‘The club taught me not to be ashamed of our differences’

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‘When I received the email to say I got selected I began to cry as I have been aiming for this event for so long.’

Where at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham Daniel Lee was the pride of Jersey in the gymnasium, next summer it will be the turn of Chloe Russell to shine on the world stage.

The 23-year-old has been selected to represent Great Britain at the 16th Special Olympics World Summer Games in Berlin and will compete in artistic gymnastics – and she is aiming to become the world’s best.

Formed 54 years ago, Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organisation for children and adults with intellectual disabilities and holds the summer games every four years. Over 7,500 athletes from 190 nations around the world are expected to participate across 26 sports. It is the pinnacle of sporting achievement for athletes with intellectual disabilities, such as Russell, who has ataxic cerebral palsy, to compete there.

‘It is the perfect sporting event to showcase disabled sportsmanship,’ said Russell. ‘The experience within these Games is like no other sporting event I will get the opportunity to have within my gymnastics career, so the experience is just as exciting if not more exciting than the competition.’

The Games go on for eight days from 17 June, with Great Britain looking to take a strong squad of athletes to compete in athletics, swimming, cycling, as well as gymnastics, and many other sports. In the 2019 Games in Abu Dhabi, Team GB picked up 10 golds from the 55 medals won overall and Russell hopes that she will provide the country with another next year.

‘I am so excited to be able to wear the Team GB kit and represent GB and the Channel Islands. I am looking forward to competing and sharing the arena with many other delegations,’ she continued. ‘I hope to gain personal best scores for my routines and I would love the opportunity to say I am a world champion within a discipline. I know this comes with hard work and I am ready for the challenge.

‘This is the biggest event within Special Olympics, so being picked, I was delighted that I would have the opportunity to showcase the passion and the determination I have for gymnastics.’

The call up to the squad is a timely change in fortune for Russell following the devastating news that she and her 39 fellow gymnasts at the Jersey Special Gymnastics Club had been displaced.

The club had been based at Greenfields for 14 years but were forced by the government to vacate at short notice and with nowhere to go after a report by the Jersey Care Commission said the facility should be exclusively used by residents of the secure home for young people.

Four months later, they are still no closer to finding a home – not ideal for Russell’s preparations for the biggest moment of her life. It may also mean that the club is in danger of closing for good.

‘ The JSGC and the parents are working heard on locating a suitable venue for us to train,’ said Russell. ‘The concept of not having a dedicated gym at this point is not even compressible, as we all need this. However, I am being supported by other clubs and venues to assist with my training so I feel very lucky.’

Russell joined the club as a six year-old and provided her with passion for the sport, pride and a sense of belonging.

‘The club has taught me and others about disabilities and not to be ashamed of our differences, but to embrace them and celebrate our achievements,’ said Russell with pride.

‘The club as offered so many experience that the gymnasts would not other encounter due to having a disability. I will be forever grateful for the club and what it does for so many individuals beyond gymnastics.’

Earlier this month, Russell, along with her team-mates Alex Wheatley and Jessica Vieira were awarded the Vernon Tomes Memorial Team Trophy at the Jersey Sports Association for the Disabled awards following their medal-winning display at the 2022 Waveney Open. Russell personally picked up a gold medal for her routine on the A-Bars.

She will be hoping for more of the same in Berlin but her ambitions go beyond picking up prizes to show for all her hard work and dedication.

‘I would love to become an ambassador for disabilities and my sport,’ said Russell. In Jersey, at least, her success means she already is.

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