Special needs kids jump for joy

Published on Sunday, 17 August 2014 22:21 - Written by Faith Harper fharper@tylerpaper.com

Priscilla Arenivas, 12, glanced up at her mother as she approached a section of a small obstacle course.

She looked nervously at a lineup of hula-hoops lying on a gym floor with the goal of leaping across them, and then she waved to her smiling mother in the stands.

Eugenia Arenivas, of Tyler, waved back before giving her a hand motion to go ahead.

With one more smile, Priscilla was off, jumping and smiling as she went through the obstacles.

Priscilla was one of 13 who came to GymTyler Gymnastics, 4598 Old Troup Highway, on Sunday. The gym held an open house for parents of special needs children for Team Inspire — a coed, special needs cheerleading team.

Kim Johnson, GymTyler owner, said the gym hosted a one-day clinic in February to gauge the response from the community. The team learned a 2 1/2 minute routine and performed at a University of Texas at Tyler basketball game.

“It was so awesome and overwhelming,” Ms. Johnson said. “I really think God reached down and said, ‘this is what we are doing.’”

After seeing there was interest from community members, Ms. Johnson started fundraising to help cut the costs associated with cheerleading. Community members helped raise enough money to provide uniforms for 15 students, which usually run about $200.

Parents will pay a fee of $15 a month to participate, but the funds will go back into the team for parties and T-shirts, Ms. Johnson said.

Ms. Arenivas said she heard about the team through an email from a Down syndrome group. She said Priscilla loves to dance at home and hopes the experience will broaden her group of friends.

“My daughter belongs to a group with Down syndrome, but this (has children with) other conditions,” she said. “We met some of them for the first time. It’s awesome.”

Debbie Pate, of Tyler, said her granddaughter, Stevena Pate, 7, has been excited about the team for more than a month. The family heard about Team Inspire from friends who take classes at the gym.

Stevena is diagnosed with Prader-Willi syndrome — a rare genetic condition characterized by constant hunger and an inability to feel full, according to the Mayo Clinic website.

Stevena loves music, dancing and singing, Ms. Pate said.

Ms. Pate said participating in the team will not only get Stevena active, but could help her make friends and gain positive self-esteem.

“She was telling her dad she gets to go play with the cheerleaders,” Ms. Pate said.

Team Inspire also will go to three cheer competitions in Dallas. The students will not compete, but they will perform for the other teams.

Ms. Johnson said one of the completions is special because it will be at AT&T Stadium in Arlington and the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders will be there.

Ms. Arenivas said Priscilla would love the experience because she loves all things girly.

“She likes to model clothes,” Ms. Arenivas said. “She’s girl, girly. Since she was 3 or 4 years old, she has loved skirts and modeling.”

Grace Ram said her daughter, Tina Ram, 23, also is a big fan of dancing. She was on Chapel Hill’s drill team for about six years before graduating last year. Tina, who is diagnosed with Down syndrome, participated in the February clinic.

“She’s really excited — she really missed this,” Ms. Ram said. “This is going to be great for us and (Tina) because it will be doing (more) physical things. Last year was so depressing because we don’t have a college program for kids.”By the end of their first hourlong practice, the students learned a short routine and a brief cheer chant.

“GymTyler, the show has took to the floor,” the students chanted in unison. “Inspiring the world, we are here to rock the floor.”

The gym is raising money to include more children on the team and help parents with associated costs. An account is set up for donations at Prosperity Bank under Twisters Inspire. Contributions are tax-deductible, Ms. Johnson said.