Jemma's Special Journey - Secondary school resources

Jemma has Down's Syndrome, a condition which affects about 60,000 people in the UK

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Jemma is 13 years old and recently took part in the Special Olympics, a sports competition for people with learning disabilities.

JEMMA'S JOURNEY BEGINS

Jemma has almost finished her first year at secondary school in Wales. She is a gymnast and is getting ready to take part in the Special Olympics World Games in Greece.

Jemma practices on the bar in her bedroom

Start Quote

We never thought she'd walk properly, so she's done a lot more than we ever thought was possible ”

End Quote Jemma's dad Barry

The Special Olympics World Games happens every four years. This year it is in Athens. Like the Olympics and Paralympics, athletes from all across the globe compete in different sports events.

Jemma has Down's Syndrome, a condition which 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.

To see Jemma competing will be a proud moment for her family.

Her mum and dad would never have believed when Jemma was born that she would 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.

Start Quote

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

End Quote Gemma's mum Julie

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

"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: floor, beam, asymmetric bars and vault.

Jemma is 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.

Jemma in training with Coach Victoria

Start Quote

Jemma's been training so much harder this year”

End Quote Jemma's coach Victoria Jemma's coach Victoria

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

Jemma's family watch from the stands in Athens.

Start Quote

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”

End Quote Jemma's sister Joelle

Some of the team's coaches were hospitalised 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 she would compete at all.

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

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

After the 25% points deduction, Jemma narrowly missed out on winning a medal in Athens.

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.

Schools World Service is a BBC British Council co-production.

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