The People of Balance 180: Matteo Gavilano

“I have Asperger’s, don’t worry it’s not contagious.”

As a child, Matteo Gavilano didn’t talk a lot. He was quiet and didn’t like walking on grass or sand.  Sometimes stretching his arms and his legs out was just too difficult. So at 2 years old, his family decided to visit a doctor and get a medical opinion. Matteo was diagnosed with a speech delay and then later with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism.  

“It was hard to accept in the beginning, he was so little and scheduled for therapy every day of the week. But in the end, early intervention made a big difference and paid off.”

Matteo has been a part of the Balance 180 gymnastics family since early 2012. Six years later, he is training on the Special Olympics Competitive team. He was chosen for the Jaime Gomez Scholarship, an award given to the athlete who most embodies one of our late founders Jaime Gomez.  And this past month, he gave a magnificent speech at the Young Athlete’s Program’s Culminating Event.

“I never thought I had a disability before the day my dad told me.”

Matteo is in fifth grade and preparing to undertake middle school at the Howard Bishop gifted program next year. Starting middle school is scary for everyone but preparing a child with autism can be a bit more challenging. Matteo’s family decided it was time to tell Matteo about his diagnosis.

They started by showing him videos and told him why he is so unique. They explained what made him different from other kids, especially when it comes to social interactions. Matteo now understands autism and explains it as “the reason he is special”. But Matteo wasn’t the only one his parents had to inform. Matteo’s sister, Camilla and the rest of the extended family in Peru also had to be educated.

Giovana, Matteo’s mom, says educating the family is a process. They understand his diagnosis, but there are certain things they can’t comprehend. When situations come up, it’s hard for them to know how to respond in the best way.  It’s one thing to know what autism is, but it’s very different to live with it.

Autism awareness in the United States has made incredible progress, but in Peru, there are far fewer resources available for families who have children with special needs. Giovana’s is grateful that her children were born in the US where Matteo can get the education, supportive recreation, and therapy he needs. She says through therapy sessions and gymnastics classes two to three times per week he has been able to gain more confidence, improve his flexibility and strength tremendously and create valuable social connections. Matteo Gavilano has grown into a strong and independent young man, and we could not be more proud of him.

Written by Julie Walter.

People of Balance 180: One story at a time.


The 5 Kids at an Easter Egg Hunt

What’s better than seeking out plastic toys full of candy, dressing up in your best clothes, and having the chance to win a competition? Easter eggs hunts have a little bit of something for everyone involved. As Easter approaches, we figured it was only appropriate to describe the 5 different type of kids in an Easter egg hunt.

The Daydreamer

This little one might as well be strolling through the woods on a fine summer day. They are just taking it all in and might pick up an egg or two if it stumbles along their path. This child is more likely to be found looking up into the sky than down for those eggs.

The Hunger Games Candidate

You might mistake this child for one from the 13 districts. They run from egg to egg picking them up with speed only a truly determined child could conjure up. This child isn’t above pushing smaller children out of the way to snatch that golden egg (not recommended).

The Dynamic Duo

These siblings are often found attached at the hip. Pointing out eggs and picking them up together, they are cute as a button. They may be slower than the rest, but should get extra points for teamwork.

The Mathematician

Each egg is meticulously counted and placed carefully in the bin. This child is tactical and locates the prime egg hiding spots quickly. They are able to calculate just how many eggs they need to win the competition.

The Sweet Tooth

This child is more interested in the candy than the competition. Sometimes they are found munching on jelly beans as they search for the rest of the hidden sweet treats. This child loves Easter almost as much as Halloween.

Happy egg hunting, everyone! And may the odds ever be in your favor.

The People of Balance 180: Emily Peoples

Dana and Emily Peoples are just like all sisters. At times they are best friends, laughing and watching TV together. Emily is a proud older sister, often showing her friends photos of her sister and boasting about how wonderful she is. Sometimes they bicker over frivolous things, like who gets the TV remote. They take selfies and dance in the car. They laugh and love each other. But unlike most siblings, Dana has Down syndrome and autism.

Growing up Emily acted like a third parent. She looked out for her sister, always making sure she knew where she was. Eating together and making sure she didn’t choke. Playing together and keeping a watchful eye. Encouraging her to get outside and exercise. Advocating and standing up for her.


“I helped be her voice,” Emily says.


