By now, Keiria McCaskill has settled back into her normal routine as a student at Evans High School.
However, the 16-year-old is still a star on campus after an extraordinary summer achievement.
McCaskill was invited to compete in Level 2 rhythmic gymnastics at the 2010 Special Olympics National Games in Lincoln, Neb.
Once there, she earned a gold medal in her favorite event, the hoop discipline, along with silver medals in clubs, ribbon and ball, and a silver medal overall.
"She's an exceptional athlete and person, and to find that package all in one is pretty special," said Anne Comer, a special education recreation therapist with the Columbia County school system.
In rhythmic gymnastics, competitors use an apparatus throughout a sequenced routine memorized to music.
"It has to be completely synchronized," Comer said. "There are certain moves you have to be able to do, and you're judged on every single one of them. It's very competitive."
The process for McCaskill, who started competing in Special Olympics while in fifth grade at Brookwood Elementary, began with a 16th birthday she will never forget. That's because it was the day she received notice that she would be competing at the National Games.
McCaskill had trained locally at the Family Y, then earned all gold medals at last year's Special Olympics Georgia State Summer Games, held at Emory University in Atlanta.
"I was scared," she said of her initial feelings while competing at state. "But they cheered for me!"
McCaskill even served in a leadership role as a coach, helping several athletes with their routines when they had trouble.
Cheryl Lizama, who coaches McCaskill at the Family Y, and Comer nominated her for the National Games. Once they found out she had been chosen, Comer said they were thrilled.
"I think the most exciting thing for me is the opportunity it opens up for her," Comer said. "Meeting other girls from across the state and then across the United States, and the things they get to do together."
After she was selected, McCaskill earned praise across the Evans campus. Her name and achievement were featured on the marquee in front of the school, and her picture was put up in the lunch room and the library. Evans baseball coach Ricky Beale honored her by giving her lots of baseball gear, including a bag, a hat and a T-shirt.
For the trip, athletes from several states -- including Georgia's delegation, made up of four gymnasts, a softball team, and state coach Jennifer Gunnells -- got an added exclusive: Movie star Harrison Ford arranged for a personal jet to transport athletes from their home state to Lincoln.
Traveling in the lap of luxury made for a bit of a bumpy ride, unlike a more smooth ride in a commercial airplane. That was a bit scary, McCaskill said, because it was her first time flying since she was 18 months old.
Becky Peita, McCaskill's teacher, used the classroom environment to help her master a particular skill.
"Almost the whole routine has to be done on tiptoes, and she was having trouble with balance," Peita said. "So we worked on it. When we did activities, Keiria would do them on tiptoes while others did them regularly.
"She even went to lunch on tiptoes. It helped to build those muscles."
McCaskill got so used to walking that way that Peita would have to remind her to walk normally. One time when that reminder wasn't necessary was during opening ceremonies for the National Games. She was nervous enough walking normally in front of so many people.
"I was there," McCaskill said of participating in the ceremony. "I was on TV!"
The experience was equally special for Comer, who was a part of McCaskill's cheering section in Lincoln. Also along for the trip were her mother, Tersina Pearson, Lizama and several other close friends.
There was one moment Comer and Peita mentioned that exemplified McCaskill's work ethic. She learned each of her five-minute routines in one weekend.
"Cheryl brought her a DVD to take home and watch," Peita said. "It was a new routine because she had moved up a level. Cheryl came back the following week, and she already knew all her routines. That's how much she watched and worked at it."
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