Two young Boland girls are headed off on the adventure of a lifetime.
Coco Surmon and Megan le Roux will be taking part in the Down Syndrome International Gymnastics’ Organisation’s World Championships – this prestigious event will be held at Matsport Centre in Centurion, from Friday September 22 to Sunday September 24.
Gymnasts from six different countries will participate in the DSIGO World Championships, and the event features mens’ artistic, women’s artistic and rhythmic gymnastics, with representatives from countries including Italy, Bulgaria, Mexico, Argentina and USA.
Liz Surmon told Bolander that she coaches Coco, 13, and her friend Megan.
“Coco’s twin sister Malika wanted to start rythmic gymnastics, and I approached the coach of Infinity Rythmic gymnastics – Ilze du Toit – to ask if Coco could join.
“Please bear in mind that most coaches would not have been up for the challenge. One of Coco’s friends who had done ballet with her contacted us to find out if she could also join the club.
“Megan is 16, also with with DS. The girls started of in Level 5, and could only compete against nuerotypical gymnasts, which seemed unfair to us,” says Liz.
“There is a saying that ‘if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will be stupid’. We contacted Special Olympics South Africa, but there are no other rythmic gymnasts with DS in the country.
“When we were told that the DS World Champs would be held in South Africa this year, we jumped at the chance to enter them. They have another teammate form Johannesburg.”
Meagen and Coco have worked incredibly hard… they had to learn four routines and compete in District Trials and Western Cape Trials.
“Their class mates only have three routines, and two of which are with apparatus; Coco and Megan compete with hoop, ball, clubs and ribbon.
“It’s been amazing to see how the other gymnasts support them. Even though they have competed with nuerotypical gymnasts, we can’t wait for them to meet other gymnasts like themselves and to be part of a global network of dancers,” adds Liz.
Coach Ilse says that Coco has been participating in Rhythmic Gymnastics since 2019, and Megan since 2021, and are both gymnasts at her Infinity Rhythmic Gymnastics Club in Paarl.
This year was the first year they could qualify at Western Cape Championships to be able to partake at the World Champs.
“I’ve been coaching special needs gymnasts since 2019, and coach Liz Surmon (Coco’s mom) started coaching in 2022.
“We will accompany these two talented gymnasts to the World Champs as their coaches, and I’ll also be judging at the event.
“The emphasis of this event is on inclusion and empowerment and to give these gymnasts the opportunity to shine, regardless of their abilities. We are so proud of their achievements and we can’t wait for them to show the world what they can do,” adds Ilse.
Megan’s mother, Willaine, also shared her thoughts about this exciting event, and what preceded it.
“In the world of rhythmic gymnastics, there are shining stars that emerge, and Megan is undoubtedly one of them. Almost two years ago, Megan embarked on a journey into the world of rhythmic gymnastics, and since then, her passion and dedication have soared to incredible heights,” says Willaine.
“Megan’s love for rhythmic gymnastics is palpable, and it’s a passion that lights up her world each day. We as parents, could not be more proud of her accomplishments.
“Coach Ilze stands out as a true champion for Megan and her fellow gymnast, Coco. Coach Ilze’s unwavering commitment to nurturing young talents and fighting for recognition in gymnastics competitions has been a game-changer for their journey.
“Coach Ilze paved the way for them to participate and excel in gymnastics competitions. Her efforts have opened doors to opportunities that Down Syndrome athletes might not have had otherwise.
“Megan’s journey in rhythmic gymnastics is an inspiring tale of chasing dreams, and with Coaches like Ilze and Liz’s unwavering support, there’s no doubt that Megan’s star will continue to shine even brighter in the world of gymnastics.”
Willaine concludes: “We eagerly await the next chapter in Megan’s gymnastics journey, confident that she will continue to amaze us all with her talent and determination. We extend our heartfelt thanks to her Coaches, Ilze and Liz for their dedication as well.”
Liz also spoke about the challenges they’ve faced. “The Special Olympics is very active in South Africa, but hasn’t got rhythmic gymnastics. Recently we had delegation leaving from SA for overseas for the Special Olympics, but there aren’t any coaches in SA who coach rhythmic gymnastics.
“Part of what we want to get going, is to raise awareness, and resources, on the Special Olympics Website. Coco was competing against neurotypical gymnasts, which is not really fair, but she learned the routines great, and she could follow what her sister was doing.”
The costs accompanying such events are enormous, with entry fees, flights, car hire, accommodation, etc, so fundraising will also be necessary.
“If they do well, the Trizomy 21 Games are taking place next year in Turkey, in March. The skies the limit here!,” says Liz.
“My big aim with this is, the kids can achieve so much, they might struggle with other intellectual endeavours, like reading and writing, but they can memorise dances, do TikToks, remember choreography… the kinesthetic learning that takes place with this is incredible, and the handling of the equipment.
Megan also does horseriding, and Coco does ballet, and Liz says that many DS children are amazing swimmers. Liz’s husband, Sean Surmon, is the Director of Maties Sports.