Rhema’s been doing Special Olympics gymnastics for years now.
It’s been a bit of a sore spot for me. While she’s always attended the practices she’s never been given the opportunity to take part in the team meets. One day I watched her running endless laps around the gym while the other girls worked on their routines, and it hit me hard that her developmental delays and language impairments prevented her from really participating. I suppose it should have been enough that she could “practice” with the girls, but I wanted more. In a huff I decided, This Special Olympics program is just not a good fit for her. And then I wondered, if not here, where? Where can she go?
Hope has dance and piano. Her cousins have soccer. I’ve been praying, fervently praying, that we would find Rhema’s thing. Something she could do and enjoy; something outside of school and therapy that could her help her learn and thrive.
After more than a year off, we returned to the gymnastics program this past weekend. Everyone was happy to see her, and Shea, a high school senior who has been a volunteer coach for years, took Rhema by the hand. She led her to the warm-up circle and motioned for Rhema to sit down with the others. I was ready to step in and explain, ‘Oh, she’ll have trouble with the circle time.’ But I held back. Rhema’s body was yearning to run, but she sat down in the circle and hummed and rocked. Around the circle, each team member said their name. It seemed to take forever, but Rhema remained in the circle. When it was her turn to say her name, everyone waited for a bit, and then finally Shea introduced her. Rhema didn’t say her name, but I loved that they waited, gave her a chance anyway.
Throughout the practice I anxiously watched Shea and Rhema. Shea was so purposeful and patient. And Rhema tried to do everything she was asked to do. My goodness, she tried so hard. I got teary just watching her. Verbal communication is difficult for her, but so is non-verbal imitation. When seated on the mat, Shea would tap her knees repeatedly and tell Rhema to tap her knees. Rhema would reach over and tap Shea’s knees. When Shea asked her to walk on the balance beam, Rhema would eagerly sit on the balance beam.
Still Shea was a creative teacher! With assistance, Rhema actually did two forward rolls on the mat. First time ever!!!
I don’t know if this is Rhema’s thing. But I am deeply thankful for the special people God brings to our lives ((Shea.)) I was so encouraged to see how far Rhema’s come. So proud of her. So happy to see her happy.
And you know that thing gymnasts do before and after a routine? They raise their arms in the air in salute. Throughout the whole practice, Shea tried to demonstrate this. Rhema would just stare or run or drop to the ground. And then, at the very end, Shea raised her arms and Rhema threw her hands in the air. Shea grinned and looked over and I was jumping and cheering and raising my arms like we’d just received a perfect 10.