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Schools World Service

Jemma's Special Journey - Secondary School Resources

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13 year old Jemma is the youngest of Team GB's squad in Athens at the Special Olympics World Games. Duration 8,03

JEMMA'S JOURNEY BEGINS

Jemma is 13 and has almost finished her first year at secondary school in Wales.

Jemma is a gymnast and is getting ready to take part in the Special Olympics World Games in Greece.

She had an operation on her foot and on her hand. We never thought she'd walk properly, so she's done a lot more than we ever thought was possible
Jemma's Dad Barry

The Special Olympics World Games happens every four years. This year it's in Athens in Greece. Like the Olympics and Paralympics, athletes from all across the globe compete in different sports events. The difference with this competition is that the athletes competing have learning disabilities.

Jemma's just Jemma. Everyone's different aren't they? She's doing more than we ever dreamt
Jemma's Mum Julie

Jemma has Down's Syndrome. A condition that affects about 60,000 people in the UK and millions worldwide. People with Down's Syndrome have varying degrees of learning disabilities, but Jemma goes to a normal local school and is just like any other teenager who enjoys dancing, playing football and listening to her favourite pop stars, especially Justin Bieber.

Jemma practices on the bar in her bedroom
Jemma practices on the bar in her bedroom

To see Jemma competing will be a proud moment for her family. Jemma's mum and dad would never have believed when Jemma was born that she'd be able to achieve what she has. Like many babies with Down's Syndrome, Jemma was born with heart complications. She had a small hole in her heart and there were further problems with her hand and foot.

Jemma's Dad Barry was worried she may never walk properly.

'The outlook in the beginning wasn't very good. She had an operation on her foot and on her hand.

Jemma in training with Coach Victoria
She's been training so much harder this year, she's had lots of training sessions and also body preparation that we never really thought about before
Coach Victoria

We never thought she was going to go to go to mainstream school and we never thought she'd walk properly, so she's done a lot more than we ever thought was possible.' he said.

Jemma will be Team GB's youngest competitor. She will battle it out in four different gymnastic events: The floor, the beams, the asymmetric bars and the vault.

Jemma's no stranger to competing. Last year she won three medals at the European games in Luxembourg. Jemma's coach Victoria is hoping for a step up at the World Games:

'She's been training so much harder this year, she's had vigorous training sessions and also body preparation that we never really thought about before.

When we go out to Athens, we'll have the opening ceremony and then we'll have four days of gymnastics competition. She's very good at the floor; she has a lot of emotion in her dance.'

Jemma practices everywhere. There's a beam in her hallway, a mat in her living room and even a bar in her room, but stepping out in front of the huge crowds in Athens is very different to the familiarity of her home.

ARRIVING IN ATHENS

Jemma's family watch from the stands in Athens.
We couldn't believe how great Jem was out there. When we saw her waving and smiling at us we knew she was having the time of her life
Jemma's sister Joelle

Jemma flew out to Greece a week before her competition to acclimatize to the heat. All the preparations seemed to be going well until the squad was struck down by a nasty bug.

Some of the team's coaches were hospitalized and many of the athletes were too ill to compete in the preliminary rounds, including Jemma.

After being sick and having a high temperature, it looked unlikely that Jemma would compete at all.

Jemma's family travelled to Athens to watch Jemma perform, but on finding out about Jemma's illness they were worried the pressure may have been too much for her.

After three days rest, Jemma had recovered enough to make the finals, but she was deducted 25% of her final mark due to missing the initial rounds. Watching Jemma enter the Gymnastics arena was a nervous time for her family, but Jemma's older sister Joelle was so pleased with how cool her sister was under pressure.

'We couldn't believe how great Jem was out there. When we saw her waving and smiling at us we knew she was having the time of her life,' she said.

PROUD TO TAKE PART

After the 25% deduction, Jemma narrowly missed out on medal position, but to compete at all was a huge achievement.

At only 13, Jemma has many more Special Olympic World Games in front of her and she's determined to return next time, stronger than ever.


Jemma practices her routine on the beam.
Jemma practices her routine on the beam.


Schools World Service is a BBC British Council co-production



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