The People of Balance 180: Ella Poniatowski

Ella Poniatowski competed in her first-ever gymnastics competition this season. She wore a sparkly orange leotard, saluted the judges and smiled big as the crowd clapped for her.

Ella started speech therapy when she was only 18 months old and was diagnosed with autism when she was 22 months old.

She was not connecting with her parents or forming the typical relationship bonds the way she should have been. Her parents enrolled her in speech and occupational therapy three to six times a week. Ella is now seven years old and is still attending therapy.

“Ella was really independent,” Adam Poniatowski, Ella’s dad, said. “Too independent for a child her age.”

In 2017, the Poniatowski family found Balance 180. Ella started in the adaptive class, a class for children who need additional support, to be able to benefit from receiving one on one assistance from volunteers. Ella quickly progressed and was able to join a recreational gymnastics class where the athletes are more independent and participate in a small group setting.

“Ella has to be one of the warmest and most caring athletes that I’ve had the opportunity to coach,” Coach Casey McLaughlin said. “Her smile and personality are contagious among her teammates as well as her coaches. If you’re ever feeling low or down, all you have to do is walk over to Ella, and before you know it, she’ll be holding your hand or hugging you. During practice, she is always the first to go out of her way and cheer on a teammate; she’s just an amazing all-around team player!”

 Her parents say Balance 180 has been like another form of occupational therapy because it helps with her sensory regulation. They also appreciate that Ella is integrated into a class of typically developing athletes.

“Gymnastics have benefited Ella socially, and it has also been good physical activity,” Katharine, Ella’s mom, said. “She has always struggled with gross motor imitation, but now a coach can demonstrate a skill, and Ella can imitate that motor function. She can even put together small sequences.”

A few months ago, Ella was invited to join the Special Olympics Florida Alachua County competitive gymnastics team. The Special Olympics team trains three hours a week has eleven other athletes and competes in local and state competitions. The athletes in the program learn routines and perform them in front of a panel of judges.

“When she first started gymnastics, we did not ever think she would ever be in a team sport,” Katharine said. “I was just blown away that with the one on one attention, she was able to imitate skills and put together a routine.”

Ella said she loves being part of a team and competing. Her favorite part of the competition was hearing the crowd cheer for her.

“Ella trusts the people here, she trusts the coaches and listens to them,” Katharine said. “To see her doing something outside of school is just amazing.”

Thank you to the Poniatowski family for sharing your story. We cannot wait to see what all Ella will accomplish. 

Written by: Julie Walter

Team Florida Goes for the Gold!

With the first week of July comes the kick-off of National Hot Dog Month, National Ice Cream Month, National Picnic Month, and the patriotic spirit for the 4th of July. But what you may not know is amidst all the summer celebration also comes the start of the Special Olympics 2018 USA Games. The 2018 USA Games take place every 2 years with athletes from all over the United States. This year they are held in Seattle, Washington. This special and monumental event began with an opening ceremony on Sunday at the University of Washington’s Huskey Stadium to honor the 3,000 athletes that will be competing in the Games from Sunday, July 1st to Friday, July 6th. The Special Olympics flag was also raised all the way to the top of the Space Needle to honor the Games, the athletes, the ideals of Special Olympics, and its 50th anniversary.

One of the biggest goals of Special Olympics is to encourage acceptance of all individuals of varying abilities. Each day Special Olympics strives towards inclusion in athletics, and these 2018 USA Games are just one of the many ways in which they will showcase that. In addition to celebrating these games, Special Olympics participants will also be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics in honor of Eunice Shriver, who was the founder of Special Olympics and the one who started this movement towards inclusive sports. These Games are an impactful way to commemorate the road that Eunice Shriver paved, as well as all the accomplishments and progress that these athletes are making today.

The 2018 USA Games will consist of 14 different sports that athletes from all over the U.S. will be competing in over the span of a week. Specifically, Team Florida will have over 230 athletes competing in Athletics (track and field), Basketball, Bowling, Bocce, Flag Football, Golf, Gymnastics, Powerlifting, Soccer, Softball, Stand Up Paddle, Swimming, Tennis, and Volleyball. Team Florida headed to Seattle in style as the Miami Marlins baseball team hosted a special send-off on Friday, June 29th. Among these athletes were our friends from LEAP South Florida, who will be representing the Special Olympics Florida Gymnastics Team. The athletes of LEAP South Florida joined us last year here at Balance 180 for the 2017 Special Olympics Area Games. We will be cheering them on all the way from Gainesville as they go for the gold!

For more information and updates on the event, visit specialolympicsusagames.org. Results for Team Florida and specific events, such as Gymnastics, can also be found here! 

 

Written by Casey McLaughlin

Just received a $4000 Grant from the Special Olympics!

Balance 180 is proud to announce that we have been chosen as a recipient of a $4,000 grant from the Special Olympics!

The Balance 180 team has been working effortlessly to bring the Gainesville community together through the Young Athletes Program. From volunteers to board members, we are all thankful to receive such a wonderful grant to continue and improve our services in the future.

Thanks, Special Olympics!

We Made the Front Page of the Gainesville Sun!

Special kids get a jump on sports and togetherness

By Kristine Crane
Staff writer

Zaivion and Zachary Mason of Gainesville never used to play together. Although the two brothers are just a year apart, they were born with one big difference between them: Zaivion, 7, has cerebral palsy, a disease of the central nervous system affecting motor skills, and his little brother doesn’t.

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Athletes Gear Up for The Special Olympics!

Balance 180 has made into another article in The Independent Alligator! Check it out!

 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Young athletes will have the chance to shine at Alachua County’s first Special Olympics this weekend.

Rooted on by UF cheerleaders, Olympic torchbearer Jillian Roberts and the mayor of Gainesville, disabled preschool- and elementary-aged children will perform athletics including running, jumping and throwing, said event coordinator Krista Vandenborne.

The Special Olympics will take place at St. Francis Catholic High School, 4100 NW 115th St., from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

The program is being hosted by Balance 180, an organization founded this year by two UF professors. Vandenborne, the chairwoman of UF’s Department of Physical Therapy, is among the professors who helped found Balance 180.

She said the young athletes — ages 2 through 7 with disabilities ranging from Down syndrome to cerebral palsy — have been preparing for the event all semester with training sessions.

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