara Thompson.

Soon, Willow’s dreams grew, and she wanted to compete and perform a routine like everyone else. So, United Gymnastics Club turned to Gymnastics NSW with a request to include the 8-year-old in competitions.

Little did the club know, GNSW had been working on creating an inclusions category within Acrobatic Gymnastics to make the gymsport more accessible to the wider gymnastics community. While there were established competition pathways for other gymsports – whose athletes could go on to participate in the Special Olympics – acrobatic gymnastics had no such option.

With the program about to launch, Willow was the perfect candidate to test it out.

“I remember my mum screamed because she was so happy and then she had happy tears and told me,” Willow said, upon finding out she had been approved to compete. “I was screaming and jumping up and down and was so happy and so were my sisters, it was very noisy. It’s my biggest dream come true.”

Proud big sister, Ava, said she was happy other kids will also know they can do anything when they watch her sister perform.

“I love competitions, you get to feel so proud after when you get a medal, or a ribbon and I love watching and congratulating my teammates,” the 10-year-old said.

Due to Willow’s disability, movement in her right side is severely affected. Therefore skills are modified and performed with training partner Jaia. “Jaia believes in me and helps me with my skills,” Willow said.

The new program follows the ACRO ALP and allows clubs the opportunity to modify the skills in to suit their individual athlete needs. Anyone with a disability can participate. A group can be created with other program participants or a support athlete, like Willow’s teammate Jaia.

For clubs interested in implementing the program or coming to compete, download this resource or contact the Acrobatic Gymnastics Events, Pathway and Performance Officer for more information.