For Emily and her family, Dana is nothing but a blessing. You see they have this family poem that they like to read. It’s called “Welcome to Holland”.  It’s a beautiful poem about planning a trip to Italy. You have all of the guidebooks prepared, all the destinations mapped out and activities planned out. But when you land, the stewardess says you’ve landed in Holland. And while it may not have been the trip you planned out, it is just as beautiful and perfect. That’s how Dana’s life has been in the Peoples’s eyes. Maybe they landed in Holland, but what a magnificent place to be.


As Dana got older, her family became a guiding light for other families who had a newborn with down syndrome. They visited the babies and their families in the hospital and provided support. Introducing the families to their new and loving community.


When Emily was a child she had two paths she could have gone down. The first being a path of jealousy and destruction. The second a winding path, full of love and acceptance. Emily choose the second one.  Her sister Dana served as an inspiration and Emily volunteered her time at Balance 180, working with athletes with special needs and ultimately choosing to become a pediatric occupational therapist. Emily is currently enrolled in the Occupational Therapy program at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. Her sister Dana recently visited Emily in her class and interacted with some Emily’s peers, some of whom had never held a conversation with someone who has special needs.

Emily says, “I can use my experiences to help other kids and families.” She knows what it’s like to live with an individual who has special needs. She knows how every struggle can seem so difficult but every victory so big. She knows the value and the love that children with special needs possess and she knows the greatest secret of all. If we can just slow down and give people with Down syndrome and other disabilities our undivided attention, our lives will undoubtedly be enriched.

Thank you, Emily Peoples for sharing your story and for inspiring us to appreciate the beauty in everyone.


Written by Julie Walter. 

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10.0 Things You Didn’t Know About Gator Gymnastics

Last Friday, Balance 180 was given the opportunity to perform before the final Florida Gators Gymnastics home meet of the season. Our athletes had a blast and made some memories that will last a lifetime! The University of Florida gymnasts are a huge inspiration to us and we are extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to share a bit of the spotlight with some of our hometown heroes. We decided to delve a little deeper to learn more about who the Gator gymnasts are and what goes on behind the scenes at the Gator gymnastics meets.

Here are 10.0 fun facts that you might not have known about Florida Gators Gymnastics:

1. Each year, Florida Gators Gymnastics holds their breast cancer awareness Link to Pink meet. The event is in its 12th season and had the opportunity to honor 75 breast cancer survivors and their families this year.

2. The Gator gymnastics team actually designs all of their leotards from scratch. Some of the designs have even been inspired by an outfit Beyonce wore and even wedding dresses. Nice!

3. The giant inflatable Gatorhead the gymnasts run out of each meet takes a team of about five people to inflate and deflate. The Gatorhead is set up after warm-ups and taken down immediately after introductions. We have heard the record time that it has been deflated in is SIX seconds!

4. Kennedy Baker is not only an amazing gymnast, but she is also a proud member of the Signing Gators Sign Language Club. She has even performed with the group during the National Anthem at a few meets this season. So awesome! 

5. The gymnasts come from all over the country – Texas, New Jersey, Ohio, and North Carolina are just a few of the eight states Gators gymnasts hail from.

6. Florida Gators Gymnastics fans set an impressive season attendance record this year, with an average of 8,304 fans at each meet. Go Gators!

7. Not only will you see incredible performances at Gators Gymnastics meets, you might also spot a celebrity. In past seasons UF President Kent Fuchs, ABC’s The Bachelor contestants Luke Pell and James Taylor, National Champions Gators Baseball Captain JJ Schwarz, and Gainesville’s own “Hot Cop” Daniel Rengering have all come out to support the Gators. Starstruck! 

8. Rachel Slocum is one of six kids! Her siblings all came out to support her at last Friday’s Senior Night meet. We wonder who she gets her dance moves from?!

9. Doors to the meets may not open until 5:30 PM, but staff from the University Athletic Association and the Stephen C. O’Connell center sometimes get to the O’Dome as early as 7:00 AM to set up signage and prepare for the thousands of fans to arrive.

10. Local gymnastics academies and community groups are sometimes given the chance to perform before the Florida Gators Gymnastics meets, including your very own Balance 180! Check out the highlights from our time at the meet last Friday. So thankful for this opportunity!


Written by Jillian Tartt. Video by Julie Walter. 

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