“It was unbelievable to see myself on screen in London,” said Special Olympics Great Britain and Suffolk athlete Grace Beales who recently saw herself on one of the most famous outdoor display screens in the world.
Last week Grace, from Reedham in Norfolk, appeared in video on the Piccadilly Circus digital screen alongside fellow Special Olympics GB athletes who starred at the recent Berlin 2023 Special Olympics World Games.
Special Olympics GB uses sport to help transform the lives of children and adults with intellectual disabilities. It’s partnership with Ocean Outdoor saw the charity given one week of free promotion on the Piccadilly Lights screen to celebrate the achievements of its athletes, and to encourage more volunteers and funding for its 95 clubs across England, Scotland and Wales.
Grace, who has an intellectual disability and autism, has won more than 100 medals in artistic gymnastics since her Mum Karen took her along to the Special Olympics Suffolk classes at Waveney Gymnastic Club, Lowestoft.
“From an early age, we wanted to find an activity that Grace could be passionate about,” said Karen. “We tried dancing and several other sports, but it wasn’t easy as she struggled with the social side of group activity.
“It can also be difficult as a parent of a child with an intellectual disability. Some parents can look down at your child, shy away from them and create quite a cold and cliquey environment.
“Aged six, we tried Waveney Gymnastics Club and it’s proven to be a fantastic move for Grace.
“She initially struggled in the mainstream classes because of a need to wait her turn, and her disability does impact her patience. However, after being spotted by gymnastics coach Ellen Row, she flourished in the Special Olympics GB classes, and she has been a very active member since.”
Grace trains at Waveney Gymnastics Club for eight hours a week over three sessions. She also competes around six to eight times a year in Special Olympics GB and British Gymnastics competitions.
After winning gold at the 2022 British Gymnastics Artistic Gymnastics Disability Championships in Cardiff, she travelled to Berlin in June as part of an 82-athlete delegation that competed at the Special Olympics World Games.
The event was a resounding success as Grace, who competed alongside fellow Special Olympics Suffolk members Simon Booth and Jack Jacobs, walked away with gold medals in the floor, vault, beam and overall competition, whilst she also won a silver medal on the bars.
To make the Berlin 2023 experience even more memorable, she had Waveney Gymnastics Club coaches Ellen and Alex Row supporting as Head Coach and Coach, respectively, of the Team Special Olympics GB artistic gymnastics squad.
“We’re incredibly proud of what Grace is achieving,” said Karen. It’s never been easy for her in gymnastics. Her disability can impact her memory, which makes it challenging to remember routines. But her coaches Ellen and Alex have been amazing; Ellen was sometimes there on the side either actioning or talking through the routine elements to support her.
“What makes such a difference with Special Olympics is the social inclusion. The athletes find it so much easier to make friends, as do we as parents. Grace is regularly talking to athletes who she competed with and against in Berlin and at other competitions.”
Grace attends All Saints School, in Lessingham, three days each week and Edfords Care Farm, in Great Yarmouth, on the other two weekdays.
“She loves to be outdoors,” added Karen. “Grace also does horse riding three times a week and competed in her first Special Olympics GB equestrian event last month in Yorkshire. She’s got big ambitions to develop in this sport and potentially compete in it at a future World Games.”
As for now, Grace is looking forward to competing and again at the British Gymnastics Disability Artistic Gymnastic Championships at Lilleshall National Sports Centre on Sunday 1 October.
Everyone at Special Olympics GB wishes her and our other competing athletes the very best of luck in this event.