Adapted Gymnastics provides exercise, social opportunities for kids with disabilities

Saturday, March 6, 2010 | 5:26 p.m. CST; updated 10:20 p.m. CST, Saturday, March 6, 2010
MU senior Brooke Boehmer, left, and MU graduate student Lee Ann Isgrig help Hayden Ess, 3, on the balance beam at the adapted gymnastics practice in the Hearnes Center on Friday. "He loves the beams. That's probably his favorite," said Nicki Ess, Hayden's mother.

COLUMBIA — Jeff Krug had some advice for the more than 60 MU students helping out with Friday night's Adaptive Gymnastics class.

"Make noises," he said. "If they jump, say 'boink, boink.' Be silly."


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The students, some from the Missouri School of Health Professions and others from the Missouri Tigers gymnastics team, volunteered at the Hearnes Center to help children with a range of disabilities play with other children while working on motor skills and social interaction.

More than 40 children between the ages of 3 and 18 participate in the weekly class associated with the MU School of Health Professions. Krug, the program's co-coordinator, is a clinical instructor at the school.

Student "coaches" volunteer every week for an hour to work with the children on gymnastics-based activities. The Missouri gymnasts were guest volunteers Friday.

Just like a real gymnastics meet, the kids went through four rotations: vault, floor, balance beam and parachute. Along the way, their coaches went with them, leading them through the various activities and constantly providing words of encouragement.

Ben Hagen, a second-year physical therapy graduate student at Missouri, has been a volunteer coach since he started graduate school.

“A lot of these kids don’t get the opportunity to go out in the community and just be kids,” Hagen said. “Whatever they bring in here, all of that stuff is completely put aside. We don’t worry about any of those things. We come out here, have a good time and basically let them be kids.”

Dieter and Amee Duff have been bringing their daughter Morgan, 7, to the Adapted Gymnasts program for more than a year and a half and believe the program has helped Morgan become more confident. Amee Duff said the program is "a platform where everyone is the same."

The program is not only beneficial to the children, but to the MU students as well.

"It's a unique learning opportunity," said Jeff Krug, the program coordinator.

Kat Kuehn, a graduate student in the physical therapy department, has been volunteering with the program for more than three years. Her favorite part about the program is interacting the kids.

"It's a good opportunity to see the other side of what we are learning in class," Kuehn said.

Constant laughter might have indicated otherwise, but numerous children said their favorite part of the night was meeting the Missouri gymnasts.

The Tiger gymnasts split up, and each had their own partner who they followed around the gym throughout the hour.

Freshman gymnast Lauren Swankoski guided a girl across the beam while freshman gymnast Sandra Ostad ran across the floor with her partner with her hands raised high in the air. Senior gymnast Danielle Guider ran to the vault with a young boy, and while he had fun jumping, she sneaked in a practice landing on a small jump of her own.

The gymnasts weren’t there to teach any specific moves or critique jumps. Still, sophomore gymnast Mary Burke showed off some of her skills.

“I showed off my somersault a couple times,” Burke said sarcastically. “It’s getting pretty good.”

Burke said her younger partners wanted to show the No. 32-ranked gymnast just about everything they did.

“They wanted to show me everything,” Burke said. “Cartwheels, walking down the beam, anything they could show me.”

Sophomore gymnast Allie Heizelman organized the team’s involvement. She was honored by the Big 12 conference earlier this season for her community service.

Heizelman worked with a young boy who had major disabilities that made it difficult for him to walk. Heizelman, along with another Missouri student coach, and the boy’s mother all helped the child out.

It was the first visit to the class for the gymnastics team, but the program itself has been around for more than 20 years.

"There is no other program like this," said Max Lewis, who is in charge of the overall Adapted Gymnastics program. "It's the only program in mid-Missouri that allows children the opportunity to play with children similar to themselves."

The night concluded with the children lining up to receive autographed posters from the Missouri gymnastics team.

Even after all of the evening's festivities were over, three children were still running and sliding across the gymnastics floor. The laughs were as loud as any during the organized activity.

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Kevin O'Connor March 21, 2010 | 1:40 a.m.

Max Lewis' comment is incorrect. There are certainly other programs in mid-Missouri for the same purpose. Challenger Baseball is one good example.

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