Balance 180 Opening Doors For Young Athletes
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- For most kids, a childhood rite of passage is playing sports, but that can be tough for children with disabilities. Now a gynastics program started by healthcare professionals is working to expand opportunities to special needs children.
Balance 180 is the first program of its kind in Alachua County, offering these young athletes a chance to succeed both on and off the mats. The Balance 180 is a non-profit based out of Gainesville, allowing all children the opportunity to participate in sports programs.
At their adaptive gymnastics class, a program for children with physical and mental disabilities, several young athletes are helped around the Florida Team Cheer Gym by dozens of volunteers specializing in everything from healthcare and sports medicine, to special education.
"We work very hard on confidence because we feel like if they work very hard and they've succeeded, then they're more likely to take the next step," says co-founder Dr. Krista Vandenbourne, a physical therapist and an expert in muscle physiology and rehabilitation, "a lot of emphasis is placed on making them feel like they can accomplish things."
Dozens of volunteers, many students from the University of Florida, offer children plenty of personalized attention and encouragement.
Athletes maneuver basic exercises like the bars, balance beam, and trampoline. A sport as physical as gymnastics can improve not only movement and coordination, but also skills that can be difficult to measure.
"This program has been the very first interactions that some of these kids ever have with kids outside of their family," Rebecca Thrift says.
Thrift, the young athletes program coordinator, works to ensure special education needs are being met along with the physical aspects of the class.
In a little over a year, the program that began with about a dozen kids now serves more than 60 special needs athletes, building strength of all kinds with every class.
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