Founders of a Special Olympics program at Hayden's International Gymnastics Academy hope to create an opportunity for those with special needs to join a competition gymnastics team.
"We've got a lineup of kids already ready to start classes," said Bonnie Dyches, the secretary of the newly formed Special Olympics board. "It has been a force of its own."
The nonprofit organization was accredited by Special Olympics Georgia in August, and Dyches expects classes to start in October.
The plan is to offer classes for special-needs children and adults wanting to participate in gymnastics as a leisure activity, and to hold practices for those interested in joining a competitive team, Dyches said.
The Evans gym has also joined with the Columbia County school system to provide an area for pupils with physical and mental disabilities to exercise and take part in gymnastics.
Classes from Lakeside High School, Brookwood Elementary and Euchee Creek Elementary schools began meeting at the gym in late August.
"It's a four-week cycle," said Dyches, who teaches the classes along with Haydens' co-owners Daniel and Dennis Hayden. "By the end of May, every special-needs student in Columbia County will have come through the gym."
Through the program, pupils can continue with therapeutic exercises once their time at the gym with the school system is finished.
"They come in here, and they don't look at it as physical therapy," said Daniel Hayden, who heads the Special Olympics board. "They see themselves as taking a gymnastics class.
"We want to open up classes for them, so they can utilize the facility and also gain the benefit of the physical therapy that they're getting from gymnastics all year round."
Once underway, the classes will be offered to participants at no cost, which is possible in part through fundraising ventures.
Through Oct. 31, proceeds from Nightmare Plantation, a Halloween attraction near Grovetown, will benefit the Special Olympics program.
"We're going to utilize that money to buy equipment," Daniel Hayden said.
The program will consist of a certified volunteer staff with physical therapists and coaches.
Both Dyches and Daniel Hayden hope to prepare their artistic gymnastics team to participate in the state competition in January. They also want to expand the program to include cheerleading and dance for special-needs athletes.
As a result of the program, Dyches would like to see other children at the gym become more aware and accepting of their fellow gymnasts.
"We see blessings all the way around," she said.
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