From the moment that 11-year-old Kelsey Rhodes walked into the gym at Xtreme Cheer two years ago, she knew she had found her passion. Not only did her tumbling and gymnastic skills improve rapidly but she also gained a level of self-confidence when she competed that her mother had never seen before.
Now, she’s focusing her cheerleading skills and that confidence to spearhead a cheerleading squad to include kids of all abilities. She’s helping Xtreme Cheer in Norwalk form “Team Inspiration” to promote inclusion for kids with special needs.
Kelsey’s passion for Xtreme Cheer is matched only by her dedication to promoting tolerance and advocating for kids with physical, emotional and intellectual disabilities. As the sibling of a brother with significant intellectual disabilities, Kelsey has grown up “protecting” her big brother and becoming one of his greatest champions. She has witnessed the isolation many kids with disabilities encounter and how, when an organization provides quality programs, their happiness and confidence grow. Kelsey and her family felt there aren’t enough programs and activities available in Fairfield and Westchester Counties.
So, when Kelsey saw other special needs competitive cheerleading teams at the competitions she was attending, she knew what she wanted to do. She approached the owners of her gym, Mike and Dana Talbot, and asked them to start a special needs team. Coincidentally the Talbots had also been considering starting an Xtreme Cheer special needs team and Kelsey’s enthusiasm convinced them that this was the right thing to do.
“Mike and I have been involved with cheerleading and gymnastics since we met in college. Our dream had always been opening our own gym one day and introducing young people to this sport…and make no mistake, it is a sport. Having two young children of our own, we know that promoting inclusion needs to start at a young age as it is this generation that will help stop bullying and intolerance. Once we had established our gym we knew the next step would be to start a special needs’ team.”
As for Kelsey, she’s excited to help out as a peer model for the team and get her other teammates involved. “Every time I watch a special needs team compete, even when they’re from another gym, I stand up and cheer as loud as I can. Now that we’re going to have our own special needs team I’m excited to make new friends and let everyone know how amazing Xtreme Cheer is!”
Xtreme Cheer Inspiration is open to boys and girls 10 years and older of all abilities. No prior tumbling or gymnastics experience is necessary. All the Xtreme Cheer coaches are CPR/First-Aid certified and have significant time being trained. Team Inclusion will begin on September 20 and continue through May. Visit www.xtremecheer.net for additional information.