Special Olympics Rhythmic Gymnastics

Erin Connolly of Mobile competes with a ribbon.

When it comes to competing, many rhythmic gymnasts prefer the ribbon. Some like the hoop or the ball.

Ashley Kelley of Dothan likes all of them.

“I pretty much like all of it,” the 34-year-old said. “I like just being out there showing the people I can do what people don’t think I can do.”

Kelley, who has competed for three years, was among the gymnasts at Westgate Recreation Center on Thursday for a Special Olympics Rhythmic Gymnastics sectional competition hosted by Dothan Leisure Services. Athletes from Dothan, Mobile, and Baldwin, and Shelby counties competed in individual contests and on unified teams. The athletes will advance to the state competition at Troy University on May 17-19.

“We do this every year,” said Barbie Nelson, a special education teacher who has worked with Special Olympics for 43 years. “This prepares us for going to Troy in May. Those can lead to national Olympics and world Olympics.”

In Special Olympics rhythmic gymnastics, the athletes combine gymnastic dance movements with different apparatus – ribbon, rope, hoop, ball, and clubs. Most competed as individuals during Thursday’s sectional, but there were several unified teams where the athlete is paired with a non-disabled person.

Ages of rhythmic gymnasts range from 12 to age 30 and older and competitors are grouped based on age and skills.

Tasia Williams, 24, has been doing rhythmic gymnastics for years. She loves the experience, but definitely prefers competing with a ribbon over any other apparatus.

“Because it’s more like ballet,” she said.

Ashley Rockwell said her athletic skills are really best for bowling, but she does enjoy rhythmic gymnastics.

“My favorite is the ribbon and the ball − I love them,” the 24-year-old said.

Like with other Special Olympic sports, Nelson said rhythmic gymnastics is just another way for the athletes to shine.

“It gives them an opportunity to focus on their abilities rather than their disabilities because when they get out there you see how many abilities they have,” Nelson said. “It gives them a chance to show what they’ve worked so hard for all year long. This is their goal to be able to compete here and then be able to go on to state to compete.”

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