Michigan Academy of Gymnastics (MAG) of Wayne County bring their first team to Michigan’s Special Olympics.
The Michigan Academy of Gymnastics (MAG) has been the home of highly trained gymnasts for over 30 years. But for the first time in the gym’s history, they were able to send a team of gymnasts to Michigan’s Special Olympics.
Co-owner of MAG, Leon Bekker, and Coach Carly Miller implemented a special needs gymnastics program at their Westland location three years ago.
Miller, who has a background in therapeutic recreation, always had the idea of bringing special needs classes to the gym. “It has always been a passion of mine,” Miller said. “I wanted to be able to provide another level of opportunities for these gymnasts.”
However, offering special needs classes was not enough — Bekker and Miller wanted to do more for their gymnasts. The two put their heads together and started a team that would compete in Michigan’s Special Olympics.
“We always wanted to do it,” Bekker said. “We just never had enough students.”
This year, Miller was able to form a team of 15 gymnasts and sent five to compete at Central Michigan University at the Special Olympics from May 30 to June 1.
Not only was this a major stepping-stone for MAG itself, this was also the first time gymnasts from Area 23 — all of Wayne County excluding Detroit — were represented in Michigan’s Special Olympics for gymnastics.
“This has been a long process of many meetings and planning, but it was great to see it come to fruition,” said Susan Campbell, Area 23 Director for Michigan’s Special Olympics.
When they found out that they were able to compete, they could hardly contain their excitement. “They were ecstatic to be given this opportunity,” Miller said. “They told everyone about it.”
In preparation for Michigan’s Special Olympics the gymnasts practiced for an hour, once a week for 11 weeks. For some, this was their first time participating in a competition where they could earn a medal. All of MAG’s gymnasts placed and received medals in their events.
“The best thing was seeing their smile on their faces,” Miller said. “Before starting our classes and competing, a lot of them were shy and kept to themselves. But this opportunity allowed for their confidence to bloom and to show off their abilities and accomplishments.”
“Our biggest goal is to spread the word and encourage others to start a program,” Bekker said. “This is a great opportunity for them to express themselves through gymnastics.”
These athletes are an inspiration to not only their coaches, but to their community as well.
“Their drive and love for what they do and for others around them, is unlike any other,” Miller said. “Our gymnasts have broken a lot of stigma and demonstrate that you can do anything you set your mind to.”