Special Olympics World Games Come Here
Culver City’s Caelyn Griffith Is Competing
July 23, 2015
By Sandra Coopersmith
The Special Olympics Athlete Oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
In a world beset by problems, it’s heartening to see the indomitable spirit illuminating events such as the Special Olympics World Games being held in Los Angeles July 25 to August 2.
This flagship event for the Special Olympics Movement, founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver to create a world that emphasizes inclusion, takes place every two years and alternates between Summer and Winter Games.
And Culver City resident Caelyn Griffith, a 20-year-old gymnast, will be competing in these World Games, the world’s largest sports and humanitarian event and the single biggest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympic Games.
It is featuring 25 Olympic-style sports in venues throughout the Los Angeles region. The July 25 Opening Ceremony in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is expected to attract 80,000 spectators, and ESPN will be bringing coverage of the World Games to millions of fans around the world. See http://www.la2015.org for further information.
Griffith will have plenty of company for what promises to be a spectacular experience, with 6,500 athletes from 165 countries competing in this event for which Kaiser Permanente, its official health partner, is founding champion, representing the top level of sponsorship.
During the World Games Kaiser’s physicians, who have been preparing for the athletes’ arrival for almost two years, will manage four medical hubs to deliver sideline medical care to them. The preparations include recent care symposiums, with topics ranging from care needs of those with intellectual or developmental disabilities to assessing the unique needs of Special Olympics athletes.
“Special Olympics exemplify everything Kaiser Permanente stands for – embracing diversity and strengthening the overall health of our communities,” says Georgina Garcia, executive director of Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles.
“We are proud to help spread the celebration of amazing athletes like Caelyn whose talent and determination inspire us all.”
Griffith, a member of Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles, is the sole representative from the Westside Special Olympics gymnastics team based out of Santa Monica to compete in the World Games and is one of the less than 10 women artistic gymnasts picked to represent the United States.
She looks forward to performing in the full gymnastic events rotation at UCLA’s John Wooden Center. “I want to challenge myself,” she said. She has been participating in the Southern California Summer Games at Cal State Long Beach every year since she was 10, and at last year’s event won five gold medals. Her favorite event is the floor because “it’s like a performance and you’re right there with the audience.”
Griffith’s involvement with gymnastics began over 10 years ago as a way to improve her balance. That goal was met, she became physically confident and her self-esteem blossomed. Her coach, Natasha Burgos, who has been with her from the start, has become an extended part of the family.
"Having worked with Caelyn for over 10 years I have watched Caelyn grow and develop into an amazing athlete and an amazing human being," Burgos stated. "Caelyn continues to be very humble, even with this incredible opportunity in front of her to participate in the World Games.”
Burgos lauded Griffith, who “hasn't let the games go to her head and has been super supportive of her teammates," referencing the Westside Special Olympics gymnastics team.
The relationship between coach and gymnast started when Griffith was enrolled in an after-school program at Broadway Gymnastics School, where Burgos then worked while volunteering with Southern California Special Olympics - Westside.
Burgos felt Griffith would be an excellent candidate for Special Olympics as it would provide physical activity and opportunities to be challenged. Griffith’s mother, Clausine Honda, agreed and signed her up, and Griffith continues to practice at Broadway Gymnastics School in Los Angeles.
When she is not at the gym, she loves to dance, play basketball and watch football on TV.
Honda advised that her daughter, who is working toward living independently, is currently with the Culver City Unified School District’s separate Transition program, focusing on functional living skills and community-based instruction. Griffith will age out of the school district at 22 and future plans center on acceptance at Taft College in Bakersfield, one of the colleges with a Transition to Independent Living (TIL) Program.
“We have a few more items to submit in the application process and then are hoping that she is granted an interview and is accepted,” Honda said. “It's a 22-month program and, once completed, they support her and our family in setting her up in an independent living situation back in our community.”
But Griffith’s immediate goal is coming up within the next few days, and for those who wish to cheer her on, her gymnastic prowess will be on display at John Wooden Center on July 30 from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and on July 31 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
When asked what advice she would give to young, aspiring athletes in situations similar to hers, her response was “be positive, confident and strong and take it seriously when it is time to do your routines during competition. But, have fun and do the best you can.”
Griffith reflected on how she’s dealt with difficult gymnastic experiences.
“Challenges in gymnastics have been falling off the balance beam and being afraid to do a handstand,” she said. “To cope with it, I have had to remind myself to be brave and to put my head up, chin up and squeeze my stomach to help me balance.”
Her delight at being part of this upcoming event is palpable.
"I am honored to be picked for the World Games and feel really lucky,” Griffith said. “I'm excited to participate because it's a challenge to compete, plus I will get to meet new people and it's the opportunity of a lifetime. It makes me feel really proud to have my family watch me.
“ I am happy to be representing Culver City and my classmates and teachers. I love living here. Everyone always supports me."
The dedication and spirit of this young woman with the winning smile make her an excellent role model not only for athletes and those living with disabilities but, when it comes down to it, for everyone.